THE BIG QUESTION

The Question - Should corporate intermediaries be obliged to hold a Level 4 qualification to advise on group pensions schemes post-RDR?

THE ANSWERS

Michael Whitfield, chief executive officer Thomsons Online Benefits

No. The more I read about RDR and the Level 4 qualification requirements the more I become increasinglyworried for the future of the lowly corporate pensions adviser.

The Level 4 qualification does nothing for the serious GPP adviser to enhance their professional standing or add more value to their clients so I cannot see any point in them investing countless hours to learn enough to pass the new proposed standard. The current position is that they will not have to, provided they don’t advise individuals.

Corporate advisers need a comprehensive full suite of specialist exams in one place that cater for not only GPPs but a wider range of topics from group pensions to group PMI or international benefits to flex.

Two months ago we began putting all our employees through a boot camp for which we have created our own series of webinars to embed the learning they need day to day to look after our corporate clients which is followed by a web based exam which they have to pass.

Robert Reid is director of Syndaxi Financial Planning

Yes. Of course corporate intermediaries should be obliged to hold a Level 4 qualification to provide advice on group pensions schemes post-RDR. If they were to be exempted then are we to have the farcical position of a member of a scheme getting advice from someone at work who has not evidenced their competence then at home their adviser is at level 4 by default.

However if the FSA is to remove loopholes then it must also mean that the corporate adviser cannot dispense one to one advice.

The workplace is too important a delivery opportunity to be squandered with such a lack of strategic vision. Regrettably many corporate intermediaries are bereft of any strategy with the exception of ensuring that their income streams are not jeopardised. This is a time for joined up thinking. Employers’ corporation tax rate levels and reliefs should depend on their provision of competent advice to their employees.

Consultancy charging is another wasted opportunity. With the right reliefs,

Steve Herbert is head of benefits strategy at Jelf Employee Benefits

No. A better qualified supply of intermediaries must be a good thing. I do however have some real concerns about a qualification test being the benchmark for good advice.

For a start, we have the conundrum about who is receiving the advice. There are two levels of advice within a corporate relationship, that of advice/guidance to employees and to corporate bodies. These are very different, and should be treated differently for qualification purposes. But by separating the two, the industry may lose some of it’s inherent knowledge, which is pivotal to evolving new concepts for the good of both groupings.

There is also a concern on cost. The cost of ensuring that all UK intermediaries reach this qualification bar will be huge. Our industry will, understandably, expect to pass this cost on to our consumers. Yet the fees charged within our sector are sometimes already seen as high. At a time when employers are facing years of austerity, and a move from commission to fees, this could deter many employers from seeking advice services. This could be disastrous for the UK’s financial planning over time.