Defined Benefit  

MPs to probe pension costs and advice

MPs to probe pension costs and advice

The Work & Pensions select committee has launched a review into the cost of pension provision, including financial advice.

The review, which follows an earlier inquiry into the government's pension freedom and choice reforms, will examine whether enough is being done to ensure savers are offered value for money for their pension savings, understand what they are being charged and why, and understand the impact of costs on retirement outcomes.

The MPs will also look at whether consumers are given the chance to understand how their money is being invested and how their investments are performing, as well as whether they are given a good-value, impartial service from financial advisers.

Earlier this year the committee slated advisers involved in the British Steel pension fiasco for 'shamelessly bamboozling' steelworkers into signing up to ongoing advice fees and unsuitable pension products and investments, when transferring out of their defined benefit (DB) nest eggs.

The MPs had argued the use of contingent charging by defined benefit transfer advisers, which has since become the subject of a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) review, gave rise to an 'inherent conflict of interest' and recommended it be banned.

The FCA is currently looking into this issue and is expected to report back in the autumn.

The committee wants to know from stakeholders whether higher-cost providers deliver better performance, or simply eat into clients' savings.

It is asking whether the government is doing enough to ensure workplace pension savers get value for money and to encourage people to engage with their savings.

It also wants to know whether there are barriers preventing consumers from switching providers.

The committee said concerns about cost and charges had been intensified by the rapid rise in enrolment in workplace pension schemes, and a sharp increase in demand for drawdown products, and transfers out of defined benefit schemes.

The committee stated: "These developments have intensified concerns about the effect of investment management charges, transaction, advisory and other intermediation costs, in eroding the value of individuals’ savings. 

"These are part of broader concerns that low levels of customer engagement and understanding, coupled with costly and opaque intermediation, risk leading to poor outcomes for pensioners."

It said its work on defined benefit pension transfers had highlighted concerns about the fee structures in self-invested pension pensions (Sipps) in particular, which were the main destinations for funds. 

"We found that poorly-advised individuals are at risk of their funds being transferred into vehicles with high ongoing charges, early-exit fees and expensive intermediation," the MPs said.

FCA research published in October 2017 showed less than half (47 per cent) of DB transfer advice it had reviewed nationwide had met its standards with suitability rates lower than for other forms of financial advice.

The MPs said £22.44bn was withdrawn from DB funds in 2017, more than double the amount in 2016. 

Financial advice must be taken for any DB transfer worth £30,000 or more but the committee said it was concerned about "major issues" that have come to light regarding the practices of advisers and marketers in this segment of the financial advice marketplace.