Pension Freedom  

FCA's fresh pension transfer stance under fire

FCA's fresh pension transfer stance under fire

The Financial Conduct Authority's starting point on suitability is still too restrictive when it comes to pension transfers, CTC Software has claimed.

In its response to the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA's) consultation paper CP17/16, Advising on Pension Transfers, which closed on 21 September, the pension software provider claimed the City watchdog had failed to create a "neutral" starting point.

It said while the regulator had softened its original stance, in that previously the FCA deemed the base case for all defined benefit (DB) transfers to be not in the client's best interests, the proposal outlined in the 65-page consultation would not make advising on transfers less restrictive.

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According to CTC in its submission: "Although we welcome the overall guidance, we remain unhappy the 'suitability' starting point is unduly restrictive.

"Although removing the statement that a transfer should be assumed to be unsuitable, and then stating the adviser's assessment on a case-by-case basis should start from a neutral starting position, the FCA has reiterated that 'a firm should have regard to the likelihood it will be in the best interests of the majority of consumers to obtain, or retain, safeguarded benefits'. 

"This is not a neutral starting point". 

For example, CTC said if an adviser were to follow the requirements laid out in the FCA's consultation paper, then the personal recommendation "would put the value of any safeguarded benefits being given up into the context of the client's own needs and objectives".

This would not make the process much easier for advisers.

Nigel Chambers, co-founder of CTC, commented that the point of the pension freedom and choice regime is to give people more control over their pension pots, and more flexibility in terms of how they take their money in retirement.

He told FTAdviser: "The regulator's original starting-point on defined benefit transfers was that they are not suitable. 

"While this has softened slightly to 'neutral', it does not allow for consideration that it could be in the best interest of the client's objectives and needs.

"Instead it says it will be in the best interests of "the majority" to retain their safeguarded benefits. Well, as we know [from Brexit], 52 per cent is a majority."

Mr Chambers said, there could be many instances where it would be inadvisable to give people index-linked income well into their 90s.

"Index-linked income is not much use at a time of needing long-term care", he said. Instead, it could be better for people to transfer into a defined contribution style arrangement.

This would allow consumers to draw their tax-free cash lump sum and then leave the whole of the balance of the money invested for later use.

Mr Chambers added: "Flexibility and control is particularly valued by consumers."