Financial Conduct Authority  

FCA delays pension transfer qualifications to next year

FCA delays pension transfer qualifications to next year

The Financial Conduct Authority has delayed raising the level of qualifications needed by pension transfer specialists until the end of next year as it sheds non-critical work amid the coronavirus lockdown. 

The regulator has also delayed its retirement outcomes rules, which would require pension providers to offer investment pathways, until February 2021. 

In an update on its website today (April 7) the FCA confirmed its pensions transfer specialist qualification rules had been delayed until October 2021. 

The rules will see qualification levels raised for pension transfer specialists, requiring them to obtain the same qualification as an investment adviser alongside the existing transfer qualification. 

The watchdog said: "The FCA supports firms’ reprioritisation to focus on preventing and mitigating consumer harm during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We believe that the benefit to consumers from firms dedicating resources to dealing with critical functions in the short term may outweigh the harm from delaying the implementation of certain polices.

"We are also aware that most accredited bodies and other professional qualification providers are postponing their exams due to the coronavirus crisis."

Both the Chartered Insurance Institute and Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment have cancelled exams and closed centres in the past month as a result of the spreading pandemic. 

The FCA has also delayed its rules requiring all pension providers to offer investment pathways to consumers until February 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Under the incoming rules firms will be required to guide customers towards investment solutions tailored to four broad retirement income behaviours, amid concerns at the regulator over consumers moving their pension funds into cash. 

Some providers have welcomed the delay, hailing it as an opportunity for the FCA to "fundamentally reconsider" the reforms. 

Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, said the provider was pleased the FCA was taking a "pragmatic approach" to investment pathways.

He said: "Ploughing ahead with such a fundamental change at a time when all sectors are battling the unique challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic would have been a mistake and risked creating poor consumer outcomes.

"Rather than simply delaying investment pathways, the regulator should take this opportunity to fundamentally rethink the reforms.

"If investment pathways had been in place before the recent market sell-off, thousands of drawdown investors would have been exposed to significant losses with little understanding of why they were nudged in a particular direction."

Mr Selby said whilst investing in cash for the long-term carried significant risk, there were also "perfectly logical reasons" to hold cash in a portfolio at any given time.

He added: "Recent events have also reminded all of us that bull markets do not last forever, and when they end they can be painful for investors."

Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon, also welcomed the delay and said the pathways may require some changes following recent market events. 

Mr Cameron said: "Investment pathways are designed to help non-advised drawdown customers choose a broadly appropriate investment solution but at the current time, this is particularly difficult even on a fully advised basis with a full understanding of the customer’s circumstances.