UK’s FCA Proposes Ban on Contingent Pension Transfer Fees

Regulator says lucrative transfer incentives create conflict of interest for advisers.

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has released a package of pension-related proposals, including a ban on contingent charging for pension transfer advice in a move aimed at eliminating financial adviser conflicts of interest.

When the so-called “pension freedoms” were introduced in 2015, the government’s intensions were to give consumers with defined contribution (DC) pensions more flexibility in how and when they could access their pension savings.

But the pension freedoms also gave consumers more complicated choices over how to invest their pension savings, and when to draw on them. So the government created a mandatory advice requirement to prevent members of defined benefit plans from transferring against their own best interests.

However, the FCA said it is concerned that too many of these advisers have been delivering poor advice, much of it driven by conflicts of interest in the way they are paid. It cited the practice of contingent charging – where advisers only get paid if a transfer proceeds—in particular as creating “an obvious conflict.”

The FCA said that in some cases financial advisers were receiving ongoing fees for pension transfer advice for as long as 20 to 30 years following a transfer. The regulator said it is concerned that such a lucrative incentive could compel advisers to recommend a pension transfer when it may not be in their client’s best interest. 

The FCA has proposed that advisers be required to demonstrate why any plan they recommend is more suitable than the consumer’s workplace pension plan. It is also consulting on the following proposals:

  • To ban contingent charging, except for groups of consumers with certain identifiable circumstances that mean a transfer is likely to be in their best interests
  • Where contingent charging is permitted, advisers will have to charge the same amount, in monetary terms, for advice to transfer as they charge when the advice is non-contingent
  • To introduce a short form of “abridged” advice that can result in a recommendation not to transfer based on a high-level assessment of a client’s circumstances. This will fall outside the proposed ban on contingent charging and should help maintain initial access to advice

Additionally, the FCA has published a feedback statement on its discussion paper on effective competition in non-workplace pensions, and said it found that many consumers are not engaged in pension decisions, and are not aware of charges they are paying. It said products and charges are often too complicated to compare, which leads to a lack of price competition.

The regulator has outlined a package of potential measures to protect consumers that include potentially requiring providers to offer one or more investment solutions, reducing charge complexity, and increasing transparency so that consumers better understand the impact of fees on their savings.

“The FCA’s supervisory work has revealed continued problems in the pensions transfer advice market,” Christopher Woolard, the FCA’s executive director of strategy and competition, said in a statement. “We want to ensure people receive suitable advice and drive down the number giving up valuable defined benefit pensions when it is not in their interests to do so.”

The FCA consultation will run until Oct. 30.

Related Stories:

FCA Says Too Many Advisers Giving Bad Pension Advice
FCA Bans, Fines Directors over £1 Million for Bad Pension Advice
FCA Proposes Pension Risk Transfer Changes

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