In July the BBC’s Panorama programme ran a feature on 'pension rip-offs'. It focused on one particular operation based in Derby, where ordinary people were persuaded to transfer their pensions into a Sipp to then be ‘invested’ into a hotel and leisure complex in Cape Verde.
The programme piqued interest for a couple of reasons. Derby is only down the road from me and I had reported this scheme to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) over two years earlier. Online comments showed others too had reported this particular firm to the FCA.
I was hugely annoyed nothing was being done. Hundreds of people were losing their pensions and savings, which often led to health issues caused by the stress and worry.
I felt obligated to do more.
Often a rip-off pension or investment, or in other cases a downright scam, starts with a cold call from a UK-based call centre. My belief is simple: if we cut off their ability to cold call, this will disrupt the scammers’ business model.
Many people had talked about a ban on cold calling in the past, but so far, no action had been taken. I therefore decided to launch a petition on the UK government website to move the issue up the political agenda; if the petition attracts 10,000 signatures the government has to respond. If we get 100,000 a debate in the House of Commons has to be considered.
The petition is the best way to make our voices heard and be taken notice of.
With the initial sponsor support of IFA colleagues Martin Bamford, managing director of Surrey-based Informed Choice, Scott Gallacher, planner at Leicester-based Rowley Turton, Al Rush, founder of Fiver a Day, and Chris Daems, director of Essex-based Cervello Financial Planning, plus Phillip Bray, head of marketing at Sense Network, the petition was approved and launched on 21 September. We now have six months to hit our target.
So far it has already attracted support from former pensions minister, Ros Altmann, who submitted a written question on the matter in the House of Lords, and several leading industry figures. New Model Adviser® ran the story and it has started to break into the national press thanks to The Telegraph. The Love Money website ran the story alongside a poll that showed 99% backing for a ban so the demand is clearly there from the public.
Cold calling by regulated financial advisers is already covered, in part, by the Conduct of Business Sourcebook (section 4.8.2), but this campaign is about stopping the unregulated callers. Calls for mortgages are already banned so why not pensions and investments as well?
Please support the campaign by signing the petition, but also ask your partner, friends, family and work colleagues to sign it too; they are all potential targets for scammers. Please also share it on your Facebook page and encourage your contacts to both sign and share it.
Most importantly tell your clients about it by email, blog or newsletter and ask them to sign and share it. They will respect your integrity in supporting the campaign and it can only strengthen your relationship with them.
Advisers who have already done this have had great feedback from their clients.
I do not expect this to stop the scammers and rip-off merchants outright, but if we can achieve a ban it will disrupt them and if, as a result of hearing about the campaign, one more person puts the phone down on a scammer and their pension is saved, it will all have been worthwhile.
To sign the petition, visit: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/166980
Darren Cooke is director of Red Circle Financial Planning.