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The price is right

So, Melanie Johnson believes stakeholder pensions can be bought without advice. Were that the case, then why are all advisers engaged by companies who are members of networks required to read a 27-page document on the subject and, at the behest of the PIA, submit to an examination on its contents?

If decision trees are good enough for Joe Public, why are they not equally good enough for qualified financial advisers?

As we all know, Ms Johnson and most of her chums at the Treasury – who, let us not forget, do not have to do any pension planning for themselves or for anyone else – live in a closeted world which is radically different from the real one. So, why even bother putting such a story on your front page?

The answer, of course, is that Ms Johnson is one of the policy makers and however unreal, unworkable or impractical any of the nonsense conjured up by her department may be, out here in the real world we somehow have to try to live with it all.

But wait – quite contrary to what Ms Johnson claims, the FSA&#39s decision trees recommend investors to seek advice if they have doubts about their stakeholder options. Doubts? How could anyone have any doubts, given stakeholder is so easy that only a totally illiterate imbecile could not find his or her way through the trees?

The other question, of course, is from whom might advice be sought? And how much might it cost? And might not this advice result in a recommendation to a pension product that is demonstrably better than stakeholder on just about every measure except charges? Should not the FSA&#39s notes point out these as well?

Er, no. That kind of information is not what trees seem to be all about because the Holy Grail of the stakeholder trail is about one thing and one thing only – price. The truth of the matter is that, no matter how hard the Treasury wishes, you cannot have an Aston Martin for the price of a Ford Fiesta. But, I suppose they reason that just about anything, however cheap and naff, is better than nothing at all.

Julian Stevens

Partner, WDS Independent Financial Advisers, Bristol


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