What do you get when you combine the new Pensions Freedom with lack of access to financial advice? The answer: a plethora of scams targeting vulnerable savers. From wine and diamonds to holiday resorts, store pods and car parks, these products promise high returns, often "guaranteed" for the first years and a further "developer buyback option" effective after a certain period of time. All of these are being offered as “sound pension investments”.
The problem has become more prevalent in recent months as more and more older people are being targeted for their pension cash. Sadly, when things fall apart there are no protections from the ombudsman or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) as, in many cases, neither the products nor their distributors are regulated.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau recently issued a warning to savers after it identified an emerging investment scam involving car parking places. The Bureau said that it had identified a growing trend in consumers being targeted for investment opportunities in parking spaces at locations close to major airports.
To those people who fall into the much-discussed ‘advice gap’, and do not have sufficient funds to be able to consult an Independent Financial Adviser, this may look like a win-win. After all, airport car parks are always full, the quoted return, often around 8%, is attractive, and it’s a type of investment that is easy to understand. And there is always a buy-back scheme offered, although it’s not always apparent that there are no binding guarantees attached to this.
In its prospectuses, Group First companies, Store First (storage pods) and Park First (parking spaces), offer similar investor assurances: 8% returns in year one and two; guaranteed rental income; net yields projected to surpass 12% by year five; and a developer buy back option within year five of property ownership. They also say they are self-invested personal pension (SIPP) approved.
SIPP provider Dentons Pensions, which does not offer such products to its clients, said a key criterion for including alternative (unregulated) investments on its books was whether or not they were collective schemes.
A collective investment scheme, unlike its non-pooled equivalent, pools returns of all the products in the scheme before sharing them out to all investors equally. It is available only to sophisticated investors - those with considerable disposable capital and proven knowledge of investing.
Director of technical services at Dentons, Martin Tilley, said: "Unregulated investments should be reserved only for sophisticated investors. The fact that there is no compensation scheme supporting them means that significant due diligence of the investment should take place before any monies are committed. A general rule of thumb is that any statement made in advertising or promotional literature should be treated as false until you can verify its accuracy through reliable independent means."
Which brings us to the question: where do they find the ‘reliable independent means’? In days gone by, people would go into their local bank branch and talk to their manager about such matters, and would be given sensible (if unregulated) advice. Or they would have consulted a son or daughter who ‘knows about these things’, but nowadays families are spread all over the country (in many cases all over the globe) and that source of information is not readily available.
These older people seem to be falling into the advice gap. Is there an opportunity here for someone to fill the gap with affordable, menu driven, ad hoc financial advice?