With stock markets tumbling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, pensions are suffering and customers are anxious. Recent trends have seen people demanding more complex products and a greater control over how their pensions are invested. While this has been popular, and has helped people create more tailored portfolios, it can also create problems given the market volatility caused by the virus.
Regulators’ focus will be on ensuring customers receive the best possible support in making appropriate investment decisions. Investment products should be appropriate for individual needs and marketed in a fair way which is not misleading. Firms will be encouraged to help customers find products that meet their needs as well as provide access to clear information in “plain English” explaining their options.
The FCA is also reiterating the need for higher standards of governance and control to protect customers, while ensuring everything is done with consumer interests at heart.
Unfortunately, the crisis also increases customers’ vulnerability to scams or making bad investment decisions. Before the crisis, pensions were benefiting from a boom in investment markets. However, COVID-19 has sent markets around the world into turmoil. Many people will have seen their investment pots shrink considerably in just a few weeks. Understandably, they may be stressed or anxious, both of which make them more vulnerable to making rushed decisions and falling victim to scams.
In the wake of COVID-19 there has been a surge of cyber scams focusing on the current situation and the FCA is working to reduce people’s risk of harm.
“Fraudsters will exploit the coronavirus to prey on anxiety and fear of savers and investors, especially those who may be vulnerable. That’s why we’re urging anyone who is thinking about transferring their pension to check who they are dealing with and only use firms authorised by the FCA.”Mark Steward, FCA Director of Enforcement
They advise customers to reject all unsolicited offers and be wary of any offers appearing to have high return rates. At times of stress, customers may be more likely to jump on anything that could be a potential “life raft”. Their defences are down, making them targets for unscrupulous operators.
At this time, high quality advice will be at a premium and firms must be aware that their own customers may be more at risk from scams, especially those claiming to be from their pension providers.
Information is vital. The FCA has proposed to launch a consumer harm campaign to help people make better investment decisions and avoid failing into some of the traps fraudsters have set up for them.
In the long term, pensions will recover, but that’s scant consolation for those relying on their pension incomes now. Nerves are jangling and people will need support to minimise the harm they and their pension pots face from the crisis.
The FCA has issued guidance for pension providers and DB transfer advisers as the coronavirus pandemic develops. They are working with industry to ensure the market can deliver fair outcomes for consumers. They also set out how firms can, and should, support consumers that seek access to their pension savings during the current pandemic.
Read the full guidance here: https://www.fca.org.uk/firms/pensions-and-retirement-income-our-guidance-firms