Aviva has faced a backlash after claiming Financial Conduct Authority rules forced it to contact some of its advised clients directly with marketing information about its services.
The provider emailed off-platform clients to inform them they could now access information about their pensions online – a move advisers claimed amounted to an attempt at client poaching.
But Aviva said the FCA’s principle seven on “communications with clients” meant it had a duty to inform clients about its services.
The principle, which is in the FCA’s handbook, reads: “A firm must pay due regard to the information needs of its clients, and communicate information to them in a way which is clear, fair and not misleading.”
But others said that while the rules dictate certain information must be passed on to the client directly, marketing material was not covered by the rules.
The issue was uncovered when Aviva contacted a client of Gary Friel, an adviser at Kent Insurance Services, to offer him the chance to sign up to the My Aviva service, even though the original product was not bought directly from Aviva.
Mr Friel claimed the email highlighted tasks that are typically performed by an adviser, including getting an instant valuation and tracking performance, and keeping track of annual statements.
It followed an email sent to clients last month that reminding them their pension pot had reached a “milestone amount” and offered them the chance to investigate options other than that which their adviser had placed them in.
While the first email contained a reference to the importance of financial advice in small print, the latest did not.
And while Mr Friel said the pension was “fit for purpose”, an Aviva spokesman told Financial Adviser it had a duty to contact clients with those pensions.
They said: “We have large numbers of customers in a variety of off-platform policies that did not historically have online access to information about their pension.
“We communicate with these customers to ensure they are aware that they can now access information online, which also meets our duties to them under FCA principles.
“Unsurprisingly, this often results in them wishing to make changes of one kind or another. The paragraph in question [outlining how clients could manage or change their services] reflects this and the responsibility we have to make sure customers consider any information we provide carefully before taking any action.”
Aviva said its approach was fair in an industry “frequently criticised for a lack of transparency and consumer trust”.
Mr Friel said the emails were an attempt to poach clients. He called the reference to FCA rules a “cop out.” He said: “ [This is] a very convenient interpretation which manifests in an obvious and flagrant [attempt] to actively market and cross sell to clients introduced by IFAs.”
Mike Barrett, consulting director at The Lang Cat, said: “Offering clients a chance to look at what they have in their pension and what they could have is a positive move, but the lack of a paragraph championing advice, and the role of the adviser is maybe the problem.