It's that time of the year again when the festive season comes around and, just like clockwork, Professional Adviser runs through its principal heroes and villains of the last 12 months
So who in the wonderful world of financial services has been naughty this year? And who has been nice? As usual, there has been a mixture of some brilliant initiatives alongside some truly head-in-hands moments.
Before we go any further though, this list would not be complete without acknowledging the lengths our readers go to help their clients, as well as the efforts made by some bigger providers to keep their work transparent - even when the going gets tough.
On the flip side, it has been a difficult year for the industry - particularly with regard to defined benefit transfers and re-platforming - as well as the UK as whole, as we take one wobbly step towards (and then three nervous steps away from) exiting the European Union.
And, as ever, we should of course offer a quick disclaimer: our villains are not necessarily genuine baddies - they may simply have been associated with some eyebrow-raising act or clumsy behaviour. No doubt you will have your own thoughts, but here are PA's suggested heroes and villains of 2018 …
Alastair Rush, Philippa Hann and all involved in seeking an appropriate outcome for the British Steel workers
We thought a good way to start would be by acknowledging Echelon Wealthcare's Alastair Rush and Clarke Willmott solicitor Philippa Hann for their tireless work to obtain adequate compensation for those workers involved in the British Steel pension scheme saga.
Since they were poorly advised by Active Wealth UK and others, the steelworkers have lost, in some instances, life-changing amounts of money from their pension pots. This year, Hann and Rush took the fight all the way to Westminster, where they sat in front of senior employees from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) and the Financial Conduct Authority, as well as several MPs.
The meeting in parliament was later described as "productive", with FSCS chief executive Mark Neale suggesting the lifeboat fund would be "willing to look afresh" at the steelworker's claims.
The pensions dashboard
Our own toing-and-froing on whether or not to include the pensions dashboard in this list reminded us of the Department for Work & Pensions' (DWP) own approach to the project over the summer as stories of dashboard jeopardy and uncertainty popped up every other week.
You see, it has been a difficult 12 months for the pension dashboard, a government-led scheme that could change the face of pensions for your everyday saver. For a while it looked as though the government had taken a step back from the project, which prompted a petition that gathered tens of thousands of signatures, urging it not to abandon the project.
Still, after a rocky few months, the DWP finally gave the formal go-ahead for the gradual roll-out of an industry-funded dashboard - nine months late, but better that than never. For getting off the ground and paving the way for millions of people to see their pensions online in one handy format, the pensions dashboard also features among the heroes.
Spoiler alert: Aviva is shortly also going to appear as a villain for all of the struggles and inconveniences it caused advisers through its botched re-platforming project. But, we reckon it also deserves an honourable mention for its refreshing transparency during those tricky times.
The issues were so extensive Aviva made a public list so advisers could see what was wrong, what was being fixed and when. Most companies go the opposite way and retreat into their shells when the going gets tough, so this approach from Aviva warrants an appreciative nod.
This November, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) decided to dive into the broiling waters of the defined benefit (DB) transfer sector - not with threats or warnings, but with genuinely useful information for advisers by giving them the inside scoop on what it looks at when weighing up DB transfer complaints. A doffed cap from us at Professional Adviser, Ombudspeople.
Sharon Sutton and the PFS team
An inclusion by popular demand from our readers: Sharon Sutton and the Personal Finance Society (PFS) team. Being the hip, young publication we are, we asked the Twittersphere who should be among our heroes and villains and Sutton, who is the outgoing president of the PFS, was immediately nominated for "getting financial planning out to financial advisers".
Upon seeing her public nomination, Sutton modestly said the work was all down to the teams at the PFS, specifically thanking chief executive Keith Richards for "all his hard work".
Where to begin? Where else but Brexit and the dog's dinner the government is making of it all. To name just a few gaffes in Westminster this year, ministers have resigned from every corner of the government, a no-confidence vote in the prime minister was called by MPs in her own party and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn - in addition to allegedly calling the PM a 'stupid woman' - continues to promise a no-confidence vote on the government as a whole. All that on top of the PM bringing a deal back from the European Union that led ‘Remainers' to argue it was worse than staying in the EU and ‘Brexiteers' to call it "Brexit in name only".
We could go on but let's not. So, for being inconceivably rubbish, promising the impossible, lying to the public and more generally behaving like a bunch of self-interested charlatans, Parliament in 2018 has been the villain nobody asked for nor deserves.
Aegon watched the problems Aviva and its clients suffered throughout the first few months of 2018 and set about trying to avoid such troubles - even going so far as to say it was "confident" of doing so. Cofunds users would certainly argue, however, that the firm largely failed to keep away from trouble as they were shifted to the new, ARC-based platform.
Some 400,000 clients were transferred to the new technology in May and, in July and August, some were still suffering income issues. One adviser told Professional Adviser income worth more than £15,000 had not been paid to some of their clients from more than 300 individual fund holdings. Some clients are still awaiting compensation for the troubles caused.
Having already touched on Aviva's re-platforming project to commend the group for its transparency in adversity, it is now time to villify it for the pain that adversity caused its users.
Some three months on from the weekend it launched its new FNZ-powered platform and migrated all clients and assets to the technology, it was still suffering serious issues - in mid-April, for example, the platform crashed, leaving advisers unable to access it. And the group was still struggling with more minor bugswell into the summer.
Not so honourable mention
Back in February, Professional Adviser wrote an article about two people - Mr and Mrs M, as the FOS called them - who sought compensation after Intrinsic Financial Planning took a total of £3.05 in fees from their pensions without their permission.
Not only that - the couple also went so far as to demand the ombudsman shut down all of Intrinsic as punishment. Now, we are not suggesting people should not seek to claim compensation after they have treated poorly, but this seems a tad excessive given the sum involved.
By all means hold the financial advice profession to account, Mr and Mrs M, but maybe try and keep some sort of perspective, as we seek to, here on Professional Adviser ...
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