Raw deal for savers

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The Independent Online
SMALL investors have tended to get a raw deal from those they entrust with their money. To make matters worse, whenever they complain they are often treated in a shabby manner.

In the past few years, a confusing number of organisations have been set up to offer redress to those wronged. Last year, a new one joined the crowd, the office of the Personal Investment Authority Ombudsman.

Determined to prove cynics wrong, the new Ombudsman, Stephen Edell, has moved to increase his powers. Savers will now be able to go directly to him with a wider variety of complaints than first proposed.

Insurance companies will - let's hope - agree to a doubling of awards to £100,000, while the compensation cut-off date may go back further than April 1988 in some cases. All this would normally be good news.

Sadly, life is not that simple. As explained on page 8, a row between a watchdog and insurance underwriters threatens the Ombudsman's ability to enforce awards, at least as far as independent advisers are concerned.

It is hard not to feel sorry for IFAs. They, in common with virtually everyone else throughout the 1980s, believed the "personal pensions for all" mantra and are now stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, they have been ordered to contact some of their clients and tell them they may have wrongly advised about a personal pension. On the other, they have been told they will lose their insurance cover, driving them out of business, if they do just that.

Many might say: tough, they deserve to be punished. Really? Is what they did so much worse than the big insurance companies, whose vultures descended on pit villages and nurses' residences?

Why should the big sinners get away with it while the little guys are clobbered?

Despite their past errors, wiping out thousands of independent advisers is not a sensible idea. If we are to make informed decisions in today's uncertain world we need them. Or at least those who have learnt their lesson.

Some sympathy for IFAs then. But none for those who, rather than meet the pension compensation bill, are now extending their guerrilla campaign to the Ombudsman's scheme. They hope to force the regulators into a climbdown.

They are more likely to hurt hundreds of people. In so doing, they also ensure that the financial world is regarded with even more distrust, and anger, by ordinary punters denied their rights once more.

Normally under such circumstances, it is common either for a compromise to be found or for heads to start being banged together. It may be time for the sound of wood knocking to be heard.

737 235.0 50

I AM what is generally described as a technophobe. It takes me half an hour each morning just to relearn where the ON-OFF switch is on my computer.

So it was with much cynicism that I learned Barclaycard was about to provide details of its services on the "information superhighway". Trendy blighters, I thought, this is just a cheap publicity stunt.

Since 11 January, so-called "Net surfers" can access Barclaycard Netlink on the Internet. In that time, 15,000 people have made use of the facility, one even using the Internet to ask for a replacement card as his old one had been destroyed.

I have been won over. Which leaves me wondering how much further this could be developed: couldn't we be given details of investments, mortgages and savings products so we can compare them all? Suggestions welcome, by "snailmail" please.

For those who are interested, Barclaycard's Netlink address is http://www.barclaycard.co.uk. Meanwhile, where's that darned OFF button . . . ?

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