FCA contingent charging ban splits industry

Pimfa says regulator is overlooking unintended consequences of a ban

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will outlaw contingent charging for clients looking to transfer their defined benefit (DB) pension, but one industry body has labelled the move as plain “wrong” .

The package of proposals is designed to “improve the quality of pension transfer advice […] and protect consumers from conflicts of interest”, the FCA said.

Contingent charges are fees clients pay only if they decide to go ahead with their adviser’s recommendations. This means that conflicts of interest could arise as the IFA would only get paid if the customer agrees to transfer.

“The FCA’s supervisory work has revealed continued problems in the pensions transfer advice market,” said FCA executive director of strategy Christopher Woolard (pictured).

“By making changes to the way advisers are paid for transfer advice and the other changes to transfer advice, we want to ensure people receive suitable advice and drive down the number giving up valuable defined benefit pensions when it is not in their interests to do so.”

Not everyone agrees

But Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association (Pimfa) senior policy adviser Simon Harrington told Portfolio Adviser‘s sister publication International Adviser that the ban is just “wrong”.

“We have been clear throughout that the FCA needs to take into account the unintended consequences of a ban on contingent charging.

“Whilst we still believe proposals for a ban are wrong, we are pleased to see that the FCA has taken steps to ensure individuals can get some support through a more robust triage process whilst also allowing individuals  with certain characteristics who would benefit from a transfer to continue using this facility.”

That is something Aegon’s pensions director, Steven Cameron, agreed with, saying that banning contingent charges would just widen the advice gap.

He said: “The market is divided on whether or not contingent charging is beneficial to those considering transferring from a DB scheme. The FCA has recognised that while contingent charging can create conflicts of interest, an outright ban could widen the advice gap.

“The development of an abridged form of advice will allow customers to be advised when it is not in their interests to transfer without incurring the higher costs of full advice. We very much welcome this and it will now be important to think through the practicalities so this is as effective as possible. This should reduce the need for contingent charging.”

Advisers in the spotlight

The regulator said there could be exceptions to the ban. If financial advisers can demonstrate that a pension transfer is in the best interest of their client, it can go ahead.

That also applies to ongoing fees, as they can be in place for 20 to 30 years following the transfer. In this instance, it’s in the adviser’s duties to prove that the scheme they have recommended is more suitable than the client’s existing workplace one.

Right to choose

“The profession has always understood and acknowledged the concerns surrounding contingent charging, real or perceived, and it was right there has been additional scrutiny by the FCA as part of their review for DB transfers,” Keith Richards, chief executive of the Personal Finance Society, told International Adviser.

“Consumer choice is essential and any review to restrict that choice must be properly assessed, which at least seems to be acknowledged in this consultation statement.

“We also welcome confirmation that any potential ban will be limited to DB pension transfers only and the call for other suggestions provides for a more constructive opportunity for all firms to input.

“The wider profession has for a long time acknowledged that contingent charging is an area of potential conflict and, in such circumstances, we need to demonstrate diligence and due process of mitigation when employing.

“The additional suggestion or at least perception that advisers could also be conflicted by the longer-term earning potential of a transfer is not isolated to contingent charging and this particular aspect of the review could have even wider implications going forwards,” Richards added.

A bit too late?

AJ Bell senior analyst Tom Selby believes that the proposals stem from the FCA being uncomfortable with the number of pension transfers taking place and the quality of advice surrounding them.

“The argument over contingent charging has always been a balancing act; with the FCA weighing up the dangers posed by the inherent conflict of interest created by the charging method, with the potential impact a ban could have on people’s ability to access good quality advice.

“In particular, by banning contingent charging, the regulator will make it more difficult for those with large pensions but on lower incomes to pay for advice.

“There remain perfectly legitimate reasons for a member to wish to transfer from a DB to a DC scheme, and it is positive the FCA has looked to address those who are particularly vulnerable through a carve-out from the transfer ban. The extent to which this carve-out will actually be utilised will likely depend in part on how onerous the process is.

“Ironically, the FCA’s most significant intervention in the DB transfer advice market comes as the number of people transferring out begins to fall.”

For more insight on international financial planning please visit www.international-adviser.com


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