IF SOMEONE asked me to name my financial adviser of the year, there would only be one candidate. Step forward Darren Cooke, director of Red Circle Financial Planning.
Although Mr Cooke is someone who had not registered on my radar previously, there is no doubt that this Derbyshire-based chartered financial planner stole the show in 2016.
Not for his astute financial planning although I imagine that his badge words – ‘experience, trust, integrity’ – ring true. But because of his work in getting the Government to wake up to the menace of pension cold calling.
Even more so since April 2016 when new Government rules allowed the over 55’s greater access to their pensions.
There was a barrage of emails, texts and phone calls from fraudsters, many trusting people have been persuaded to access their pension early or move it to a scheme where it is never seen again. Retirement dreams have been shattered. Tears have been shed.
Many warning pieces have been written about these fraudsters in the wake of April 2016 but no one did anything to stop them. The government simply sat back and allowed the pension freedom regime to bed down, warts and all. Laissez-faire in action.
Wearing his integrity hat, Mr Cooke decided this was not good enough. In September, he launched a parliamentary petition (as is anyone’s right) demanding for cold-calling on investments and pensions to be banned.
Although the petition did not get the required backing (10,000) from the general public for the government to respond to it, Mr Cooke’s actions caused waves. A number of leading financial services companies leant their support to Mr Cooke’s campaign, among them AJ Bell, Hargreaves Lansdown and Royal London.
The petition was also backed by leading newspapers including The Mail on Sunday.
Given the head of steam that Mr Cooke had created, it was no surprise when Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, confirmed in his Autumn Statement that a ban on pension cold calling would be introduced next year. Well done Mr Hammond. But bloody well done Mr Cooke. Financial adviser extraordinaire.
I think that financial fraud is one of the issues of our time. Certainly in terms of the financial services industry it is the big issue. Bigger than greater fees transparency on investment funds (a major issue in its own right) or allowing pensioners to sell their annuities for cash. Unless it is tackled head on, it will undermine the financial services industry.
Financial crime is not frowned upon in the same way as say robbery or burglary. Yet its consequences are equally destructive in terms of financial loss. So it is essential that it is tackled head on and that the perpetrators of such crimes pay a heavy price for their actions.
We all need to play our part in fighting this financial cancer. Financial services companies must do more to protect customers from these criminals. That means investing in better IT systems, cleverer IT personnel and devoting more resources to tracking down fraudsters.