Rowan Higgs – My first 6 months at Century Financial Planning

This Thursday I was offered a permanent contract with Century Financial Planning after my probationary 6 month period, an opportunity I did not wait to seize. Far from my student days of early 11am lectures, a sparse social life consisting of a mere few nights out a week, and summer holidays that apparently never ended.  I traded it in for scraping ice off my windscreen first thing in the morning, evenings spent studying in my bedroom and a sudden interest in the two shortest days of the week people refer to as “the weekend”. So why was it I was so happy to put the past behind me and leap at the chance of becoming part of the team at Century Financial Planning and a future in financial planning advice?

I joined Century Financial Planning after a rigorous selection process, responding to an advertisement for a Graduate Scheme in the Windsor & Eton Express in September. From day one I wanted to impress, and despite my science and law academic background, tried to keep up with the industry jargon. This lasted until halfway through day one. By lunchtime I had realised that this was not just a specialised subject, this was an area of about fifteen to twenty specialised subjects, built on a foundation of compliance and client interaction.

My first couple of months were spent learning administrative processes and installing these good habits to ensure no “t” is left uncrossed. This was under the supervision of my colleague Cheryl, her experience proved invaluable as she taught me the importance of executing any administrative task in a logical and logged process. Mistakes do not go unnoticed in a small office. I was taught to get things right first time and to understand what things were before accepting a task from an advisor. But most off all she was using these administrative task’s to give me an insight into what I would be advising myself in a couple of years time.

The vast majority of my days were spent processing mortgage and protection applications as well as answering incoming calls from clients. It was my first real experience in both of these areas. I had done a little mortgage law at university but not the finance side of things. It is very satisfying when a mortgage is offered to a client, enabling them to buy their dream home and the joy this brings.

After a few weeks it was time to start studying again. For every area in financial advice it seems there are at least two exams, and the directors of Century Financial Planning like their staff to do all of them! Suitably too may I add, both have the highest calibre of qualifications amounting to Chartered Status, one of the reasons I was so keen to join the firm in the first place. It gives me great inspiration to glance at the various certificates from the CII awarded to staff members at Century Financial Planning in the board room. Studying to get there though is tough, but done in bite size chunks while on the job experience is a great way to learn. I will be sitting my first exam in June.

One of my favourite experiences so far has to be the investment side of dealings. Clients are able to log in through our website to access information on their investments, with the added benefit of independent financial advice supporting their decisions. From General Investment Accounts to ISAs clients are broadening their investment knowledge and want advice to go with it. I have been to two different seminars presented by Fund Managers, debating economic forecasts and investment strategy at the Williams’ F1 HQ and Mercedes Benz World. Both days left me with a hunger to learn more, and the desire to keep up with economic affairs.

So when asked why I was so keen to sign a permanent contract, I can now say it’s because I have far more questions than when I started, which I want to find out the answer to. With the supervision of a brilliant team here at Century Financial Planning I now know this is where I want to be and thoroughly look forward to a future growing with the firm.

HMRC issues pension liberation alert

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has issued a warning to consumers vulnerable to “unscrupulous” firms offering to help them access their pension savings early.

HMRC, which recently launched a campaign against pension ‘liberation’ – or ‘unlocking’ – schemes with The Pensions Regulator, said savers may be particularly swayed by incorrect claims that these firms can use a legal loophole to access the cash.

“There is no loophole,” HMRC warned.

Very few people, it said, are permitted to take money out of their pensions before they are 55.

The UK’s official tax department added that, even if individuals take the initiative themselves to unlock their savings, some or all of it may be at stake.

That is because a tax charge of up to 55% applies on the amount accessed, which would be levied on the individual rather than the company that helped them ‘unlock’ the cash. The company is also likely to receive a large fee for the work.

HMRC gave two examples of how a pension liberation scheme works.

Example 1

Accessing money from a former employer’s pension scheme

  • Bill gets a text message asking if he wants to release money from his pension.
  • He finds out he has £28,000 in his former employer’s pension scheme and agrees to transfer it to another scheme.
  • Because he’s short of money and wants access to cash quickly, he accepts that he’ll lose £10,000 of it in fees to the new pension scheme or adviser.
    He gets £18,000 and spends it.
  • HMRC investigates the transfer and because he’s only 42 and has broken the rules by taking his pension early and taking all of it as a lump sum they write and tell him he has to pay a tax charge of £15,400 (55 per cent of the £28,000 paid out of his pension savings).
  • Bill must pay the tax charge, not the pension scheme. The tax charge is in addition to the £10,000 Bill has already paid in fees.

Example 2

Unlocking pension savings early

  • Sonia is 49 she’s approached by an adviser about unlocking her pension savings early. It appears to be a fantastic offer and she says she’s keen to do this.
  • Sonia’s advised to speak to her pension scheme administrator and ask them to transfer her pension to another pension scheme.
  • After the transfer her new pension scheme tells her they invest in a company that provides loans and is willing to lend her the amount that she has in her pension savings.
  • Sonia receives her pension savings as a loan and pays a fee for doing this.
  • HMRC contact her with a tax bill for over half the amount she originally transferred. This is because she took her pension savings early rather than waiting and receiving regular pension payments when she reached 55.
  • Sonia – not the adviser – must pay the tax charge. It’s always the scheme member who is liable for the tax charges, not the new scheme, the adviser or the promoter.

 

For the best advice always seek financial advice from a reputable and independent financial adviser.

 

Do I qualify for an enhanced annuity?

Throughout life you are constantly reminded to eat healthily, exercise, not to smoke and reduce your alcohol consumption. Wise guidance with the aim of prolonging good health and wellbeing, with the added benefit of reducing the cost of life insurance and other health assessed benefits; however at retirement your future income could be enhanced because of your medical history or if you are over weight, out of condition, smoking and enjoying the odd tipple over the recommended level. 

We assume that you will qualify for an enhanced annuity until told otherwise. A health questionnaire will be completed and assessed by each provider; we then negotiate with the provider to further enhance your benefits. A health Questionnaire is your opportunity to provide the full facts, if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol declare it, avoid the temptation to round down alcohol or cigarettes consumption. Use the first opportunity in your lifetime to benefit from your actual lifestyle, not the one your GP would like you to have. 

Do not accept the annuity offered by your existing provider until you have explored enhanced options. 

Other at retirement options are available and should be considered before committing to an annuity.