The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said that after reviewing data from firms carrying out defined benefit transfers, it has concluded that financial advisers are still providing too much bad advice to their clients.
The FCA said it is concerned that firms are recommending that too many clients transfer out of their defined benefit plans despite the regulator’s public stance that transfers are likely to be unsuitable for most clients.
“We have said repeatedly that, when advising on DB transfers, advisers should start from the position that a transfer is not suitable,” Megan Butler, the FCA’s executive director of supervision, wholesale, and specialists, said in a release. “It is deeply concerning and disappointing to see that transfers are still being recommended at the levels we have seen.”
Butler said that deciding whether to transfer out of a defined benefit plan is one of the most complex financial decisions a consumer may have to make.
“It is vital customers get high-quality advice,” she said, adding that “our ambition is for pension transfer advice to reach the same standard as that of the rest of the financial advice market.”
The FCA said it has found that approximately 90% of the wider financial advice market provided suitable advice to their clients. However, in its review of the defined benefit transfer market, the FCA said that it found suitable advice in fewer than 50% of cases.
The FCA published the results of the data it has received from just over 3,000 firms carrying out defined benefit transfers between April 2015 and September 2018, which shows that more than twice as many people were being told to transfer out of their defined benefit plans than were told to stay put.
According to the data, more than 2,400 firms had provided advice to nearly 235,000 plan members on transferring their defined benefit pension. It said that just over 162,000 members had been recommended to transfer out of their plans, while fewer than 73,000 had been recommended not to transfer. The FCA also found that just over 1,450 firms had recommended that three quarters or more of their clients transfer out of their plans.
Although the FCA said the data is not an assessment of the suitability of advice, it said they give the regulator the information it needs to focus its supervision work to drive up the quality of advice. It said it has already visited some firms, starting with those most active in the market.
The FCA said the visits will allow it to complete a full assessment of the firms’ approach to advice, focusing on key aspects of their business models and processes that could “give rise to harm.” The FCA said it will also write to all firms where the potential for harm has been identified from the data.
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