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As everyone makes their way back to work following a glorious, if politically fuelled summer, it feels that the push has started towards the end of the year.

The responses from readers taking part in the latest Financial Planning Today survey demonstrated the wide variety of business areas that Financial Planners advise on and transact.


This is an edited section of the feature which can be read in full and for free here.

Predictably, the vast majority both advised and transacted Financial Planning services, close to 95%, but a number of other areas were handled by planning firms. Some 40% advised on or transacted auto-enrolment, equity release or corporate Financial Planning. Close to 95% said they transacted and advised on wraps/platforms and over nearly 95% did tax planning.

Some 91% transacted and advised on SIPPs and SSAS. Investment/portfolio management (91%) and pension transfers (88%) were also strongly represented.

However, some planners were unhappy with provider service in some areas.

One area of unrest appears to be in the service from platforms with more than one in five planners looking to change provider.

Some 6.7% of planners considered service levels to be “very poor” and said they were “actively seeking a new platform.”

The vast majority (65%) said platforms could do better.

Just 13% said the service they received was “excellent.”

Surprisingly, one area where planners appear to be taking a potential hurdle in their stride was regulation.

Despite the FCA’s recently announced major review of financial advice many viewed the review as positive.

Close to 70% said it was the right thing to do with 30% harbouring reservations.

This was despite more than 54% of respondents stating that financial regulation costs, including the FSCS and Financial Ombudsman, were a key challenge.

The main issue for many was the rising cost of professional indemnity insurance (58%).

This was followed by the FCA’s review of financial advice, competition from new and existing competitors (17.7%), competition from robo-advisers (10.8%) and sale or exit from business (9.5%).

Other answers included Brexit, MiFID II, increased market volatility and competing with unethical rivals.

The survey also showed the wide variation in the size of firms.

Many are still small with just one or two staff but there is growth among bigger firms, likely driven by a recent wave of mergers and acquisitions.

Marginally the second most popular answer (after one or two employees on 18%) was six to 10 employees at 17% of respondents, but this was closely followed by larger firms of more than 100 employees on 14.5%, tied with firms employing 11 to 25 staff.

The typical size of client portfolios varied greatly, with a range of less than £100,000 (9.5%) to £10m+ (1.3%).

The most popular answers were £350,001 to £500,000 and £500,001 to £1m (both 26%).

The next most popular answer was £250,001 to £350,000 (17.6%)

The vast majority expressed satisfaction with professional bodies like the PFS and CISI.

The full feature and survey results can be read for free here.

SIPP provider Curtis Banks Group has revealed increased profits and assets in its interim results for the six months to 30 June.


The firm increased pre-tax profits by 14% from £4.8m in 2018 to £5.4m.

Meanwhile assets under administration rose by 9.6% from £25.1bn to £27.5bn.

 

Other highlights included:

Operating Revenue increased by 6.7% to £24.5m (2018: £23.0m)

Interim dividend of 2.5p per share (2018: 2.0p)
 
Will Self, chief executive of Curtis Banks, said: “This is a solid set of results for the first six months of 2019 with the period under review showing an increase in our key financial metrics.

“Once again, the Group has continued to grow profitably and maintains a high proportion of quality recurring earnings which demonstrates the resilience of our business against some current headwinds in the SIPP industry and wider marketplace.

“Through initiatives to stimulate both organic and inorganic growth, as well as successfully diversifying revenues by broadening our capability to commercial property clients, we have navigated the first half of 2019 extremely well.

“I am confident and excited about our prospects for further growth.”

SIPPs and SSAS firm Talbot and Muir has warned that a number of SSAS arrangements face “significant costs and delays” on transfers to a more suitable vehicle, such as a SIPP.


SSAS arrangements continue to be popular with advisers and their clients but at times it becomes necessary to transfer to a SIPP, the firm says. 

This may be due to the sale of the sponsoring employer or other personal reasons. 

Talbot and Muir says many who decide to transfer their SSAS benefits but wish to retain certain assets such as property are faced with unjustified charges and administrative delays.

 

While SSAS’s are not regulated by the FCA the firm said it “seems unfair” clients are not protected by the FCA’s fair treatment of clients Outcome 6, whereby consumers do not face unreasonable post-sale barriers imposed by firms to change product or provider.
 
David Bonneywell, director, Talbot and Muir, said: “We are seeing a marked increase in the enquiries received from IFA’s in respect of SSAS schemes that wish to move to a SIPP. 

“One reason for the contact is that these schemes are facing very high costs to transfer and they are looking to see if there are ways to minimise this. 

“Current administrators appear to be unhelpful with regards to the transfer and are putting restrictive internal red tape in place, in particular when a property is involved. 
 
“A number of advisers are now recommending that the SSAS changes administrator and professional trustee, and then effects a transfer to a SIPP in a cost efficient and timely manner.”

Royal London has warned against a “drastic” proposal to raise the State Pension age to 75.


The Centre for Social Justice, a think tank chaired by former Work and Pensions Secretary and ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, recently published a report which recommended the change.

The rationale for upping the pension age to 75 by 2035 was cited as “removing barriers” for older employees and “health and wellbeing concerns”.

The report’s conclusion read: “ Removing barriers for older people to remain in work has the potential to contribute greatly to the health of individuals and the affordability of public services.

“Therefore, this paper argues for significant improvements in the support for older workers.

“This includes improved healthcare support, increased access to flexible working, better opportunities for training, an employer-led Mid-Life MOT and the implementation of an ‘Age Confident’ scheme.

“As we prepare for the future, we must prioritise increasing the opportunity to work for this demographic to reduce involuntary worklessness.

 

“For the vulnerable and marginalised, a job offers the first step away from state dependence, social marginalisation and personal destitution.”

In addition, provided that this support is in place, we propose an increase in the State Pension Age to 75 by 2035.

“While this might seem contrary to a long-standing compassionate attitude to an older generation that have paid their way in the world and deserve to be looked after, we do not believe it should be.

“Working longer has the potential to improve health and wellbeing, increase retirement savings and ensure the full functioning of public services for all. 

But Royal London’s Helen Morrissey cautioned against the approach.

The pension specialist said: “While such proposals will undoubtedly save money, raising state pension age so quickly will cause huge issues for many retirees who will not have been given adequate time to prepare.

“We need to give careful thought to what kind of jobs people in their 70s are able to do and while some people will be able to work on for longer others simply won’t be able to.

“These people will face severe financial hardship if they have not saved enough into a pension to cover the years between leaving work and claiming state pension.”

She added: “The Government needs to think carefully before taking such drastic action.”

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme has opened the door to claims against a SIPP firm which was dissolved more than 10 years ago.


The FSCS says it is now accepting claims again North Star SIPP LLP which was dissolved on 9 June 2009. 

In January 2018, the FSCS declared three SIPP operators, Brooklands Trustees Ltd, Stadia Trustees Ltd and Montpelier Pension Administration Services Ltd in default. Since then FSCS has received a number of claims against these and other SIPP operators, it says.

The compensation body says it is aware that SIPP operator due diligence has been an industry ‘hot topic’ in recent years and FSCS is aware that there are a number of pending civil claims in the High Court against various SIPP operators in respect of alleged due diligence failings.

The FSCS anticipates that claims submitted against North Star will relate to the SIPP operator's due diligence obligations in allowing customers to make specific investments under their pensions.

In a statement the FSCS said: “We're aware that North Star customers may have been advised by independent financial advisers to transfer existing pensions into a North Star SIPP. Following the pension transfer, customers had their pension funds placed in high risk, non-standard investments, many of which have become illiquid.”

The FSCS says it has has already assessed and paid a number of claims made against IFAs already declared in default by the FSCS in relation to advice customers received to transfer their pension into a North Star SIPP.

SIPP provider Berkeley Burke has been ordered to pay almost £1m in costs to people left out of pocket after making high-risk unregulated investments which were accepted into the firm’s SIPPs. 

The joint administrators of GPC SIPP have concluded the sale of the business to Hartley Pensions following a period of marketing.


The deal, which was completed on Monday, included the effective transfer of the SIPPs and SSASs held via the trustee company, Guardian Pension Trustees Limited.

Adam Stephens and Henry Shinners of Smith & Williamson LLP were appointed as joint administrators of GPC on June 11.

Hartley is an established SSAS provider with over 35 years’ experience in the financial services industry, opening its first SIPP in 2001.

It is part of the Wilton Group and manages more than £1 billion of clients’ assets.

  

Adam Stephens, lead administrator, said: “We are pleased to confirm the sale of the business to Hartley, which will provide continuity of service to GPC’s clients.

“We recognise that the insolvency of GPC may have been unsettling to clients”.

Weightmans LLP acted as legal advisers to the joint administrators on the sale.

James Moore, restructuring and insolvency partner at Weightmans LLP, led the team along with Natasha Atkinson (R&I Partner) and pensions partner Mark Poulston.

The joint administrators confirmed that all staff will transfer across to Hartley, which, they said, should assist in ensuring that clients will experience minimum disruption in the transfer process.

The joint administrators and Hartley “do not anticipate that there will be any interruption to the services previously provided by GPC”.

GPC specialised in the provision of technical and administration services to Guardian Pension Trustees Limited which acted as the corporate trustee of SIPPs and SASSs.

It administered around 3,200 SIPPs and 50 SSASs, holding over 8,000 property assets, and a total investment value of around £130m.

The joint administrators said clients will be contacted “in the coming days” with information about their pensions.

It was good to see the Guidance Consultation from the FCA on the fair treatment of vulnerable clients that has recently been published.

The retirement outcomes review continues to cause fun and games in the world of pensions. Particularly for those with more complex pension products.

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