It's time for me to declare an interest in the Equitable debacle. Along with hundreds of thousands of others, I have a chunk of my pension scheme invested with the insurer, through this newspaper's Additional Voluntary Contribution scheme.

So, yes, even supposed experts can get caught out in an industry seemingly so prone to betraying customers. What is so worrying about this scandal is that it has hit people who obeyed all the rules about preparing for a healthy financial future.

Equitable is one of the country's largest managers of AVC schemes, a form of retirement saving that has come into its own as more people realise the need to save privately for retirement.

Employers' pension plans received a huge boost when the pensions mis-selling scandal highlighted the good value offered by employers' schemes - even when contracted out to insurers such as Equitable.

Many employers did contract out their schemes, in the belief that employees should be able to spread their risk beyond the main in- house scheme. Remember Maxwell? So for me, and the millions of others offered an in-house AVC, the deal seemed too good to ignore, particularly where, as in my case, the employer would top up AVC payments. Pension trustees and administrators around the country are now dealing with calls from anxious and angry scheme members demanding to know why employees were not warned of the impending crisis.

But there's the rub. Even with hindsight, investors could have done little more than limit the damage. The crisis at Equitable has been brewing for nearly two years, but the soothing words of management, and its appar ent failure to plan for the worst possible outcome to its court battle, made pre-emptive action by investors a high-risk proposition. They would have faced penalties for getting out, and with a possible sale on the horizon, this did not seem a wise move. At best, members could have diverted payments to alternative schemes with their employers. But those who preferred to spread their eggs around may still have opted to stay with Equitable.

For all these reasons it is essential that the Government ensure that an enquiry is conducted into the Equitable disaster. This fiasco has shattered too many tenets of prudent investment practice to be allowed to lie.



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