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JEFF PRESTRIDGE: At last, safe funeral plans – but we'll be watching

JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Finally the prepaid funeral plans market is well regulated – I trust we don’t have to re-light the spotlight…







It has been quite a fraught journey, but finally the prepaid funeral plan market is now well regulated.

Since Friday, it has been under the scrutiny of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). It means plan buyers can now rest assured that they’re not getting a rough deal — and that the product will do exactly what it says on the tin. That is, pay for the funeral they bought in advance.

Twenty-six companies have reached the regulation. A few (notably Safe Hands Plans and Unique Funeral Plans) have folded, while many others have handed over their plans to rivals.

Rest in peace?: Plan buyers can now rest assured they're not getting a rough deal

Rest in peace?: Plan buyers can now rest assured they’re not getting a rough deal

Thirteen companies that have not been approved have until the end of October to transfer their plans to a competitor or refund customers’ premiums.

About 2,000 “appointed representatives” of the 26 regulated companies are allowed to sell plans. Most are undertakers. Buyers can check their references against the FCA’s list of regulated companies. If their details are not in the registry, avoid them like the plague.

On Friday, the FCA assured me that its regulation of the funeral plans market would lead to “higher standards” in the industry and “increase consumer protections.”

It stressed: “We expect to see an improvement in the way customers are treated, with better value products, better sales practices and tighter controls so consumers can feel confident getting the funeral they expect.”

The regulator has done a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff. But his work has only just begun.

It should now ensure that no one ever has to go through what 46,000 Safe Hands customers just went through: being informed that their plan is worthless due to corporate greed and misconduct.

This paper has led the way in exposing the murky world that was the funeral plans market before FCA – a fact acknowledged last week by provider Golden Charter who thanked us for ‘The Mail on Sunday’s involvement over the past year’ .

I trust that we won’t have to re-light the spotlight.

More Steady Eddie than gung-ho

Investment Trust Personal Assets is an investment fund. Run by Troy Asset Management, it aims to preserve and increase the value of investors’ assets. More Steady Eddie than gung-ho – investing in gold, bonds and stocks.

A fund for all seasons. Over the past year, it has maintained its share value as other high-profile funds have crashed through the proverbial bottom.

Tomorrow, the £1.8bn fund, listed on the London Stock Exchange, will make itself even more attractive to investors – new and old – by doing a stock split.

Existing shareholders will receive 190 shares for each share they currently own, with each new share valued at one-tenth of the price.

The total value of the shareholder fund will not change, but the shares will be more easily traded by private investors. Rather than being valued at around £490 each, they will trade at £4.90, making it easier for new investors to buy them through regular savings plans.

It’s a smart move by the trust, although it should have made this change a while ago. Personal assets can be purchased through all major investment platforms, as well as defensive trusts such as Capital Gearing, RIT Capital Partners, and Ruffer.

Lower costs should be the order of the day

Speaking of investment platforms, it’s good to hear that Interactive Investor continues to pay the fees.

From early September, the cost of buying and selling shares, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds through the platform will drop from £7.99 to £5.99.

This means trading costs will be lower than rivals – notably Hargreaves Lansdown – although Interactive is unusual in applying monthly subscription fees ranging from £9.99 to £19.99 depending on which service is required.

“Investors have no control over the markets, inflation or interest rates,” Interactive boss Richard Wilson told me. “But they can control their investment costs.”

On the spot. Lower costs should be the order of the day. Time for Hargreaves to follow suit.