The demand for defined benefits (DB) transfers has gone viral. Last year, 67,700 people reportedly transferred out of DB schemes, according to figures from The Pensions Regulator (TPR), although the number is believed to be closer to 80,000.
But not everyone is keen on DB transfers. A past experience where two equity release recommendations resulted in two complaints are among the reasons why financial adviser Neil Liversidge has stayed away from the swirling transfer fever. Suffice to say after rebutting both complaints, they were taken no further.
Mr Liversidge said: “We have seen the demand for it, but we are point blank not getting into it. We just tell clients we do not handle that kind of work.”
In principle, Mr Liversidge is in favour of a person’s right to be able to “do what they want with their money”. But he is concerned about the danger to advisers if a client comes back and says they were given poor advice on DB transfers.
The demand for transfers has led to questions over the robustness of outsourcing arrangements, protection against insistent clients and potential shortfalls in income if people take out too much in one go and end up living longer than expected.
Mr Liversidge added: “My concern is people will blow the money and come back and say they were badly advised, and the Financial Ombudsman Service (Fos) will believe them.”
DB transfers are clearly on the government’s mind. In February, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched a consultation looking at the security and sustainability of such schemes.
Closer to home, it is also of concern to the FCA. In July, the FCA banned Northampton-based IFA David Williams from carrying out pension transfers. In June, the regulator told Strategic Wealth to stop all pension-related business until a review was completed.
It is also looking at between 50 to 100 firms as part of a study into advice on DB transfers.
Data released to FTAdviser under the freedom of information rules earlier this year showed that 54 firms were voluntarily restricted from carrying out transfers.
Sir Steve Webb, the former pensions minister and Royal London director of policy and external communications said: “The FCA is concerned about outsourcing arrangements. I think I would far prefer they get people to tighten up on their processes now rather than come back in five years and complain that people didn’t do things properly.”
Neil Sadler, a chartered financial planner from Lift Financial, said his firm does DB transfers, but has a limit on how much they will take on because of the lengthy and complicated process.
Fears that the FCA or Fos will, in years to come, say people have been given inadequate DB transfer advice, is exacerbated by the perceived high-handed manner in which the Fos operates and “mixed messages” from the regulator and the government.
Advisers have long been critical that Fos’ decisions more often than not swing in the favour of the client.