IRELAND - A free pensions tracker service has been launched by an Irish financial adviser firm which is designed to track down information on individuals' past pensions.

Financial adviser group The Finance Business has created the free Pension Search and Rescue service on the back of its own experience of trying to find out the value of their pensions with previous employers.

"Pensions is more and more becoming a large part of our business, and to get this information for a client we would invariably have to do a lot of detective work," said Peter O'Reilly, director at The Finance Business.

"But we felt there was a huge opportunity for us in terms of branding and positioning of the business because having worked at three different companies myself I have never seen pension statements. To say it is forensic would be too strong, but we will try to piece the information together and package it for someone," he said.

The service itself is one most independent financial adviser firms would provide to their clients if requested, as information on the firm's website reveals the review will look not just at producing a valuation but analyses where the funds are invested - if assets are held in a defined contribution scheme - and how they have performed. That said, this is the first time such a service has been offered for free.

O'Reilly noted while there is a lot of work required to compile the pensions information and quite a financial risk to the firm in doing it for free, the team hopes having done so the individual will then consider using their IFA services either in relation to pensions advice or for other aspects of their finances.

"We do feel there is a gap there to tap into, as there is no way for people to track down their pension. It is not a pressing issue to companies to provide this information. Hopefully by branding [the service], there is a business opportunity for us, but we don't have any idea at this stage how much interest this will receive," he continued.

Providing pension scheme members with information about their benefits is an issue the Pensions Ombudsman has been attempting to highlight in Ireland, but there are additional complexities in doing so because Irish pension funds do not have a central source of information about the existence of pension schemes.

This is in contrast to the UK where there is a pensions register for all occupational and personal pension schemes as well as the free Pensions Tracing Service, delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions' Pensions Service.

The Irish Association of Pension Funds (IAPF) is now planning to try and assist schemes in their own management of member information by compiling a  practical guidance paper to help them deal with the issues they face when trying to trace members who have left schemes and fallen out of contact.

Jerry Moriarty, director of policy at the IAPF, told IPE the aim of this paper, which is expected to be published early in 2008, is to help remind pension funds how they might gather information on their members and stay in touch with them after they leave a company.

"We are doing a paper on this issue because schemes are having difficulty tracking members," said Moriarty.

"There are a number of people who work in the country for a few years and then go back to Eastern Europe, for example, and then cannot be contacted. So we are looking at providing a combination of best practice ideas for pension funds, such as suggesting they get personal email addresses because they are less likely to change, and raising a number of policy issues" he added.

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