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Summer pension spats continue

This week’s pensions news centred around heated debates over in specie contributions, annuity rates and what the stock market volatility could mean for with-profits.

Standard Life’s John Lawson appears to be launching a one man campaign for all annuity providers to publish their rates to enable comparisons.

Among the eleven “culprits” that Lawson lists, are Skandia, Scottish Life and Zurich.

But Skandia says it cannot quote annuity rates because it does not have an annuity product. The life office says it links with Legal & General if a customer asks for an annuity because that is the default open market option.

Scottish Life head of communication Alasdair Buchanan thinks Lawson has missed the point and says that if a customer wants an annuity they will be given a rate and then they can compare this rate with those providers who operate in the open market.

The debate will no doubt continue, as will the in specie spat which is taking place among some of the specialist Sipp providers.

Rowanmoor and IPS Pensions say that Sipp providers which do not allow contributions of commercial property are using poor IT systems as an excuse not to do these because it creates more work for them.

IPS Pensions managing director Rupert Curtis says by not allowing in specie contributions, it generates less administration work for those providers.

Surveys are always a favourite news story at this time of year and thanks go to Scottish Life head of pensions strategy Steve Bee who has conducted an online poll on TCF and personal accounts.

Bee states that the distribution of personal accounts should adhere to the principles of treating customers fairly and although this may seem obvious, it is in fact a pertinent point because Personal Accounts will be regulated by the Pensions Regulator and not the FSA, and therefore will not have to conform to TCF.

Unsurprisingly, in Bee’s poll, 96.2 per cent of IFAs surveyed said they thought the Government should adhere to TCF principles when distributing personal accounts.

One IFA who answered yes said: “It is a pity that the Government is not subject to the same rigorous rules and regulations that financial advisers have to adhere to.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

In other news, an IFA has hit out at Resolution subsidiary Phoenix Life for targeting his clients and offering to introduce them to a different IFA firm.

CPD IFA principal Alan Parkinson says he was angered when he and his client were sent flyers advertising its introducer agreement with AWD Moneyextra.

I suspect this is not an unusual case unfortunately but Phoenix says it is unable to identify those clients on its database with IFAs and those without.

Phoenix also says that IFAs should “see it as a positive thing” because they are encouraging people to take advice.

I’m not sure that advisers will see it quite like this and Sesame says it is likely to become “an increasing reality” of the market which does not bode well for smaller IFA firms.

And finally, industry analyst Ned Cazalet thinks that the recent stockmarket volatility could lead to with-profits providers reintroducing market value reductions on policies.

Cazalet says that although providers are better equipped to assess their liabilities than they were during the stockmarket crash in 2003, the recent choppy market could see providers reintroducing or raising their MVRs.

Norwich Union confirms that it is monitoring the situation but says it would have to see a sustained period of further falls before it reintroduced MVRs.

Standard Life, LV= and Prudential say they do not expect to be affected by the stockmarket volatility as with-profits are long-term investments invested in a range of asset classes and that the smoothing element hedges against such conditions.


Music to whose ears?

As we approach the end of summer – and we know it is the end of summer not because of this volatile weather but because the shops are now stocking their new winter ranges – it is time to prepare for a period of change like has never faced financial services before.

The silver lining

Amid the market volatility, a flight to quality is needed, as it is the experienced managers with a few grey hairs who will best be able to exploit the opportunities that undoubtedly exist in the markets.

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What price (more) freedoms?

George Osborne will make his last Budget speech of the current parliamentary term this week, and the early media briefings suggest that pensions will again feature heavily in that statement. So what are we able to learn from the weekend’s coverage?


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