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Lessons from 2020 and their impact on the year ahead

Lessons from 2020 and their impact on the year ahead
Photo: Gantas Vaičiulėnas via Pexels

Clients must be urged to stay calm and keep considering their long-term financial needs in 2021, no matter what the new year might bring.

This was the overarching message from commentators representing the retail investment, pensions, protection and mortgages sectors, who spoke to us for the FTAdviser special end-of-year podcast. 

The panellists were still mindful of the panic that hit their sectors when the pandemic first caused the UK to grind to a standstill in March. Mortgage lending contracted, with nearly all the 95 per cent loan-to-value products being pulled from the shelves.

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Protection providers stopped offering cover for unemployment, and imposed Covid-19 as an exclusion on income protection policies.

Investment and pension portfolios dropped, in many cases, by double-digit percentage points, as global markets effectively dived off a cliff. That has not been forgotten by investors despite the strong recovery seen since the March downturn. 

This level of panic hammered home the need for advisers to communicate a message of calmness and keep repeating that well into 2021.

Keith Ashworth-Lord, founder of Sanford DeLand Asset Management, said: "In March this year it seemed the world had turned on its head. 

"In a physical sense, the problem was really with income and dividend deferrals or cancellations as companies sought to ride out this period of lockdown.

"But in a metaphysical sense, people's risk-averse nature really got the better of them this year, and we saw an awful lot of panic, people heading for the hills and getting out at the wrong moment and getting back in at the wrong moment.

"What you have to get over [to people] is that it is not timing the market that matters, but time in the market that matters. You need to have an attitude that says 'I'm not going to panic or be panicked' but it is difficult to get this over to clients."

According to Helen Morrissey, pensions specialist at Royal London, pensions policyholders also felt the market turbulence was "crazy". While pensions might seem to be a long-term investment, the short-term market crashes sent shockwaves through both those approaching decumulation and those in accumulation.

For those entering drawdown, she noted there were "big challenges" such as people having to step back from making immediate decisions.

Moreover, she said people in the accumulation stage, in their 20s, 30s and 40s, were "looking at their pensions and seeing them decrease and they were really panicking.

"We were getting into lots of conversations with people on Twitter with people asking ... How has this happened? Do I need to change my investments? 

"It brought up interesting issues around people's understanding of what a pension is, what it does and what these are invested in."

She said the main message of 2020 was to "stay calm" and remember that pensions are a long-term savings structure.