Tin Hat Time at the FCA
In the wake of the fourth Parliamentary Review into the Financial Conduct Authority and its handling of high-profile incidents, comes the latest criticism from the Financial Services Complaints Commissioner who accuses the FCA of “an unwillingness to face up to and address its shortcomings”. He went on to say he had seen a tendency at the FCA to find reasons for excluding cases from the complaints scheme in circumstances where they should not have been excluded. Oh dear, smacks of Big Brother getting too big for his boots and believing itself to be above the law?
It is currently squirming with embarrassment over the antics of Sir Phillip Green and the BHS pension scheme, and this is fostering the belief in the industry that it is too focussed on the advisory sector and overlooking the problems that Pension Freedoms is having on occupational pension schemes, especially Defined Benefit (DB) or ‘final salary’ schemes.
You will no doubt be aware that the legislation passed in April 2015 relaxed the rules over how benefits could be taken from pensions. Gone was the insistence that a “pension is a pension – its job is to provide your income in retirement.” Although this is true, the old-fashioned rules take no consideration of lifestyle and personal choices. A casualty of this new form of thinking is the annuity, where you handed over your pension pot to an insurance company in return for an income for the rest of your life. A great concept except that the insurance company kept your money when you died. Under the new rules, you could use your pension pot to draw income off in retirement (or even before retirement now). This ‘income’ could be regular or ad-hoc in support of other income like state pensions for example.
Crucially, the new rules addressed the world in which we live and choose to live. An example of this could be where a member of a DB pension scheme (or a number of schemes over his/her working life) may decide on a change of career, to move to France to buy a property with an attached Gite to rent out. That is a lifestyle choice that perhaps suits that individual. Personal choice.
Under current (and out of date) FCA thinking, the default assumption is that it would not be appropriate for that individual to transfer the accrued benefits from such DB pension schemes, unless it can be proven that such a transfer is in that client’s best interest. How is this tested? Through the Transfer Value Analysis System or TVAS. Results are shown in the form of critical yields and hurdle rates. Sound complicated? You bet! Except it doesn’t allow for lifestyle choices or individual circumstances, which to the member are of far more importance. As advisers we’re told we must advise and inform the client of what’s in his or her best interest, even if it doesn’t gel with that person’s view. Believe me, those conversations are not easy. The FCA, meanwhile, sits in Canary Wharf, navel-gazing while all this is going on. The more cynical amongst us think the FCA has far more on its plate like finding ways to boost its coffers now it’s been told to stop bank-bashing and fining them for their latest misdemeanours.
There is hope on the horizon, however. The new chief executive of the FCA, Andrew Bailey has promised a greater focus on pensions, hopefully this won’t be an exercise in covering their backsides, but rather a genuine attempt to move with the times, providing much-needed and valuable guidance to the people they serve, the consumer. Let’s all hope that this is sooner rather than later and that the FCA doesn’t get distracted too much wrestling with the bear called Brexit.
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