Defined BenefitMar 28 2017

Ex-FSA employee warns of regulatory action on DB transfers

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Ex-FSA employee warns of regulatory action on DB transfers

A former regulator who worked on the 1990's pension review has warned of FCA action over the spate of defined benefit transfer requests being made since pension freedoms came into force.

David Penney, now chartered financial planner at London-based Penney, Ruddy and Winter, previously worked at the FCA's predecessor, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), in 1999.

At that point in time the regulator was busy dealing with the fallout from the 1994 pensions review. 

He said: "Back in the late 1990s when I worked on the Pensions Review, we found overwhelmingly that advisers had made a decision to transfer people out of their workplace scheme based on the critical yield.

"Many did not have any record of the conversations or recommendations, let alone the right documentation, but they carried out a lot of pension transfers.

"I think history is going to repeat itself. Based on my past experience at the FSA, I am convinced there will be a new review into the current spate of defined benefit (DB) transfers being carried out post-pension freedoms."

If they see the same reasons being cited each time by advisers, this will be a red flag for the FCA. David Penney

Mr Penney said: "Given the original Pensions Review was prompted by the sheer volume of transfers, it is important advisers now look into exactly why and whether it is now justified, post-pension freedoms, to do a transfer.

"Are the motives being cited now - death benefits, flexibility and access to cash - good enough reasons? Is the fact transfer values are so high thanks to low interest rates a suitable reason?

"If we have another market correction people will see a loss in their funds as they've taken on all the investment risk themselves post-transfer out of a defined benefit scheme. They will ask questions about the advice.

"I am convinced the FCA will carry out a thematic review on this by visiting firms, to nip in the bud any potential problems 'for the greater good'. The FCA will be looking at client files.

"And if they see the same reasons being cited each time by advisers, this will be a red flag for the FCA."

The FCA did not comment on whether it was intending to carry out a pension transfer review - as has been speculated on widely - or whether it was concerned about the high number of DB pension transfers post-freedoms.

The FCA, until very recently, has been of the opinion that the first-case scenario should always be that a DB transfer was never in the clients' interest, although its most recent guidance on pension suitability recognised clients' circumstances could trump critical yields.