FCA plans further action on poor pension transfer advice

Mark Johnson's picture

The UK's Financial Conduct Authority said it plans to take more action against people who give poor advice on pension ransfers out of so-called Defined Benefit schemes.

The action comes as the FCA today published the results of the data it has received from firms carrying out Defined Benefit transfers.

Officials at the watchdog also set out the next steps in its supervisory work related to transfers.

The London-based regulator said it has repeatedly made clear its expectations of financial advisers as well as strengthening the rules around pension transfer advice. 

“Despite this, too much advice the FCA has seen to date is still not of an acceptable standard”, it said.

The FCA said it is concerned that firms are recommending that large numbers of consumers transfer out of their defined benefit pension schemes despite the FCA’s stance that transfers are likely to be unsuitable for most clients.

‘We have said repeatedly that, when advising on DB transfers, advisers should start from the position that a transfer is not suitable”, said Megan Butler, Executive Director of Supervision, Wholesale and Specialists at the FCA. 

“It is deeply concerning and disappointing to see that transfers are still being recommended at the levels we have seen.

“Deciding whether to transfer out of a DB scheme is one of the most complex financial decision a consumer may have to make and it is vital customers get high quality advice. 

“Our ambition is for pension transfer advice to reach the same standard as that of the rest of the financial advice market.’ 

The FCA surveyed 3,015 firms and found that between April 2015 and September 2018: 

  • 2,426 firms had provided advice on transferring their DB pension.
  • 234,951 scheme members had received advice on transferring.
  • Of those 162,047 members had been recommended to transfer out and 72,904 had been recommended not to transfer.
  • The total value of DB pensions where transfer advice had been provided was £82.8bn with an average value of £352,303.
  • 1,454 firms had recommended 75% of more of their clients to transfer. One reason a firm may be recommending a large number of clients to transfer is if the firm has a robust initial guidance service triaging clients. 1,346 firms reported data on the total number of clients who had not proceed past the firm’s initial guidance. The total number of clients reported as not proceeding to advice was 59,086. When these triaged clients are factored in 55% of clients were recommended to transfer.

Although the data are not an assessment of the suitability of advice, they give the FCA the information it needs to focus its supervision work to drive up the quality of advice.

The FCA has already started visiting some firms, starting with those most active in the market. 

These visits will allow the FCA to complete a full assessment of the firms’ approach to DB advice, focusing on key aspects of firms’ business models and processes which could give rise to harm.

The FCA will also be writing to all firms where the potential for harm has been identified in the data the firm has supplied. This will set out the FCA's expectations and the actions firms should take.

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