At the end of my previous post, I was keenly awaiting the written report on my enhanced transfer value (ETV) consultation, after feeling some concerns about the process up to that point. What arrived earlier this month came in three part harmony:

1. A Transfer Suitability Report, which summarised the conversation I had had with my adviser, and the recommendation which I had rather wrung out of him not to transfer (a red traffic light illustration next to the summary reinforced the point), and included the modeller output that suggested a 9 in 10 chance of receiving a higher income at retirement (weather symbol: sunny).

sunnyThere was nothing more for me to read on the assumptions here while I waited at the red light in the sunny weather but, instead, a new concept to anyone not working in pensions for a living which had not been mentioned in our previous conversation: critical yield. It explained that this was “the estimated investment return you would need to achieve year on year, if you were to transfer to a personal pension, in order to match the benefits provided by the Scheme at retirement”. It was calculated at 6.4%.

This was a little confusing since, when put together with the sunny 9 out of 10 assessment of my chances of receiving a higher income at retirement, it might lead you to think that there was a 90% chance of at least a 6.4% pa average investment growth over the next 10 years based on my new medium risk tolerance (which only reduced my equity allocation from 90% to 85%). But in fact 9 out of 10 was based on needing no spouse pension (they thought this reasonable as I am currently separated, but my Scheme benefits will include a spouse pension provided I have a spouse at retirement) and lower pension increases than are provided by the Scheme (these are indexed to the Retail Prices Index (RPI) rather than the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) assumed after the transfer, CPI tending to be lower). So 9 out of 10 was not replacing like with like, and the probability of achieving the critical yield over the next 10 years was more likely to be in the cloudy-with-a-chance-of-rain category.

2. Additional Information. This must contain the assumptions used, I thought. But no. It was instead an overview of how they had selected Aviva to be the pension provider, what the pension protection fund and financial services compensation scheme did and a glossary of terms. The glossary, interestingly, included lifestyling. “Lifestyling”, it said, “is an investment approach in which funds are gradually switched from more volatile asset classes, such as UK and Overseas Equities, to lower risk investments, such as Fixed Interest and Cash, in the period leading up to retirement. The aim of lifestyling is to reduce the risk of large fluctuations in your fund value as you approach your chosen retirement age. The reason for this is that, if markets were to fall significantly immediately before you retire, this would lead to significant reduction in your retirement income.” Lifestyling had not previously been mentioned as being assumed to be taking place over the next 10 years in any of my illustrations. This eagerly awaited report appeared to be raising more questions than it was answering.

3. Transfer Value Analysis Report. This gave more details about the benefits I was currently entitled to and that the projections of future income were based on CPI increases of 2% pa. And then finally, in the final appendix of the final report, there were notes on the assumptions underlying the calculation of the critical yield. Unhelpfully this included an annuity interest rate and annuity expense assumptions, but no mortality assumption. You would obviously need to know how long you were expected to live to work out how much they expected the annuity to cost. Or they could just have told me. Unfortunately, how much the annuity was expected to cost seemed to be on the list of things the member was not expected to need to know.

So, at the end of the process, I was still no wiser about the annuity rates assumed, or what high, medium and low meant in the years leading up to retirement. I didn’t think that the adviser I had knew either. And on this basis I was being asked to make an irrevocable decision about a third (more if you considered the cost of purchasing an equivalent guaranteed deferred annuity rather than the transfer values offered) of my pensions wealth.

I reflected on the times in the past when I had advised trustees to ensure as a minimum that transferring members in such exercises received independent advice, and on how inadequate that now seemed to be to support a decision in this case. As far as I could see everyone involved was doing their job in the way the regulatory regime intended them to. It was, in many ways, a model process:

  • The sponsor was making an offer to members, and paying for independent advice to those members. If the advice was not to transfer or the member decided not to take any advice, the transfer was not allowed to proceed.
  • The independent adviser had made a modeller available to members, and had carried out an assessment of each member’s attitude to investment risk. However both of these were seen as guides only, and they were prepared to be influenced in their advice by the attitudes presented to them directly by the members.
  • The Trustee Board had made it clear that it was up to the members to decide and that members should consider any information provided carefully before opting for a transfer.

However, if I had accepted the original risk assessment, and let large parts of the information provided go over my head as too technical, I could well have been both advised to transfer and left with the impression that I had a 9 out of 10 chance of being better off as a result. This would not have been a remotely accurate impression. However, even if I had avoided that particular banana skin, I would still not, at the end of this totally professional and, at first sight, thorough process, have had enough information to decide whether I agreed with the advice given. This meant that, despite everyone’s best efforts here, it would still have been possible to have been missold a transfer.

That that should still be the case after all the regulatory activity in this area suggests to me that there is a limit to what regulators can achieve when it is seen as enough for the regulated to merely follow codes of practice and guidance. To aim higher than this requires both trustees and their advisers to do more than play the referee.

And my pension is staying where it is.



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