Money: The funds that can leave their clients broker

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The Independent Online
Two or three years ago, the fate of several hundred mostly elderly savers who had the misfortune of parking their money with a firm of advisers called Knight Williams was high on the agenda.

The firm, which spent a small fortune advertising itself as "retirement specialists", was challenged by these investors for the low returns they earned on their money.

Knight Williams was fined and ordered to pay compensation to its former clients. But when it realised the scale of the redress it was meant to pay, it went into liquidation. Its clients still haven't been compensated.

This week the Personal Investment Authority decided to do something about "broker funds", the financial instrument which helped cause the poor performance suffered by Knight Williams investors.

Broker funds involve financial advisers, such as Knight Williams, telling clients that they can have a portfolio of investments that is much more suited to their needs than traditional life funds or unit trusts.

The catch is that the investments are with life and unit trust companies anyway, which charge a management fee. Add this to the fees charged by the adviser for his "skills". This double whammy is justified by reference to the special service given to investors by their advisers. What nonsense!

In the majority of cases, these so-called skills leave people worse off. Yet some pounds 2bn is still invested by more than 130,000 people in broker funds. My message is simple: if you are in a broker fund, check its performance. Then check the fund management charges you are paying. If performance is average and charges are more than 1.5 per cent a year, shift your money now.

This newspaper appears to have acquired a reputation for the vehemence of its argument in favour of immediate compensation for victims of the pensions mis-selling scandal.

They are the 1.5 million people who were wrongly advised to stay out of a company scheme and sign up to a personal pension instead.

Such is our supposedly slavish pursuit of this subject that a PR man at the Association of British Insurers, the industry trade body, felt moved to ask jokingly, at an unrelated press conference, whether I was planning to pose a question about pensions mis-selling. I didn't.

But no one who reads the story of Paula Charlton, our "financial makeover" candidate this week, can fail to be angered by this case.

Here is a woman who was so keen to plan for her future that she set up a personal pension eight years ago, when aged 25.

The result? Her savings are worth less today than the money she has paid in over all these years. How can that be? Because the company concerned devised a plan that sucked out most of the value of her contributions.

Hundreds of thousands of others, many of them Independent readers, are likely to be in Paula's position.

Yesterday it was announced that some 11,000 people, out of more than 475,000 urgent cases, have been offered compensation by the companies concerned.

If insurance companies want us to stop writing about this issue, they should compensate those affected by the mis-selling scandal, including Paula.

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