Questions Of Cash: A missing cheque cost me £200 in lost returns

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The Independent Online

Q. I have a personal pension with Standard Life, to which both I and my employer contribute. In June last year, the administrator of the company scheme, Jardine Lloyd Thompson, informed me that a cheque for £1,560 sent in November 2004 had expired after not being cashed. It seems the cheque was lost.

JLT wrote another cheque and that was cashed in July, but I have lost about £200 in investment returns. When I complained to Standard Life, it told me to take my complaint to the Financial Ombudsman, which has told me this is outside its remit.
PT, London.

A. You wrote to us in early December and it has taken us four months of correspondence with Jardine Lloyd Thompson and Standard Life, and an exchange of around 20 e-mails with JLT and four with Standard Life, to resolve this.

Standard Life insists that the problem lies with JLT sending your cheque to a wrong address. JLT disagrees. JLT finally offered £230 as its estimate of your loss and it has increased that to £300 in response to our request for compensation. It will now continue its argument with Standard Life in private, seeking recovery of this sum.

Q. I paid £25 a month for 10 years - a total of £3,000 - into a Friends Provident endowment policy. In January this year, I received a pay-out of just £2,872.42. I now read in The Independent that Friends Provident's profits have increased by 34 per cent. Would I have received a better return if it had remained a mutual?
MK, by e-mail.

A. Friends Provident has checked the figures and found that it omitted your final bonus in your payment, so a cheque for an additional £576 is on its way to you. But it says that because you also obtained a demutualisation share windfall worth £3,026 at the point of flotation, you did well out of that deal.

The performance of mutuals against non-mutuals is strongly disputed, but mutuals tend to offer lower standard variable rates on mortgages, which might suggest that their cheaper cost of borrowing does lead to better performance for customers.

Q. I have £100,000 to invest and I am considering opening a stocks and shares ISA, but the UK equity market looks overcooked, so I'm thinking of cash, plus either commodities or overseas equities, probably in South America. I am retired with a small annuity and don't need much income from my investments.
VG, Woodbridge.

A. Mark Dampier of Hargreaves Lansdown, an IFA and broker, says that you can make your own investment decisions without advice, but "it is far cheaper to go through an intermediary to make your purchase. You need to select an intermediary who will do execution-only deals, discounting most of the initial commission, if not all of it".

He says that if you are concerned about the risk of a fall in the value of equities, you can invest in a maxi ISA, but hold your funds initially in cash and then drip-feed the investment into equities. He expresses doubts about preferring South American equities to UK ones.

"The South American markets have had a tremendous run over the past three years. Invesco Perpetual's Latin American fund has risen almost 400 per cent. Commodities, too, have had a great run, although given demand from the emerging markets, this will probably continue.

"Traditionally, spring into summer tends to cause a lull in stock markets. Given the strong bull run that we have seen over the past three years, a correction at the very least would be understandable.

"If you don't want to asset allocate yourself, look at international funds from Artemis Global Growth, Jupiter Managed Opportunities and perhaps a fund of funds trust from New Star or Jupiter. As well as unit trusts, you could look at investment trusts, perhaps groups such as Foreign & Colonial, Caledonian and Electric and General."

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