Pension provider Aegon has come under fire for allegedly poaching clients from advisers via an automatic upgrade process.
The firm has been accused of writing to clients to inform them their account is going to be "upgraded" if their adviser has not contacted them within a 12-month period – without notifying the intermediary of its plans.
If the customers do not reply stating they do not wish to be upgraded, their policies are automatically moved onto Aegon’s direct to consumer Retiready platform.
As a result, advisers say they are having business taken away from them and customers could be losing out by taking out plans that may not be in their best interests.
But Aegon has strongly denied the claims it is poaching advisers' clients.
According to the company the upgrade process only occurs when the firm's records indicate a client is no longer in contact with an adviser.
Alan Lakey, partner at Highclere Financial Services in Hertfordshire, said he had not seen a client on a one-to-one basis for a year because her retirement date was still a long way off, and later found out that Aegon had transferred her to its direct-to-consumer platform.
“I very rarely see a client every 12 months,” he said. “People don’t keep to clockwork timetables. Some people I see once a year; some I see every three years.”
He also suggested the language used by the firm was misleading.
Mr Lakey said: “Who does not want to be upgraded? It suggests you will be better off than before. At no stage did they say ‘we are taking away your adviser’.
“Any commission I got paid, I no longer get paid. They have stolen my client and my money. I have had to trawl through every pension client I have got to find out if they have stolen them.”
An Aegon spokesperson said the customer was transferred to Retiready because Aegon had not been instructed to move business associated with the previous incarnation of Mr Lakey's company, following his decision to switch his firm from being a partnership to a limited company.
But Mr Lakey branded the response "nonsense", saying Aegon had been notified and the life company had continued to pay the relevant adviser charges related to other clients.
He added the client in question had two plans with Aegon and they provided information to Highclere on one of these but transferred the other.
Paolo Standerwick, managing director at London-based MLP Wealth Management, said his business had also been hit by Aegon's automatic transfers.
“They are poaching the business from under our noses – we can’t trust a firm like that. The clients we gave them they are now taking away.”
He claimed other providers were guilty of the tactic, which had led to clients being ‘hoodwinked’ into taking out products, such as annuities in arrears, by default.