British Steel Twitter storm adviser must halt DB transfers

British Steel Twitter storm adviser must halt DB transfers

An adviser who has criticised media attention on pension transfer advice in relation to British Steel has been told by the regulator to stop its transfer business with immediate effect.

County Capital Wealth Management, also trading as Pension Review Service, was asked to stop giving transfer advice on 6 February, according to an entry on the regulator’s register of regulated firms.

Mark Abley, managing director of the Durham-based firm, criticised attacks in the media on those helping steelworkers transfer out of their lucrative defined benefit pensions in December, saying there was a "trial by social media being conducted" on financial advisers involved in the British Steel case.

Today (7 February) he told FT Adviser the firm has agreed to suspend its transfer business voluntarily but said the FCA action against the firm was not directly related to the advice given.

He said: “The technical side of the advice is sound, there were certain aspects of the process the FCA were unhappy with and we agreed to temporarily suspend our permissions and will resume trading [in pension transfers] when we are happy the issues are resolved.”

Mr Abley had been advising steelworkers on their retirement decisions, including on pension transfers following the failure of the scheme last year.

On 11 December the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced it had stopped three firms giving DB pension advice as part of its work on the BSPS.

Megan Butler, the FCA’s head of supervision, revealed the names of the firms to the work and pensions committee at a hearing later in the month.

She named Active Wealth, Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre and Mansion Park but could not give the name of a fourth firm the FCA was in the process of taking action against..

British Steel workers were asked to decide before 22 December whether to move their DB pension pots to a new plan being created, BSPS II, or stay in the current fund, which would be moved to the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).

Of the approximately 130,000 BSPS members about 43,000 are deferred, which means transferring out of their pension and giving up the associated guarantees was also an option for them.

FTAdviser reported in November that several steelworkers appeared to be transferring out their pensions after being lured by cheap deals by unregulated introducer firm Celtic Wealth Management & Financial Planning, which then referred the clients to advice firm Active Wealth.

Concerns about the financial advice being given to steelworkers had triggered action from the regulators, with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), The Pensions Regulator (TPR) and The Pensions Advisory Service (Tpas) getting involved.

Pensions expert and founder of Pension Playpen Henry Tapper, and Al Rush, principal at Rutland-based Echelon Wealthcare, visited the Welsh city to speak to the steelworkers, and found little evidence of financial advisers suggesting anything other than transfers to the individuals.

But Mr Abley criticised the ensuing media storm at the time, calling commentators "some apparent final salary transfer 'experts'," who "recently visited Port Talbot and concluded that [pretty much] all of the advice that had been given" to the steelworkers was poor.”