* New rules make advisers personally responsible for advice
* FCA says sticking with defined benefit scheme is best (Adds more detail, industry data)
By Huw Jones and Carolyn Cohn
LONDON, June 21 (Reuters) - Britain’s markets watchdog has proposed stricter rules for people who advise customers who want to switch from a defined benefit pension plan to a scheme that relies on investment performance.
The Financial Conduct Authority said it was intervening after seeing cases of poor advice.
The British government introduced “pension freedoms” in 2015, allowing people to cash in pension pots built up from investments made via defined contribution schemes. Previously, they had to use the pots to buy an annuity, which pays a fixed income for life.
These rules also allow people to transfer money from defined benefit, or final salary schemes, which also pay a fixed income for life, into alternative investments such as defined contribution pensions.
The transfer values of defined benefit pensions - considered as “gold plated” pensions - have risen to historically high levels, making it potentially attractive to take the money and invest it in a different scheme.
The FCA said on Wednesday the proposed changes included a clarification that the onus is on the adviser to prove that a transfer is in the client’s best interests. They also replace the current transfer value analysis with a comparison that would show the value of the benefits being given up.
“This does not represent a softening of our approach, but makes it clear that is essential for an adviser to demonstrate that an individual will benefit from giving up a valuable pension.”
Most consumers will be best advised to keep their defined benefit pension, the FCA said.
“Our new approach should better equip advisers to give the right advice so that consumers make well-informed decisions,” FCA executive director of strategy and competition, Christopher Woolard, said in a statement.
The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association said almost 11 million people belong to a private sector defined benefit scheme, and nearly all those schemes have received a transfer request in the last six months.
The FCA said it also wanted to hear views on whether there should be specific qualification and experience requirements for a pension transfer specialist.
People must take financial advice if they want to transfer benefits worth more than 30,000 pounds, a step taken after a string of pension mis-selling scandals in the 1980s and 1990s.
The watchdog will publish its new rules by early 2018.
Reporting by Huw Jones and Carolyn Cohn. Editing by Jane Merriman