Opinion  

Put a match to old charges and clean up the industry

Tony Hazell

Tony Hazell

The financial world portrays itself as a more open and honest place today. This may be the case when it comes to advising and selling.

But it is certainly not reflected in the back books that provide such rich pickings for the vulture companies and other insurance firms.

Take the case of a reader I have been helping recently. In 1988 he bought what he thought was a 25-year mortgage endowment from Provident Mutual.

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His belief was no doubt sustained by the fact that it was called a flexible mortgage plan.

He says he was told the flexibility came because he might be able to pay off his mortgage early.

In recent years Aviva – Provident Mutual’s owner – has sent illustrations showing the shortfall for what he believed to be the maturity date of 22 June 2013.

Imagine his horror when he discovered this was in fact a whole of life plan written to age 80.

The surrender value of £40,412 was well short of the underlying value of £43,847, which itself was miles short of the mortgage target.

The poor man had never heard of whole of life and had no idea what it was.

His financial adviser, of course, would have known exactly what he was selling and would have known full well that his client had no hope of getting full value from the policy until he was 80.

Why? Well because of the way the charges were structured.

Hold on I hear you saying. This all happened 25 years ago.

But that is not true. He has been fleeced by charges for 25 years and must continue to live with the consequences.

His first two years’ payments went into initial units which have been charged 4.13 per cent a year for each of the subsequent 25 years.

What of Aviva? It may not have designed or sold this policy. But it has been collecting the charges on it ever since and will continue to do so.

Aviva portrays itself as a modern consumer-friendly company. But these charges are neither modern nor consumer-friendly.

My gut feeling is that the investor has a strong mis-selling claim against the financial adviser, which is still in business.

But that does not let Aviva off the hook. It should be leading the way in creating a bonfire of these old, rapacious charges and policies.

Instead it seems content to sit back and collect the money, leaving investors to suffer the consequences.

Until every last investor is given an amnesty from these investments and charges, the financial industry cannot claim to have cleaned itself up.

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