THE PERILS OF PENSION SCAMS
London, Mayer Brown, 201 Bishopsgate, Spitalfields, EC2M 3AF - 03/12/2019 12:00 pm
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We start with registration, lunch and networking at 12:00; the meeting proper starts at 13:00 and we wrap up at 17:00; with drinks and further networking through to 18:00 for those that would like to chat informally afterwards.
Here’s the programme, so far*:
- 12:00 – Registration, lunch and networking
- 13:00 – Welcome to the symposium by
- 13:30 – Presentation by Giles Bywater, Partner, UK Pensions, Mayer Brown International LLP; Education Secretary, London PMI Group; Member, Association of Pension Lawyers
- 13:50 – Presentation by Margaret Snowdon OBE, Chairman, Pension Scams Industry Group; Advisory Board Member, Moneyhub Enterprise; Advisory Board Member, Transparency Task Force, Independent Non-Executive Director, With Profits Committees, Phoenix Goup; Chairman, Pensions Standards Administration Association CIC; Independent Non-Executive Director, Xafinity; Independent Member, HM Treasury Pensions Dashboard Steering Group; Non-Executive Director, The Pensions Regulator
- 14:10 – Presentation by Susan Flood, Formerly, with the BBC (BBC Worldwide Executive Sales, BBC TV Marketing, BBV TV Production); Pension Scam Victim; Founder of the Ark Pension Scams Group; Member of the Advisory Board to the Transparency Task Force
- 14:30 – Presentation of the Transparency Trophy; a special trophy is awarded to a champion of transparency and finance reform at each of our symposia around the world
- 14:35 – Refreshments and further networking
- 15:05 – Team photo, with the Transparency Trophy and its winner
- 15:10 – Special Presentation about “The Enablers”
- Susan Flood, Formerly, with the BBC (BBC Worldwide Executive Sales, BBC TV Marketing, BBV TV Production); Pension Scam Victim; Founder of the Ark Pension Scams Group; Member of the Advisory Board to the Transparency Task Force
- Bob Ward, Consultant, Pascali; former Specialist Consultant, FCA; former Consultant, Smart Pension; former Pensions Operations Director; GenLife
- Richard Emery, Bank Fraud Consultant; former Senior Analyst; Microfin Systems; Ambassador of the Transparency Task Force
- Andy Agathangelou, Founder, Transparency Task Force; Governor at the Pensions Policy Institute; Chair, The Interoperability Steering Group
- 15:45 – Power Panel on “The Perils of Pension Scams”
The format of this session will be an informal panel where key participants will have the opportunity to share their insights and experiences on pension scams; always with the intention of finding solutions rather than placing blame.
The session will morph into a free and open debate where all attendees will have the opportunity to suggest how the pension scams problem can be fixed
- Christopher Brooks, Senior Policy Manager, Age UK; former Political Affairs & Policy Manager, City & Guilds
- Michael Culver, Chairman, Solicitors for the Elderly; Partner, Bolt Burdon Solicitors
- Seb Elwell, Director, Switchfoot Teams
- Henry Tapper, CEO, AgeWage; Founder, Pension PlayPen; Former Director, First Actuarial
- Ian Ashleigh, Business Owner, Compliance Matters; Former Director, UK Advisory Solutions; Former Compliance Manager, AES International
- 16:45 – Key conclusions, suggested next steps and close to the formal proceedings – Andy Agathangelou, Founder, Transparency Task Force; Governor at the Pensions Policy Institute; Chair, The Interoperability Steering Group
- 17:00 – Drinks and further networking
- 18:00 – Final close
*The programme will continuously evolve so is subject to change
What can you expect at the symposium?
At the Transparency Task Force, we believe that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and also that “progress begins with realism” so what you can expect at this event is candid yet constructive conversations about what more can be done to mitigate the risk of pension savers being scammed; and what more could, should and arguably must be done to help ensure that pension scam victims are treated fairly and for what they are – victims of crime.
The topic of pension scams has attracted a great deal of attention from regulators, politicians, campaigners and the media at large. That’s very understandable, given the harsh reality that so many people have been robbed of their pension savings; sometimes literally all of it, with shocking life-changing consequences.
How much worse does it need to get before the whole pension scams situation is deemed to be a national disgrace? – or are we already there?
Without a doubt, pension scams undermine confidence in the pensions system and that makes this a priority topic for anybody wanting to help rebuild trust and confidence in the pensions and investments sector, particularly policymakers, politicians and regulators, as well as those keen to do all they can to prevent scams happening.
We believe that for many, this will be another not-to-be missed symposium. Ultimately, the solution has got to be about all of us working together to fix what needs fixing. The event is very likely to initiate some important follow-up activity and as always, we’ll be looking to build consensus on the best way to carry out our work. One way or another, don’t miss it; or at the very least, make sure your organisation is suitably represented.
All the key stakeholders are being invited to participate, including:
- The Department for Work & Pensions
- The Pensions Regulator
- The Financial Conduct Authority
- Those involved with Project Bloom
- Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs
- Her Majesty’s Treasury
- The Serious Fraud Office
- Financial Services Compensation Scheme
- Financial Ombudsman Service
- The FCA’s Financial Services Consumer Panel
- Action Fraud
- Pension scam victims
- Pension providers
- Pension scheme trustees – professional and lay
- Pension savers
- The legal profession
- Credible pensions policy thought leaders and pension market commentators
- Plus, all the relevant Trade Bodies, Professional Associations, Research Organisations and Think Tanks; such as The Pensions Management Institute, The Pensions Policy Institute, the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, Age UK, Which? and so on
Pensions scams are reaching epidemic proportions. If anything, the situation is actually getting worse not better; so much so that this issue remains “a festering and worsening sore on the face of pensions.” The Transparency Task Force approach is to look for solutions, not blame, and we’ll be exploring a range of initiatives that have the potential to improve the terrible situation we presently face.
There are some positive initiatives and worthwhile ideas coming together, such as:
- The launch of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pension Scams. This is already underway – the draft Purpose Statement of the new APPG is:
“To be a forum through which Parliamentarians and other stakeholders can work together to better protect the public from the perils of pension scams and secondary scammers; give scam victims a representative collective voice; signpost victims to support; and facilitate the development of preventative and supportive policy initiatives.”
It’s going to be interesting to discover how strong the political will is to better protect the pensions-saving public from the theft of their pension savings. Hopefully, this will be one topic in which it is going to be relatively easy to build consensus amongst all kinds of parliamentarians.
- The idea of an Independent Pensions Commission: the context is that some believe strongly that “Poor Pensions Policy Risk” is one of the biggest risks in pensions. Would the much-discussed idea of an Independent Pension Commission lead to better mitigation of that risk, through helping to “take politics out of pensions”? Is this as good an idea as some claim it to be; and if it is, what is stopping it from happening?
- An industry-wide awareness campaign; sponsored by pension providersand fully involving the UK media. Would this make commercial sense to the pensions industry itself, when you take into account the reputational damage being caused to the pensions sector as a result of scams? Perhaps ‘parading the problem’ will work well if we are able to create a coordinated campaign?
- Should a “fighting fund” be made available so that the full power of the law can be set against the criminals involved? If so, should its use be targeted primarily against those individuals believed to be the “ring-leaders”? Should such a fighting fund come from a combination of industry donations and/or regulatory levies?
- Should there be an anonymised register of all individuals that have been scammed? If so, could that register capture and share valuable information such as the modus operandi the scammers used; and which individuals were allegedly involved?
We’ll also be looking into issues and questions such as:
- What’s the scale of the problem? Does anybody actually know? If not, how does that stack up against the idea that “you can’t manage what you haven’t measured”?
- Is there scope for HMRC to take a more supportive stance on the tax treatment of pension scam victims. Some believe HMRC may be “profiting from the proceeds of crime” and are unduly harsh with victims. Will HMRC be able to defend the position they take when their conduct and policy is scrutinised?
- How ‘joined-up’ is the thinking of the regulatory authorities, enforcement agencies and government departments involved with pension scams? What’s the very latest on the Government’s Project Bloom initiative? To what extent has Project Bloom been a success? Is there scope for improvement in the overall effectiveness of Project Bloom? If it isn’t effective, will it ever be?
- Which industry initiatives are already up and running and having a positive impact? What could be done to better support them and scale-up their potential to be a significant “part of the solution”?
- Was the whole idea of Pension Freedoms a major policy mistake in the first place? The question is being asked because we now know it was certainly rushed through parliament without much opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny at all. Why was there such a rush? Did the impetus come from the DWP, Treasury or somewhere else? Did anybody flag the possibility that Pension Freedoms could lead to an increase in pension scams. If so, who; and were they listened to? If the evidence shows that Pension Freedoms has been a major policy failure, at least in relation to consequential criminal activity, is there scope for a reversal of policy in this space, to help ensure pension savers are properly protected moving forward?
- Why did it take so long to introduce the cold-calling ban? Did the lengthy delays provide scammers an opportunity to develop new ways of working such that the ban, once it eventually arrived was of little significance?
- Has there been a conflict of interests at the pension scheme level itself? Is it true that some Defined Benefit pension schemes have actually wanted scheme members to transfer out, to improve the pension scheme’s funding deficit situation? Is it true that some pension schemes have actually sought to persuade scheme members to want to transfer out their funds by providing them financial incentives to do so? If any of that is true, how realistic is it to have expected the scheme to be sufficiently diligent when looking after the member’s interests and evaluating whether the transfer was in the interest of the scheme member?
- Surely ‘prevention is better than cure;’ so, what more can be done to prevent people being scammed in the first place? In particular, what more can be done at the pension scheme level to help ensure sufficient due diligence is carried out when a transfer request is submitted. Have there been times in the past when there have been serious shortcomings in the way trustees have operated? Could they have done a better job to check whether an arrangement being transferred into is bona fide? To what extent might pension schemes and more specifically pension scheme trustees be exposed to criticism and possibly even litigation, if it can be shown they failed to carry out their duties as required by the law and regulation? Is there a risk that even now sufficient checks are not being carried out?
- Have any pension schemes failed to carry out the warnings that were meant to be given to members, as set out by the Regulators? What can we learn from Shark and Scorpion? Did they work? What is the legal position if the due process wasn’t carried out correctly?
- Are any parts of the pensions and professional services sector profiting as a direct result of pension scheme scams? If so, which part(s); and how; and to what extent; and to who’s cost? Are there conflicts of interest at work in this space? If so, what are they; and to what extent are they part of the problem? Is it perhaps even worse than that? – could they even be part of the causeof the problem? What exactly are the commercial dynamics at work?
- Do the banks come out reputationally unscathed; or are there questions they too need to answer?
- How do you differentiate between a scam and a bad investment from a legal perspective?
- What more can be done to support those that have been scammed? – they are often left in a shocking emotional and financial state, with long-lasting life-changing damage. What part of ‘the system’ is responsible for supporting them in a civilized, caring and constructive way? Victims are sometimes made to feel as though ‘the system’ believes it is only their stupidity and naivety that allowed the scam to occur. Is that what ‘the system’ actually thinks? If so, what needs to happen to ensure ‘the system’ properly understands what is really going on?
- What might be the best way to raise awareness of the shocking real-life experiences that some members of the UK’s pensions-saving public have suffered at the hands of pension scammers; and why do some of them feel very let down by the authorities
- There is a perception that alleged scammers are often free to just “Phoenix” their organisations and thereby carry on ‘trading’. Is that perception a reality and if it is, how can that be allowed to happen? Why is it that the names of some individuals allegedly connected to pension scams come up time and time again? Are the authorities unable to close them down? If so, is the issue a lack of regulatory power; or are the existing powers sufficient but not being applied? If that is the case, why?
- Which department is responsible for protecting the public from scammers? Or is part of the problem that no particular individual and no particular department has overall responsibility? Is the scope and remit of The Financial Conduct Authority and the Pensions Regulator sufficiently clear? – or is there a risk that important matters are falling between the regulatory cracks?
- What is the strategy for Regulators to deal with unregulated products as far as scamming is concerned? Is that strategy sufficiently robust?
- What happens when there is the additional complication of an overseas jurisdiction? Is the international dimension to pension scams creating a selection of loopholes the scammers can select from to “dance rings around the regulators”? If so, how sure are we that the cooperation amongst UK and overseas authorities is as effective as it might be? Is there a joined-up international plan?
- Could the professional bodies be doing more to use their powers to protect pension savers? For example, should they be withdrawing the Statements of Professional Standing from those that do not deserve to continue to be granted professional status? Would that approach help to shut down repeat offenders? The General Medical Council can strike off a doctor and the Law Society can disbar a solicitor. Do the financial services bodies do the same, and if not, why can’t they? Or, is it more a case of won’t rather than can’t? Are they being proactive enough? If not, why not? – is it another case of conflicted interests?
- Some ethical IFAs have suffered as a consequence of inadvertently being caught up in the activity of scammers; some have literally lost their businesses as a consequence. They have, in effect become victims of the crooks as well; they have been the ‘duped fall guys’. Has the treatment of them by the regulatory system always been as fair and just as possible? Could there be a way to better handle such situations?
- What role does litigation have in the overall scheme of things? What is the best way to use existing laws? Should litigation be necessary at all? Does the need for victims having to resort to using the courts to get redress, perhaps through expensive and risky litigation, show the regulatory system is failing the consumer? Is there a “market failure” when it comes to pension scams or is everything going to plan as far as the authorities are concerned?
- Are we learning the important lessons available from the way airlines operate ‘Air Crash Investigations’? – do we systematically, meticulously and forensically figure out what went wrong in each scam; and what needs to happen so that it won’t happen again? If we aren’t doing that, are we not just beginning to accept pension scamming as “business as usual?” If that is the case, are we at the top of a slippery slope of turning our very low expectations of market conduct into an admission of failure?
- How many staff do the Financial Conduct Authority and the Pensions Regulator have dedicated to the pension scams problem? – is it sufficient?
We are hoping that “the authorities” will accept our invitation to participate and provide an update on their strategies for dealing with the pension scams issue. We would also encourage them to share their thoughts on what others, such as campaigners and industry bodies can do to help them achieve what we surely all want – a pensions market that is as free of the perils of pension scams as possible.
However, if for any reason they are unable to speak freely about their activity we do hope at least that they will engage with the event as “interested but passive observers” on the basis that at the very worst they’ll be able to gain valuable insights from a range of perspectives including those that have been scammed.
This meeting will be a unique opportunity for candid yet constructive conversations on a truly toxic topic; but if these conversations are not bravely entered into, is there any chance we will get to the bottom of what needs to be done? We think not.
It’s time for real transparency in this space, because transparency can drive transformational change.
Huge thanks in advance for all stakeholders that engage with us through this event; even if just as interested but passive observers. Solving the perils of pension scams is going to require a team effort and everybody’s got an important part to play.
Who’ll be on the pitch on December 3rd?
As mentioned earlier, we believe this will be another not-to-be missed symposium. Ultimately, the solution has got to be about all of us working together to fix what needs fixing. The event is very likely to initiate some important follow-up activity and as always, we’ll be looking to build consensus on the best way to carry out our work. One way or another, don’t miss it; or at the very least, make sure your organisation is suitably represented.
Who shoud attend?
This event will appeal to a broad range of people including:
- Pension scheme trustees
- Pension governance committees
- Pension managers
- Asset managers
- Pension providers
- Senior execs in financial services distribution
- Pensions investment consultants
- Pensions thought leaders
- Retail and institutional investors
- Industry observers and commentators
- Pensions academics and researchers
- Financial planners
- Social justice campaigners and civil society groups
- Parliamentarians and their research colleagues
- Pension consultants
- Advocacy groups
- Risk management professionals
- Compliance professionals
- Legal professionals
- Pension professionals
- Fiduciary managers
- All progressive market participants that want to put the pension savers’ interests first
- Media professionals that want to cover the event; and many more….
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