Tony Hazell 

FCA puts a stop to equity release qualification

Tony Hazell

Tony Hazell

Equity release was the fastest growing mortgage sector in 2016. Lending grew by 34 per cent between 2015 and 2016, with the total for the year hitting £2.15bn, according to the Equity Release Market Report, which was released last month by the Equity Release Council.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Financial Conduct Authority has decided there is no need for a new standalone equity release qualification. After all, who wants specialist qualifications for an exploding area that involves investors taking a loan for the remainder of their life and putting their home on the line?

The FCA did note: “We recognise that a solid understanding of mortgages is – and is likely to remain – an important competency in giving equity release advice.”

Nothing gets past them does it?

The FCA’s decision comes despite strong support for such a qualification in research by the Society of Mortgage Professionals and the Personal Finance Society. Support from firms though was, not surprisingly, scanty.

But should the FCA’s decision be based on the desires of firms or the needs and protection of consumers? No one wants more red tape, but surely a standalone qualification would give the growing number of homeowners seeking advice on this subject confidence in choosing an adviser.

Equity release is not only in increasing demand, it is also becoming more complex and being used by some as part of an overall later-life investment strategy sometimes involving inheritance tax planning.

There are calls to make lifetime mortgages more accessible by removing some of the guarantees. Surely in light of this the need for a specialist qualification becomes ever greater.

Equity release can be an expensive transaction. The consequences of choosing the wrong option can be huge in terms of interest paid, penalties for getting out, flexibility and money left for children and grandchildren.

For many people, this will be the most important financial transaction they ever make. Yet apparently this is not worth a standalone qualification.

No doubt the FCA will change its mind in five or 10 years, and anything that goes wrong in the meantime will be everyone’s fault but theirs.

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Do fools rush in before Brexit?

An former colleague last week told me he has moved all of his pension savings into cash. His attitude is “better safe than sorry” as we run up to the turbulent Brexit negotiations. Naturally I told him in that case the only sensible strategy for the rest of us was to be fully invested.

But while I remain committed as a serious stock market investor, I am a little more twitchy than normal.

Investment Association figures showed a record £4bn net investment into funds last month, with equity funds alone attracting £1.7bn and mixed assets a further £818m. This may be the wall of money from investors who sold and sat on the sidelines post-Brexit – hence selling low and then missing out the better part of a year of growth.

But when previously nervous investors start piling in, it always sets my nerves jangling.

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