Number of drawdown customers three times higher than previous estimate
The number of people who have made some kind of drawdown arrangement since the new pension freedoms came into effect could be three and a half times as many as previously thought.
A new report from City watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) finds a whopping 75,500 people accessed income drawdown between April and June this year.
This is more than three and a half the estimate recently given by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), which said 19,600 over-55s had chosen drawdown during the same period.
According to Tom McPhail, head of pension research at Hargreaves Lansdown, the ABI's significant underestimate could be due to its failure to include numbers from some large drawdown providers, including Hargreaves itself.
The ABI said £1.3 billion was invested in income drawdown products between April and June, with an average pot size of £68,000.
The FCA's data suggests 71,455 people have either fully or partially encashed their pension pot - the latter being by far the most popular option, with 53,543 individuals taking some but not all of their money.
Of the 17,912 who decided to take their whole pot, 12,717 had pots worth less than £30,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with larger pots were far more likely to take only a portion of their accumulated pension savings.
"We now know that investors are behaving radically differently from just a few months ago," says McPhail.
The FCA also found that although almost nine out of 10 pension investors faced no exit fees, those who did could be penalised by more than £1,000.
"The Treasury will be taking a close look at these numbers to see whether there are grounds to intervene on investors' behalf. An exit penalty of over £1,000 is hard to justify in the new world of pension freedoms," McPhail adds.
Billy Mackay, marketing director at AJ Bell, says: "The main reason given for exit fees is to cover initial costs, but you have to question whether it is reasonable to still be collecting charges for events that may have happened around a quarter of a century ago.
"Exit fees should be relevant to the work carried out by the provider today, and set at a reasonable level. It is debateable whether some exit fees really do relate exclusively to initial set-up costs or whether they are actually about ongoing provider functionality."
Interestingly, only 20 individuals were found to have accessed 'third way' annuities - products that promise a minimum lifetime income but also allow a degree of flexibility that is a characteristic of drawdown.
Since the freedoms came into effect there has been a trickle of such products entering the market, from companies including Aegon and MetLife.
The sales of drawdown products also dwarfed those of annuities - with only 12,418 annuities sold in the second quarter of 2015 compared to 46,368 in the second quarter of 2014 and 89,896 in the second quarter of 2013.
An alternative to an annuity, income drawdown (also known as an unsecured pension) allows you to take income from your pension fund while the fund remains invested and so continues to benefit from any fund growth. The drawdown of income has to be calculated carefully as taking too much income could exhaust the pension fund so experts say the annual drawdown must not exceed what the assets would normally yield in an average year. The invested pension fund could also be hit by market turbulence and the value of the assets could fall.
Association of British Insurers
Established in 1985, the ABI is the trade body for UK insurance companies. It has more than 400 member companies that provide around 90% of domestic insurance services sold in the UK. The ABI speaks out on issues of common interest and acts as an advocate for high standards of customer service in the insurance industry. The ABI is funded by the subscriptions of member companies.