Tribunal upholds adviser ban over RDR qualifications breach

A Bristol-based adviser that had all of his regulatory permissions removed after he undertook pensions transfers for 10 clients in 2013 despite not being qualified to Retail Distribution Review standards has had his appeal rejected by the Upper Tribunal.

The FCA handed down a supervisory notice to Noel Walker, trading as Walkers Financial Planning, in September 2013 that stripped him of all permissions to carry on regulated activities after it found he had conducted pensions business without the relevant RDR qualifications.

Mr Walker referred the case to the Upper Tribunal. While the Upper Tribunal deliberates the case, Mr Walker asked for his permissions to be reinstalled.

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Mr Walker said his breach was an “honest mistake” and that he gave no new advice. He admitted to “copying” signatures of three of the clients to meet a deadline to enact the transfer.

In February 2013, the regulator approved Mr Walker’s application to vary his permissions to remove pensions and investments business as he did not wish to attain level 4 qualifications.

Mr Walker told the tribunal that prior to this in autumn 2012 he became aware that in 2010 he had given advice to several clients to transfer their personal pensions but that this had not been implemented due to a ‘break’ he had taken for health reasons.

He said the investments were performing so badly he felt he would be doing his clients a “disservice” if he did not transfer the pensions before he could no longer conduct designated investment business.

Mr Walker contacted the prospective new provider, LV, and was told they would continue to accept business on pre-RDR terms, so long as the transfer was completed by 31 March 2013 and the relevant advice had been given by 31 December 2012.

Mr Walker said he contacted the ten customers during February and March and that seven of these had completed transfer forms before the deadline. He struggled to complete the remaining three on time and “decided to use a copy of the signature that he had on the forms completed in 2010”.

However, according to the Tribunal decision Mr Walker failed to produce “any evidence of the documents signed in 2010 or notes of the discussions with customers which took place at that time”.

During the course of its investigation, the three customers gave written statements to a Mr Newell, an investigator employed by LV, denying that they giving consent to Mr Walker to proceed with the transfers or signing the transfer documents.

Mr Walker told the Tribunal he believed Mr Newell “acted improperly in obtaining these statements and the evidence obtained is tainted”.

Although Mr Walker had an otherwise unblemished 25-year career record, the tribunal stated it believes there are “concerns”.

“As I have indicated that there are serious concerns that need to be answered... [and] I cannot allow this factor to tip the balance in favour of the restrictions being suspended.”

This is not the final decision and the case is still ongoing.