The other day I received a big glossy pack from one of my family’s car insurers. I won’t say which insurance company, but if it was a butterfly it would be a red one.
It wasn’t car insurance they were selling, but an investment plan of some kind in conjunction with a Friendly Society. Again, I won’t say which one, but it’s to be found north of the border. Now, (as every good IFA knows) there is a quirk in our tax system (which goes back to the Battle of Hastings or Magna Carta or something) which allows individuals to invest in a Friendly Society plan and receive tax-free returns. The only problem is, the maximum allowed is £25 per month or £270 a year. So they tend to be mostly shunned by IFA’s and consumers alike since they are pretty trivial, especially when compared to ISA allowances.
Nevertheless, it sounded pretty good. Looking further at the glossy pictures and precious prose, I saw that one could actually invest greater than £25 p.m., but would incur tax at source on any excess premium. Fair enough. The investment was a 10 year plan and included a small amount of life insurance… aha! Yes it’s a Maximum Investment Plan too! – quite innovative, mixing up a friendly society plan with a MIP. The deal with MIPs is that if you hold them for a minimum term (e.g 10 years) no further tax is payable on growth even for higher rate or additional rate taxpayers.
But, as ever, the devil is in the detail. With my accountant hat on, I wanted to see the charges. Crikey! – 50% of the policyholders’ contributions in the first year would be deducted as a selling expense. Ongoing charges, (ignoring charges for the little bit of life insurance), were 1.5% AMC for a tracker fund (default) or the alternative managed fund. Oh, and there is a £1.00 a month plan charge deducted from the tax-free element, so that’s and extra 4% deducted every month against a £25 p.m. premium.
What I thought was a bit off, was that the charges were not really mentioned in the glossy letter which, when opened, became a very simple application form. Nor were they mentioned much in the small brochure, also attached. However, and as required by the FSA (hurray), there was a key features document with less pictures and lots of writing, setting out all the costs. Having found the charges, I looked for the reduction in yield figures over the 10 year term, and found that the tax-free plan would see a 7% gross investment return in the fund reduce to 3.4% after charges. In other words, more than half any investment growth would be lost in the charges.
Not exactly Admirable, eh? – and not so Friendly. Oh, but I forgot – they give you £15 in M&S vouchers for every plan you take out.
So that’s all right then.