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Take the blame

The pension review has been a disaster and the FSA should acknowledge that

Iread with jaw-dropping incredulity an item on “embittered IFA John Joseph” in a recent issue of Money Marketing. My sympathies are with John at what is clearly a difficult time for him.

I fear we only know some of the facts but it is a well publicised case and lots of the details are in the public domain. Furthermore, we have only been presented with half the story but it is a frustrating and difficult tale.

But the bewilderment I am feeling about the subject matter was compounded by the usual round-up comment at the end of the piece, where Money Marketing quite rightly asks the FSA to comment. As you would expect, the regulator declined to do so. Fair enough. But what is not fair enough is the FSA’s comment about “their experience with the consumer”.

It seems to be suggesting that a consumer is often more than willing to pay slightly more a month and have the certainty of the risk they are undertaking rather than have that uncertainty.

I would beg to differ. Ask any adviser who has been involved with a first-time buyer and I would bet my mortgage that a (vast?) majority are right on the edge of their borrowing capacity. Every last penny is accounted for so a poten-tial saving, no matter how small, is pounced on.

So, given that an endow-ment was cheaper up front, most people plumped for one, even though they did not understand its workings. They did not actually care and in any case, 25 years in the future is virtually impossible to imagine and it meant the difference between being able to buy or not.

Move to the present day and we find ourselves asking clients if they remembered the finer workings of an investment contract that even today most people fail to fully comprehend. In my experience, clients are doing well if they fully understand half of what I have been saying at the end of a meeting.

That is not to demean my skills as an adviser. It is just that the whole plethora of information is physically impossible to pass on in a completely effective manner. Having said that, people can spot a bargain when it smacks them in the face and the loaded questions being presented are clearly gravy train material.

Just like the pension review, people are suffering from selective memory syndrome, giving the answers they know will result in a successful compensation claim.

Let us for one moment imagine that the pension review never happened. Instead, the PIA decided to advertise that opt-out and non-joiner types should consider reviewing their advice. We would all have saved billions of pounds in review costs and confidence would be intact. People would still want pensions.

My own pension, for example has done really well, benefiting from my belief in capitalism. I have paid into it regularly through thick and thin, understanding concepts such as buy low and sell high and pound cost averaging. Not that my own clients get such fine attention. I am too busy doing all the regulatory reporting and complaints returns to be able to spare much time for them.

I put it to the FSA that the pension review shows a manifestly chronic failing in its duty to maintain consumer confidence. I suspect it will rebutt that by stating it was not at the helm but I would counter this by claiming it was, in spirit at least, or perhaps the word phoenix would be a handy alternative to use.

I challenge the FSA to comment that the pension review has been nothing short of a disaster and that it should admit as much. If the FSA does not believe me, how does it account for the no-lose state we find ourselves in – pension review for final-salary “movers” and the PPF for those who stay put.

If the regulator does not think that there is now some kind of endowment claim bandwagon going on, have a look at a recent direct mail-ing dropping on to doormats. There is a “law firm” enclosing referral forms for endowment complaints in the style of cheques for 100.

So, just like the pension review, decent and honest advisers are getting sucked into a complaint system so fundamentally flawed that it is having the opposite effect that we all want.

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