Those of you who are familiar with my past articles will know I have a certain affinity with the pensions landscape; indeed, in the I’m considered a bit of an expert on the subject.
If you have read previous articles you will know that I have been quite critical of the Financial Conduct Authority’s seeming inability to keep up to date with developments in the UK pensions arena. Well up until the 21st June 2017, that is.
In a complete reversal of previous ‘guidance’, the FCA has now eventually recognised that an individual’s circumstances differ from the next person’s. Up until now, the FCA’s default position regarding any request to transfer out of a defined benefit (final salary) pension scheme has been to view them as unsuitable. In other words, the emphasis (irrespective of a pension member’s situation), has been to decline such transfer requests, primarily because the FCA says it is not in the member’s interest to do so.
The introduction of Pensions Freedom by then Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, presented the FCA with a challenge. On the one hand, here was the government releasing the constraints that pensions had been progressively bound up by from successive previous governments; whilst on the other, the FCA was continuing to protect the interests of the pensions companies, at the same time becoming increasingly more detached from the consumer, for whom it was supposed to serve.
For the last two years, the FCA has struggled with the new pensions landscape, still believing that preserved former pension benefits, even those held within schemes that are only 50% funded, should remain where they are. The Pension Protection Fund, set up to protect members’ pensions where the employer has folded, is coming under increasing strain, because it is funded by all the other occupational pension schemes. As more schemes fold, the more the remaining schemes come under pressure. Clearly, therefore, something had to be done – those self-same members, now fearing their preserved pensions weren’t as guaranteed as they had been led to believe, wanted action.
On 19th June, Steve Webb, now working for Royal London, reminded the FCA of its duties, warning it against ‘over-regulating’ DB Pension Transfers. The result? New ‘guidance’ (read ‘rules’ to us IFA’s) now focusing upon the individual member’s circumstances. Without blowing my own trumpet, I’ve been saying this ever since Pension Freedoms came in in 2015. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I read about this volte-face. At last, it is not now just about critical yields and hurdle rates, it’s about applying financial planning assumptions to individual needs. If a client has sufficient other assets to fund retirement, why leave deferred benefits in a scheme where on your death (and that of your spouse or partner), the pension is lost? Tell that to your kids……
“Johnny, you know you’re struggling to make ends meet, let alone build funds for your eventual retirement? We guess what, I’m going to leave my pension benefits in a scheme that will provide nothing for you on my death. How does that sound?” Under Pension Freedom, you can pass unused pension funds to your children, if it is outside of a defined benefit scheme. How many parents wouldn’t want that for their children, once their own needs had been catered for?
This is not to say that the floodgates have opened; we as advisers MUST assess the needs of not only the pension member, but also the family unit. We must assume something of a nanny role, helping our clients to plan for the future, to properly identify what capital and income will be available and when. There will be circumstances where the best advice is the comparative guarantee of an occupational pension income; for those people, the advice will be to remain a member of the scheme. But for a lot of people, this new FCA guidance will be seen as empowerment to take control of one’s own financial future. Our role as financial advisers is to provide help and support along the way. Proper financial planning.