Standard Life and Aviva clash over adviser charging

Standard Life and Aviva clash over adviser charging

A ban on contingent charging would serve little purpose and threatens to put the most vulnerable at greater risk, Standard Life Aberdeen has warned.

Alastair Black, head of financial planning propositions at Standard Life Aberdeen, warned stopping advisers from charging their clients based on actual business written, such as when a pension transfer is carried out, would fail to protect consumers because of certain behavioural biases involved.

For instance, asking vulnerable people, those with typically the least financial experience and available cash, to pay for advice threatened to push them into transferring no matter what so they could get their hands on their pension cash to pay for the advice and not incur debt.

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His comments come in the wake of rival Aviva calling for a ban on the charging method.

The regulator asked in its latest defined benefit (DB) transfer paper whether contingent charging should be banned so that it cannot incentivise unsuitable advice.

The concern is that advisers, particularly firms which specialise in pension transfer advice, may be commercially dependent on a proportion of clients transferring, therefore the recommendation to transfer can be misguided.

Mr Black agreed the risk was there, as was seen in the transfer fiasco around British Steel, which prompted another round of regulatory reviews, but he added most advice firms in the market wanted the best for their clients so should not be affected by this risk.

Consumers, on the other hand, might be more prone to behavioural bias, such as the idea that money in the present is worth more than in the future and there is a risk they may try to mislead advisers during the advice process to get access to their money to pay for the debt incurred from the advice fee, he said.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact advice is compulsory for pension transfers worth more than £30,000, he added.

Mr Black said: "The most important issue about contingent charging is there's a conflict but getting rid of contingent charging is not necessarily going to solve that conflict but worse than that, it probably will create new ones.

"The most vulnerable consumers really don't understand and [therefore] don't get the benefit of generic guidance. If you don't do contingent charging you are going to have to tell them they will need to pay potentially £5,000 for the advice.

"It is those that have no spare money it creates enormous risks for. Either they [meet] the cost or they get themselves into debt in order to pay for the transfer advice.

"There is a risk they would be even more likely to transfer so they can get their hands on the cost of the advice from their pension."

Mr Black's comments come after Aviva argued on Monday (14 May) the use of contingent charging for DB transfers threatened to "further undermine trust in the pension and insurance sector".