The Perils of Expat Pensions
A few months ago I attended a networking meeting and met someone who works for DeVere, a financial services company that provides pensions and insurance products to expats around the world. He talked to me about a scheme called QROPS, which I hadn’t heard about before. I invited him around to talk me through it. I wanted to find out as much as I could and, to be fair to him, I was already a “cold lead” in that I had virtually no intention of signing up, just a curiosity to find out as much as I could about QROPS as a jumping off point for more research. I’m not an idiot and wasn’t about to sign my entire pension over to someone I had just met, however friendly and obliging they seemed.
After that meeting, in which the rep (sorry, “employee”) was very helpful I contacted my UK IFA to ask for his take. Unfortunately, because he’s not qualified or licensed on non-UK products, he had no advice and couldn’t help. Nor could he suggest anyone else would could help. Bummer.
In the meantime I managed to find out a bit about QROPS. I learned that is a real thing and it, as I was told, an HMRC scheme. So far so good. But after that it gets complicated. The more time I spent trying to find out about QROPS and the more nervous I became. I decided the only way forward was to find someone else who could give me some advice and for this I took to the internet.
There are many expat forums so I posted on a couple of those asking for the recommendations of an independent financial adviser, by which I meant an IFA as we know them in the UK. All through this what was bugging me was that the independent moniker was being bandied around with no obvious independence. I got lots of recommendations for people representing DeVere (there are about three names that tend to come up) and also Spectrum. I had a look at Spectrum and while they do look a bit more independent than I would say DeVere is, I found an article by an ex-UK IFA criticising their narrow portfolio and arguing that in his opinion this meant they weren’t truly independent. The other concern was that if they’re not properly registered, then they don’t have the proper insurance and aren’t strictly liable for giving bad advice. There are some real horror stories out there. Google anything to do with expat pensions (DeVere in particular) and the results aren’t not pretty!
Getting nowhere, I checked in with a friend who does admin about how I might find someone who is qualified, regulated, and insured and she recommended I find someone registered as a Conseiller en investissement financier (CIF), of which there are three sub-groups:
- Association Nationale des Conseils Financiers (ANACOFI-CIF)
- Chambre Nationale des Conseils en Gestion de Patrimoine (CNCGP)
- La Chambre Nationale des Conseillers en Investissements Financiers (CNCIF)
She also recommended a website, Orias, which has a list of each of the advisers registered under each of those regimes – and she advised that CNCIF was the one to go for.
I searched for the name of the guy I’d spoken to and nothing came up.
Then I found the regulatory blurb on the DeVere site, which gave the company SIREN number and stated that they are ANACOFI-CIF registered. So I looked that up and it looks like the manager of the France branch is registered. The info for that is here. I’m not sure how it works if a company is registered and whether that means the people who work for it are also qualified? My understanding is than an IFA is someone who is not recommending specific products from a specific company. My concern with this being if I took advice from someone saying they’re an IFA and that advice turns out to be bad, who is liable if my investment advice was bad and I ended up losing all my money. Or even just half of it!?
Still no further on I enquired again online and was recommended a couple of other firms – Spectrum IFA being one that came up again – but these looked no different to DeVere. I wasn’t getting anywhere.
I posted again on a different forum and was again contacted by someone employed by DeVere. This time a she who said had been an IFA in the UK. So I looked her up and couldn’t find her registered in the UK but did see (she was easy enough to find on LinkedIn) was that she had been employed as a financial adviser for two insurance companies in the UK. So a financial adviser, yes, but is that the same as a an independent financial adviser? I’m not entirely sure.
I quizzed her about it about her credentials and she said that anyone qualified to practise would be qualified as an European Financial Adviser (EFA), which means they have a diploma awarded by the The Personal Financial Society (PFS) in the UK. Apparently an EFA is accredited by the European Financial Planning Association (EFPA). I searched the list of certified practitioners on both sites and didn’t find the names of either of the people I’d spoken to. Was this diploma issued by DeVere then? From past experience I know anyone can set up an organisation and start chucking diplomas about so this was really just more new info that didn’t tell me anything.
So I asked this same person how I would check who is registered and who isn’t. This was a bit cheeky really because I already knew that the person I was talking to wasn’t registered, at least not individually, because I’d searched the Orias database as well as the PFS and EFPA lists for them both. So while the manager of the France office was registered (or at least, the company set up with him in charge was registered) these individuals were not, and I would have expected that as real IFAs they would be.
I’m still not clear on it, to be honest. I really have tried to work it out but I’m not convinced or reassured and that’s all the info I need to convince me that I haven’t met anyone whose advice I trusted enough to make an enormous financial decision like moving my UK-based pension to a QROPS scheme. So that was the end of that. For me. Maybe there’s nothing dodgy about it, maybe it’s all a house of cards about to collapse, but I’m about 20 years away from drawing a pension and that’s a lot of time in which things might change. It’s a decision not to be taken lightly on the back of a couple of meetings an 8-page printout!
For now the pension will just have to stay put.
If you are approached by anyone about financial advice the best thing to do is to check that the person you are talking to is qualified to give that advice. Being qualified is important because then they are also insured – which means if the advice they give is BS you can sue them for damages in future!
It’s easy enough to find out for yourself. Just put their name or the company SIREN number into the search box here: https://www.orias.fr/web/guest/search
For anyone looking for pensions or other financial advice, there is some useful info re doing your due diligence beforehand in this Connexion article, Check financial advisors online
And if you do manage to find anyone offering truly independent financial advice to UK nationals re pensions and investments, please let me know!