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UK roundup: FCA, PLSA, trustees, TPR

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The UK’s financial regulator must not neglect the role of trustees in securing retirement income for pension fund members as it sets out its new approach in the wake of freedoms to draw down savings from 55.

The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) warned the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) against too narrow a focus on products when deciding on reforms to help the new pensions freedoms bed in.

In a letter to the regulator by head of policy Jackie Wells, the former National Association of Pension Funds insisted it would be important to understand the interaction between trust-based pension funds and contract-based arrangements.

“While traditionally the movement of funds has tended to be one-way at retirement, from trust-based schemes to insurers and providers of income drawdown,” Wells said, “the new market may be more complex, with some savers relying on their trust-based DC schemes to deliver their retirement income, and even some moving funds from contract-based to trust-based.”

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In comments building on a previous submission to the FCA’s retirement income market study from March, Wells added that any “protection or relaxation” considered by the FCA, responsible only for the regulation of contract-based arrangements, must be appropriate for both types of funds.

Wells said the FCA should ensure that, in considering changes to retirement products and advice offered to savers, it worked with the Pensions Regulator (TPR) – in charge of regulation for trust-based funds – and the PLSA to understand the changes underway in the trust-based sector.

In other news, research by TPR has found that funds with only professional trustees on their boards are more likely to have better governance procedures.

The research found that 46% of boards with only professionals spent 10 or more days a year focused on their responsibilities, compared with only one-third of non-professional trustees.

Surveying more than 800 trustees, it found that one-quarter of trustee boards never disagreed with the advisers it employed, and a further 58% said they “rarely” were in disagreement.

Lesley Titcomb, TPR’s chief executive, previously noted that boards chaired by a professional trustee were better administered, and questioned whether the matter warranted closer inspection.

But she defended the current system of trustee qualifications, warning that funds would struggle to attract new lay trustees if qualifications were more onerous.  

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