Friends Provident International Ultra Advance Savings Plan

An independent review by our team of experts

Review summary

Friends Provident International Ultra Advance Savings Plan

Friends Provident International ‘Ultra Advance’ is a unit-linked regular savings plan designed to be held as a medium to long term investment.

It is designed for more affluent clients and as such, the minimum investment is £1,000 per month.  The purported benefit of this plan over a Friends Provident Premier Savings Plan is an increased ‘bonus’.

The Ultra Advance contains a notional 1% of life insurance which allows it to be marketed as an insurance product despite the stated aim of ‘increasing the value of your money through providing a means to invest in funds’.

Overview

Risks stated on the brochure include charges (which could go up), investment performance (investments could see the value of your plan go down) and any requirement you have to withdraw money during the term.

Plan terms are between 5 and 25 years.

Costs include a significant surrender charge which applies for the initial period. This period depends on the total duration of your plan but canceling before the end will always incur penalties.

  • Surrender charges are deliberately complex, but, for example, if you decided to leave a 25 year plan after 5 years, you would lose 81% of the initial value from this deduction alone.
  • Additional lump-sum payments are charged 7% (somewhat disguised as an ‘allocation rate’).
  • Charges of 1.5% per quarter (6% per annum) must be paid on the initial unit holdings. This applies throughout the term of the plan.
  • Ongoing charge $6 per month (or currency equivalent).

Plan holders must invest in mirror funds.

These are Friends Provident International branded copies of other funds.

The mirrored funds are built and managed by dedicated companies, Friends Provident International charges extra to copy them.

  • This costs 1.2% added to the underlying fund costs of up to 3 or 3.5%

A loyalty bonus of 0.5% is payable after year 10.

Friends Provident International Ultra Advance Savings Plan - key features

Ultra Advance is a unit-linked regular payment savings plan designed to be held as a medium to long-term investment.

Investment choice – A range of funds selected by Friends Provident risk-rated funds covering all the major world markets and investment classes. The funds section contains performance statistics that are updated monthly, fund prices that are updated daily and Fund Fact Sheets on each fund.

Multi currency - The FPI Ultra Advance may be denominated in US dollar, GB pound, Hong Kong dollar, Euro and UAE dirhams. Benefits will be paid in the plan currency.

Minimums - £1,000 per month or currency equivalent. You can pay additional amounts via a number of different methods including credit card. Payment by credit card into the FPI Ultra Advance will result in a charge of 1% additional cost.

Charges - An initial charge of 1.5% is taken each quarter from the initial unit holding over the term of the plan.

A monthly plan charge of £4 (or equivalent currency).

Annual Policy Charge Structure - An annual fund administration charge of 1.2% of the plan value.

Additional one-off lump sum payment charge - If you make an additional lump sum payment, an up-front charge of 7% will apply.

Other Charges - Annual management charges and other fund expenses are imposed by the underlying fund manager and the amount depends on which fund is chosen.

Early encashment warning – The plan will not have a cash-in value until you have paid at least 12 months’ worth of payments. We understand that there are also heavy encashment penalties after 12 months depending on the original term of the policy and when you want to access it. These penalties pay for the commissions earned up front by your salesman.

The Friends Provident International Premier Advance is expensive compared to the alternatives and far less flexible. The supposed tax benefits can also be outweighed by charges and lost through early encashment penalties. The penalties in the first 12 months are extremely high and will effectively wipe out any money saved in that time.

The pros

  • Established brand name
  • Size and administrative capability
  • Superficially highly attractive
  • Potential for better than bank rate return if all contributions are made throughout the term
  • Lack of flexibility may encourage discipline of saving

The cons

  • Inflexible
  • Potentially opaque and complex charging structure
  • Expensive way to invest
  • Easily mis-represented at the point of sale
FAQs
Can I get out of my FPI Ultra Advance savings plan early?

Yes...

However, you will incur a financial penalty, and depending on how long you have left to save and the performance of your plan to date, it may - or may not - make financial sense for you to do so.

In the majority of cases we see, it is financially beneficial to exit.  But we can only give you personalised advice after reviewing your policy.

Will my IFA have received commission when he sold me this?

Yes - and the commission received will effectively wipe out your early years' payments. 

If you want to know how much your IFA received, ask us and we'll find out.

Are there better options available for regular saving?

Yes.  The FPI Ultra Advance has been superseded by much more flexible, cheaper and effective alternatives.  Depending on things like how much you want to save, your tolerance for risk and your investment timeline, there are many much better options open to you.

Customer reviews
Mis-leading charges and expensive

I'd like to say I was mis-sold - but I wasn't.  I read the contract I signed.  It's hard to admit I didn't have a CLUE how much my adviser was being paid. I was naive and I only realised how gross this product is when I tried to cash it in early due to a change in circumstances. Bye bye money.  My advice? Avoid like the plague.

About as transparent as muck

I wanted a regular savings product - and that's what my adviser told me this was.  He sold me on the bonus and totally glossed over how ruinously expensive the Ultra is. I had an X-Ray with AES because I was concerned about a completely different product - but I lumped in the info about this policy too and was raging when I read the findings. Suffice to say the adviser who sold me this is my former adviser.

Expert verdict
Expert Assessment of Friends Provident International Ultra Advance Savings Plan

The good news is the Friends Provident International Ultra Advance is closed to new business.

But for anyone already invested, the high costs erode your returns and the available fund range is unsatisfactory.  It is easy for these products to be badly misrepresented at the point of sale and cheaper, more flexible, more open architecture and simpler plans are now available.

A little like a Blackberry being replaced by smart phones – the world has moved on from the time when these plans were popular.  The Friends Provident International - Ultra Advance is now outdated and those already invested should consider their options.

If you already hold a Friends Provident International Ultra Advance plan and it is worth £50,000 or more, we recommend you have a free, no obligation X-Ray Review™ conducted to give you the information you need to make a decision on the best way forward.

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