It was predictable that the advice given by more than 90 per cent of pensions sales agents was unacceptable, as your Securities and Investments Board reported last week. Now it is time for you to delve further into the recruitment, training and remuneration of pensions sales personnel. If my experiences are typical, you'll uncover a national scandal.

First, have a look at recruitment. I was contracted to advise on insurance and pension schemes in 1990, after completing a simple form of 'character' test. This revealed me to be a potential high-flyer. All very gratifying.

It was only on the training course that I discovered that all the other trainees boasted the same high score. These people included former builders, double-glazing salesmen, a lady who used to install condom machines in men's loos and a flatulent ex-Marine who possessed all the financial acumen of a Chieftain tank.

Next, there's training. On my course, we were crammed with 'flip-chart and talk' style lectures for a solid nine hours a day. It was impossible to absorb all the information being spouted for that length of time. But the trainers didn't care a jot. Send your investigators in anonymously, and you'll find out why. I bet you find recruits using every cheating strategy ever invented by schoolboys, with the trainers turning noticeably blind eyes.

It could also be a good idea to carry out spot checks on the product knowledge of sales agents. I think you'll be appalled at the ignorance of most of them. I considered my own product knowledge to be abysmal, but it was above average for agents at my branch. I well remember my manager, who considered himself to be something of an investments guru, trying to sign up a woman for a pension scheme, although she had no form of income. In financial services terms, that is a howler of 'Battle of Hastings - 1944' proportions.

Above all, you must investigate the consequences of agents remunerated by 100 per cent commission payments. These simply motivate salespeople to use all sorts of tricks to make a sale.

Some point out the performance of pension funds in the neutral Money Management magazine; the client isn't told that the fund has been tracked over only a limited period. Others dazzle clients with guesstimates of a fund's performance over a fixed period, while keeping the official 'props' form - containing the figures the client should be considering - well in the background.

The truth is that if your mortgage depends on a client's commission, you are likely to use these strategies to secure a sale. I still feel guilty that for six months I advised on a subject as important as pensions when my knowledge of them was sketchy.

Now is the time, Mr Large, to clear the doorsteps of under-trained, sales-motivated 'financial advisers'.

(Photograph omitted)

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