Halifax halts investment sales as check shows up need for retraining

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The Independent Online
A failure to meet regulatory standards has forced Halifax Building Society to call a temporary halt to selling pensions, unit trusts and personal equity plans.

An internal review found documents were incorrectly completed and training was incomplete at Halifax Financial Services, its 600-strong financial services sales force. Sales have been suspended while the sales team is retrained.

Halifax said it did not believe that any of its customers had suffered through the procedural failures. It planned to write to anyone whose records were found to be incomplete.

James Crosby, general manager (financial services), pledged that the society would not allow any of its customers to suffer any loss as a result. But he admitted: 'It is disappointing that a minority of our advisers have not followed the required procedures.'

Halifax said that Lautro had been informed of its decision, but denied that it had been ordered by the insurance regulator to suspend the sales force.

It said arrangements had been put in place to deal with those customers who wanted to buy financial services during this period.

HFS is currently a tied agent of Standard Life, which means it sells the insurance giant's products. From January, the society is setting up Halifax Life, its own fledgling life insurance company.

As a result it had originally planned to withdraw its sales force in one month's time in any case to train it to sell Halifax Life products rather than Standard Life products.

This is the second time this year that a leading building society has failed to meet industry standards for the sale of investment products. Nationwide, the second-biggest society, had to stop its 1,300 strong sales force from selling investment products, while it retrained half of them.

Nationwide is a tied agent of Guardian. A spokesman for the building society said that it had now retrained a total of 335 sales staff.

Other high street names have also hit problems because of their financial services sales forces, including Barclays and Norwich Union. Barclays suffered a public rebuke from its regulator, the Securities and Investments Board, because of its monitoring standards. Norwich Union was fined by Lautro and forced to retrain its sales force.

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