The Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) new rules on defined benefit (DB) triage could lead to the end of free initial adviser meetings, Aegon has warned.
Steven Cameron, pensions director at the provider, said there was a risk advisers took the FCA's rules on triage a step further and started questioning if initial conversations could be considered a personal recommendation.
In October, the regulator confirmed it would apply a stricter test to guidance services during triage than it would to investment guidance from January 2019 onwards.
The FCA said any guidance based on a consideration of a customer’s circumstances "which steers them one way or the other" was likely to be advice on the merits of a transfer, and therefore pension transfer advice.
In comparison, it is possible for firms to have broad ranging conversations about investments, for example on different asset classes, without these being considered to be advice, the regulator stated.
The watchdog said if triage was to be a non-advised service, it should be an educational process so that consumers can decide whether to proceed to regulated advice.
This was after it found a "lack of understanding" among advisers about the boundaries between guidance and advice, in a consultation on how firms can provide an appropriate triage service that gives factual and generic information without stepping across the advice boundary.
Mr Cameron said: "Some advisers will be quite surprised at how little they can say without it being classed as a personal recommendation.
"They might think: ‘what should I be covering in these initial conversations, and can anything I say come back to haunt me at a later stage’."
He said there is a danger of advisers taking the FCA guidelines into other areas of advice, and stopping these meetings all together.
He added: "In DB triage, the FCA sees things in black and white, as a binary decision. In other environments, such as investments, there are a lot of different outcomes that an adviser may recommend, so the risk is lower."
Mr Cameron said free introductory meetings allow the adviser to access how they might be able to help the client.
"So, an initial exploratory exchange between the two parties is a very constructive part of the overall relationship between adviser and clients," he concluded.
According to Paul Stocks, financial services director at Dobson and Hodge, there is always a risk that non-advice is perceived to be advice, irrespective of the line of discussions.
He said: "What makes DB trickier is the time/cost of giving advice (and the, at times, complicated details contained therein) – hence why ‘triage’ has emerged.
"Historically, the threshold of advice has been where the discussions turn from facts to recommendations and are personal to the recipient. However we clearly need to ensure that, if the ‘hurdle’ for what constitutes advice is lower, we don’t stray into what is defined to be advice unless that’s the basis of the discussion."