Factory gating advisers risk breaching FCA rules

Factory gating advisers risk breaching FCA rules

Advisers who tout for pension transfer business outside workplaces risk breaching the regulator's rules, as more cases of the practice come to light even after widespread condemnation of those who targeted British Steel workers in this way.

Keith Richards, chief executive of The Personal Finance Society (PFS), branded this type of what is commonly called 'factory gating' as unacceptable behaviour among the profession of financial advisers.

He said: "We will not defend any firm which has compromised professional standards because they saw this as a quick money-making opportunity."

Jonathan Watts-Lay, director of Wealth at Work, which provides financial education, guidance and advice in the workplace, revealed it has had clients "where certain locations of their companies effectively have been factory gated by localised IFAs".

He said: "We know that has happened, because when you look at the other locations, transfers run at a normal rate – and then you look at a specific location, transfer [numbers] are through the roof."

Mr Watts-Lay didn't reveal the name of the company targeted by advisers in this way, but he told FTAdviser it is a firm with a defined benefit scheme still open to accrual, which makes a decision to transfer out inappropriate for most people in the scheme.

Mr Watts-Lay and his team went to the location to give some seminars to the workers being targeted at the beginning of the year, after the pension transfer scandal with the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) was already well known.

Plans for the pension scheme's owner Tata Steel to merge with rival ThyssenKrupp were waylaid until a deal could be reached to offload the Tata's liabilities to the British Steel pension scheme.

As a result, steelworkers were given until 22 December to decide whether to move their defined benefit (DB) pension pots to a new plan being created, BSPS II, or stay in the current fund, to be moved to the lifeboat Pension Protection Fund.

The scheme has about 130,000 members of which 43,000 are deferred, meaning transferring out of their pension was an option for them.

FTAdviser reported in November that several steelworkers appeared to be transferring out their pensions after being lured by cheap deals by unregulated introducer firm Celtic Wealth Management & Financial Planning, which then referred the clients to advice firm Active Wealth.

The firm, the first one to be stripped of its transfer permissions, has now entered into liquidation.

It is understood both of these firms targeted steelworkers in or around the site of their workplace, the Port Talbot steelworks.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) doesn't have any specific guidance on factory gating.

But central to its regulation of the sector is the principle that it expects financial advice firms to "act honestly, fairly and professionally in accordance with the best interests of its client," according to its Conduct of Business sourcebook (COBS) principles.

The Personal Finance Society's Mr Richards argued people should be careful to avoid 'factory gating' becoming a common parlance label alongside 'ambulance chasing'.