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The test of time

Ivan Massow is being penalised for giving the best advice he could at the time

Ivan Massow always was a singular IFA, as much a campaigner for gay rights from the financial services industry as he was an adviser.

From the early 1990s onwards, he built a very successful business on getting around the discrimination visited in particular on gay men by many parts of the financial services business.

In addition to homophobia, there was a massive over-reaction to HIV and Aids which led to massive weightings on insurance premiums.

For those in gay relationships, the prospects of buying their own homes appeared to be bleak.

Massow found a way around this. He says he searched out loopholes, particularly surrounding endowment mortgages without lifestyle questionnaires, which could be had for sums as high as 125,000. It was not no questions asked but it was a way in which gay men only had to answer three to five questions to get a mortgage and life cover. In those days, the business actually made a promise not to ask about sexuality, although clearly such a promise was aimed at gay and lesbian customers.

On free-standing AVCs, Massow has a similar and, at the outset, compelling argument.

In this case, many occupational pensions would not allow a pension to be paid to a gay partner, including most councils, many people did not want to tell an employer of their sexuality and finally, in an era when Aids was a much more certain killer than it is now, FSAVCs could be wrapped up in a pension and then taken as part of a lump sum, provided that the Inland Revenue could be convinced that someone had only a year to live.

The normal arguments applied to FSAVCs over AVCS do not seem to apply here although, of course, many other IFAs would suggest that this need for some savings’ independence from an employer is not all that different from the reasons why they sold these policies too.

But jump forward to 2005 and shove these cases in front of a network which has been browbeaten into trying to settle all cases in line with tightly specified rules and procedures and an ombudsman which, time and time again, fails to give the benefit of the doubt to the adviser.

Massow faces many cases claiming misselling and these are now being accepted by his network Sesame.

He faces massive payments in his excess and says he is hurt by the fact that many customers who had no alternative but to seek his advice because it was the only advice available to them are now turning on him.

He believes that some of his clients have forgotten the atmosphere at the time and the problems faced by homosexuals and are falling prey to the ambulance-chasers.

Like other IFAs, he says that at first he did not keep record because he was not required to do so. He does not have facts such as the sexuality of his clients which might help him face down challenges as not asking that questions was part of his proposition.

He despairs at the loss of records as the business went through ownership changes and the fact that the network may not have files either. He also says he was often visited by the regulator as a top producer for what was then DBS.

Most IFAs facing similar challenges would say there really is not very much chance for him. Massow could have made mistakes. There may have been better loopholes but it seems unlikely that such mistakes would add up to the sort of reparations now being demanded.

The case is very particular but it is likely that Massow may be penalised for giving what was by any reasonable person’s definition, if not a regulator’s or ombudsman’s, the best advice that he could.

He is now being penalised for doing just that. Other IFAs, among them John Joseph, are taking their own fights to the ombudsman and others are questioning why many of their networks are settling on their behalf.

This does not seem to be a hard luck case where a maverick got caught out. It appears to be a case where an adviser who did the right thing for his clients by finding a way around a discriminatory system is being penalised for doing just that. If this system is so inflexible that it offends natural justice then it should be changed to be more flexible, not just for Ivan Massow but for other IFAs too.

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