PENSIONS company Aegon has been accused of attempting to “poach” clients from independent financial advisers without informing them.
The Edinburgh-based firm has written to a number of its customers asking them if they still have a relationship with their financial adviser. If they do not, or if Aegon does not receive a response within 28 days, it is taking the adviser off the policy.
Letters were sent following Aegon’s launch of Retiready, a new “direct-to-consumer” service. However, the tactic of contacting clients directly has angered some IFAs. Carl Melvin, a certified and chartered financial planner at Affluent Financial Planning in Bridge of Weir, said he only found out from his client that Aegon had been in touch regarding their relationship.
“We asked Aegon for an explanation and were informed that as we had not called Aegon for plan information nor accessed their website in recent months, this letter was sent to the client,” he said.
“We explained that we do not need to contact them for plan information as we have price feeds and up-to-date plan details held on record.”
Melvin then discovered he had been removed from the policy before the 28 days had expired.
“It is a clear intention to poach clients, deny them access to independent advice, turn off trail [ongoing commission] and wrest control from IFAs. The decision not to copy the adviser into the direct letter to the client may be seen by some as their way of removing the incumbent adviser from the relationship and pocketing the commission for themselves.”
Aegon said Affluent’s removal from the policy arose from confusion over another of the IFA’s trading names, Pension Transfer Solutions (PTS).
“We wrote to the customer to tell them that we had their adviser registered at PTS and asked them whether they were still in touch,” a spokesman said. “It is likely the customer did not recognise the name Pension Transfer Solutions and contacted us to say that their adviser was at Affluent.”
But Melvin challenged that version of events. “The client did not contact Aegon to advise that Affluent [rather than PTS] was still IFA for the plan. We contacted Aegon as soon as we found out they had written directly to the client to challenge them on why they had done so.”
Similar complaints have been made by other advice firms. They are a consequence of Aegon’s decision to go direct to the client, said Mark Locke, head of PR and external communications at Edinburgh-based consultancy The Lang Cat.
“If a customer is not receiving ongoing services Aegon is quite right to be offering a cheaper, direct alternative. I have no problem with that,” he said. “However, if Aegon is contacting advised customers directly, without including the servicing adviser in that communication, they are likely to run into hot water. It’s a very emotive topic and some advisers will take issue with being cut out of the communications loop.”
The company says its intention is to ensure that people aren’t paying trail commission to advisers they no longer use.
A spokesman said: “We are writing to a small number of customers to ensure we know if they have access to ongoing advice. Since the implementation of the retail distribution review [which banned commission] and in line with the broader market we have received an increased number of calls from customers looking for information in relation to policies.”