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The storm clouds gather over IPAs

The ABI and Autif have drawn battle lines as they both bid to dominate the new Government initiative.

What makes it most surprising is the fact that many industry experts believe it is not clear that the IPA market has much of a future at allin its current format.

The ABI claims the Treasury&#39s plan to exempt IPAs invested directly in unit trusts and Oeics from stamp duty reserve tax will hand an unfair advantage to fund managers and not give life offices a fair crack of the IPA whip.

SDRT relief was the major leg-up offered by the Government to the unit trust industry but, even as the consultat-ion on IPAs draws to a close, unit trust managers are not exactly queuing up to offer pension savings accounts as they currently stand.

Fund managers claim there are a number of factors which show the Government has not gone far enough to give them the even footing they lobbied for, while life offices counter-claim that the Treasury has gone far enough in its bid to appease investment houses, leading them to seek concessions of their own.

Investment companies argue that the difference made by SDRT is negligible and hardly worth the bother of changing their systems to receive the benefit.

Perpetual believes the Government should wipe out stamp duty altogether as the only way of guaranteeing the mythical level playing field.

It also argues that the mer- ger between the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges will undermine the tax reg- ardless of what the Government decides on the stamp duty issue.

Perpetual pensions development director Fiach Maguire says: “The difference made by SDRT is piddling. Are we really going to turn the industry upside down for the sake of these amounts?

“Stamp duty should be killed off. I cannot see the tax surviving the merger of the LSE and Frankfurt&#39s Deut-sche bourse anyway, as companies will opt to trade from Frankfurt.”

When the plans for the reincarnation of PPIs or Lisas were announced in July, the joyful national press headlines read, Thirty per cent savings boosts for pension savers.

The news also spelt out how the structure of IPAs would open the retail pension market to investment companies, wresting the monopoly from life offices.

The spin told us that IPAs will be portable, transparent and dovetail into stakeholder pensions.

But, as the investment houses have found, this all sounds good in theory but is hard to replicate in reality.

Autif senior policy adviser Alison Michell says: “There is a technical complication in terms of separating the part of the funds which att-ract the SDRT and the parts which don&#39t.”

The transferability of IPAs in their current form also looks dead in the water. This will come as a blow to the Government, which must be asking itself if any amount of consultation will solve the portability problem.

Gartmore head of retail pensions Nick Hodges says: “The DSS and Treasury are trying to make a silk purse out of a sow&#39s ear. The Treasury was keen to say that portability was a key feature of IPAs but no IPA manager will want that. There is no advantage to the manager of managing someone else&#39s assets.

“Also, SDRT is only part of the problem. There is still a huge gap between collective investments and life products.”

Treasury spokesman Charles Kesaru says: “Portability is important to all parties interested in IPAs. It is in every-one&#39s interest to move tow-ards a system that works. The costs of transfer would not be significant.”

But Michell says: “How portability will work and how to move accounts with all their contents is not precisely clear. In theory, it is a good idea but how managers will be able to do this is not obvious.”

It is also claimed that a DSS representative agreed with delegates at a recent IPA workshop, organised by pension lawyers Eversheds, that IPAs in their existing state do not lend themselves to portability.

IPAs&#39 unique suitability to stakeholder savers is also under question, seeming not to have withstood the rigours of life office scrutiny.

Despite Autif&#39s concern, the ABI believes the Treasury has gone too far in its attempts to appease fund managers. It wants SDRT relief extended to pension funds which invest in unit trusts and Oeics.

It claims that not extend-ing the relief risks differential pricing between life office and fund managers products to the detriment of the consumer.

Casting a further shadow over IPAs, Scottish Equitable outlines in its consultation response that it believes the product will only work within the 1 per cent stakeholder charging cap if the IPA and stakeholder provider are the same.

ScotEq is not alone. The background noise in the pension industry is that IPAs appear to be an extra cost in the low-margin environment which is already stretched to its charging capacity.

In its August pension update, Friends Provident&#39s commentary on IPAs throws a further spanner into the works.

It says IPAs are pitched to open up the pension market to unit trust companies on the basis that some unit trusts offer lower charges than pensions. But it says FSA figures disprove this theory, showing that the average unit trust is more expensive than the average personal pension.

Autif is meeting this week to work out its collective thinking on IPAs. It may well choose to pass back the lifeline the Government thought it was throwing to its members and ask for a stronger rope.



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