An ombudsman has issued a scathing criticism of a financial advice firm that helped a client invest his entire pension into Harlequin Property.
The client – referred to as Mr G – complained about the advice he had been given by Allan McRoberts, when trading as AM Wealth Management Services, which led to his £48,000 pension being valued at £1.
AM Wealth Management Services claimed it was being “scapegoated” as it had only advised on whether Mr G should transfer his pension into a self-invested personal pension (Sipp), not on whether that Sipp would be invested into Harlequin.
This, AM Wealth Management Services claimed, was the responsibility of an unregulated advisor or agent who had referred Mr G to them.
However, ombudsman Benjamin Taylor said: “I understand that AM feels it has been made a ‘scapegoat’ and the agent has walked away from this complaint without any liability whatsoever.
“The comparison between AM and the agent though isn’t a fair one. The agent isn’t a regulated adviser. We have no jurisdiction over it.
“It is hugely significant that AM is. It brings a privilege to advise on pension transfers and gives responsibilities, duties and protections towards clients that an unregulated adviser doesn’t have. AM had a regulated duty to give suitable advice, but it didn’t. If AM had given suitable advice then it wouldn’t be dealing with this complaint. It’s as simple as that.”
Mr Taylor pointed out that the property was high risk, highly illiquid, highly geared and speculative, but Mr G transferred his entire pension provision.
He also said there was no evidence Mr G had any experience of property investments like Harlequin and his fact-find recorded he had limited capacity for loss.
In addition, AM claimed Mr G had a high attitude to risk despite no attitude to risk questionnaire having been completed, and it being unclear how the firm reached this conclusion.
Mr Taylor said: “COBS 2.1.1R required AM to act ‘honestly, fairly and professionally in accordance with the best interests of its client’.
“This is an independent duty on the firm. It can’t simply say the customer had already decided what he wanted to do, so it simply carried out his wishes regardless of whether it was in Mr G’s best interests.”
Mr Taylor told AM to obtain the notional transfer value of Mr G’s previous pension plan if it had not been transferred and pay an amount into his Sipp so its value is equal to this notional transfer value.
AM has also been told to pay a commercial value to buy Mr G’s share in the Harlequin property and pay five years’ worth of future fees owed by Mr G to the Sipp.
It has also been told to pay Mr G £300 for the trouble and upset caused.