FCA opts for softer approach to charges comparison in pensions

FCA opts for softer approach to charges comparison in pensions

The Financial Conduct Authority is taking a softer approach to cost and charges comparison requirements in pensions after listening to industry feedback on its proposed rules.

In a policy statement published today (October 4), the regulator said the most significant issue raised in the feedback to its value for money consultation was around the level at which charges comparison should be conducted. 

To address concerns raised by the industry, the FCA said its final rules will allow Independent Governance Committees and Governance Advisory Arrangements some flexibility to decide how best to conduct the comparison. 

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In particular, the FCA changed its policy to afford IGCs greater flexibility and judgement around both the types of information to consider and how to assess and compare the information. 

It said: “We maintain our view that in many circumstances, the most meaningful level for the comparisons of cost and charges is at the individual employer arrangement level, since it is at this level that members experience the service offered by the particular firm at a price which is particular to that arrangement. 

“However, we also recognise that in some cases comparing costs and charges at a more aggregated level (i.e. cohorts of similar employer arrangements) is also appropriate and can provide a meaningful basis on which IGCs can compare VFM.

"Some combination of the two approaches may also be appropriate – starting at the higher level and then drilling down to look at outliers, for example.”

The final rules allow IGCs to decide which level of assessment is the most appropriate and proportionate way to assess the firm’s scheme and which value for money assessment is the most useful for members.

The regulator added: “We have made some changes to the rules to reflect the responses to our consultation. 

“The majority of these changes introduce additional flexibility into the rules, giving IGCs more discretion around how they choose to conduct VFM assessment, and do not impose further requirements on IGCs.”

'A systematic framework'

The FCA first began consulting on proposals in June to determine value for money in workplace pensions to ensure members are getting the best possible result. 

In the consultation published at the time, the regulator brought forward proposals to make it easier for both IGCs and GAAs to compare pension products and services to determine whether members are being treated fairly.

Today's policy statement set out the final rules which require IGCs and GAAs to take into account three key elements of value for money - costs and charges, investment performance, and services provided, including member communications.

The FCA said it expects IGCs to challenge their pension provider on costs and charges to their clients and to flag any rival scheme that may be offering lower administration charges and transaction costs.

If the IGC is not satisfied with the governing body’s response the relevant employer should be notified, it added.