Monday, 11 September 2017

Pensions Awareness Day - On The Road


It’s year four. And it’s been quite a journey. From originally registering Pensions Awareness Day, to seeking support from the pensions industry (thank you!) to painting up a bus and taking it around the country…. It’s got bigger and better each year.

This year starts in Edinburgh, and the bus then moves on to Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff and London. Over the week, we are expecting hundreds of people to come onto the bus, asking their questions about pensions. We will be giving away plenty of ‘freebies’ and with help from Pensions Wise, handing out loads of advice.

If you’re in the area, why not come over? This is the website with dates and times in each city:

PENSIONS AWARENESS DAY

As an industry, we’ve a long way to go before people are saving anywhere near enough for retirement. But we’re off and running. Join us!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Deferreds - The Poor Relations

I’m of that age. Time to start looking at what pensions I’ve got and to consider when to take them. It’s a bit of a shock to have reached such an age, I have to say! I’ve spent most of my career planning other people’s retirement and never really thought about planning my own. But there you go – time waits for no man and all that.

My first foray into my very own pension-land wasn’t such a success though. I approached a life and investment company that had taken over the liabilities of a plan I had been part of a long time back. And was rather surprised to be told I had no pension with them! I was able to produce a deferred pension statement, and all was sorted. But it does beg the question as to what would happen if I were less prepared. How many others fail to sort out deferred pensions due to poor record keeping? Or, more likely, having gone away and failed to notify the provider of the new address.

The usual tracing processes mean that eventually, the deferred member will (hopefully) be found and the benefits sorted out. But there’s no doubt that deferreds – especially in closed DB schemes – are the poor relations in terms of communication.

I hope that the new plans for a pensions dashboard will help rectify this. And there’s legislation on the way requiring an annual statement for deferreds as well. The more frequent use of emails in record keeping is helpful too, as many people may move house but not change their email address.

Nevertheless, as I found out personally, deferreds need a bit more attention.

As to the amount I’ll be getting, well let's say I won’t be fully retiring just yet!

 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Regulator in Danger of Decreasing Pension Membership

At an SPS conference last week, the Regulator's spokesperson talked of the need to encourage consolidation of pension schemes and how to remove the barriers to consolidation.

At the end of her talk, I challenged her. Is she saying 'big is good'?

She assured me she wasn't saying 'big is good' but then went on to repeat what she had said in the talk- the need for lower fees and economies of scale.

There's a problem with this for the small and medium sized employers that value the pension plans they have. They have put the plans in place for a reason, they value them and they promote them to their staff, with a high take-up. they own the plan- it bears their name. It was designed by them.

The moment they are forced to consolidate into something bigger, they lose the 'family touch'. They lose the ownership.

We have seen over the years what happens when the MD or FD is excluded from the scheme they own as a company. Almost inevitably, they start to devalue the scheme and lose ownership of it.

The same will happen with the Regulator's plan for consolidation. Quality plans will be closed - squandered at the altar of spurious reductions in admin and investment fees.

Ownership is lost. Membership decreases.

An own goal for the Regulator.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Dear Next Government.....

I’m not sure that pensions will be one of the major battle grounds in this election, and if it is, it may tend to be around the ‘triple lock’ headlines.

That would be missing the point. We need clarity form the next government in terms of the communication of pension plans. I appreciate the initiatives towards one design for future benefit statements, but the sooner the better.

Clarity on the future management and promotion of auto-enrolment is key. As is confirmation of state pension benefits and ages.

All this should lead to a harmonised approach to communicating pension benefits. Too many benefit statements have reams of small print. Most of it is legislative. Some of it is pension lawyers having too strong a say in the look and feel of communications.

It doesn’t help that we have the dreaded statutory money purchase illustrations. Loads of caveats. Tons of small print. So unhelpful.

Dear next government…. Please simplify communications. Cut the small print. Clarify the main figures. Help people understand.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

With apologies....

With apologies to my actuarial and marketing friends......

Two people are flying in a hot air balloon and realise they are lost. They see a man on the ground, so they navigate the balloon to where they can speak to him. They yell to him, "Can you help us – we’re lost."

The man on the ground replies, "You’re in a hot air balloon, about two hundred feet off the ground." One of the people in the balloon replies to the man on the ground, "You must be an actuary. You gave us information that is accurate, but completely useless."

The actuary on the ground yells to the people in the balloon, "you must be in marketing."

They yell back, "yes, how did you know?"

The actuary says, "well, you’re in the same situation you were in before you talked to me, but now it’s my fault."

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Mergers - Who Really Benefits?

One of the things that intrigued me about the 20 year anniversary edition of Professional Pensions was the article by JonathanStapleton looking back at the names of the companies that were advertising in that very first issue.

Names that have now disappeared: Hill Samuel. GAN. Dibb Lupton Alsop. Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander. Capel-Cure Myers. Gartmore. Abbey Life. Hogg Robinson. Morgan Grenfell. Hewitt. Norwich Union.

All gone- and mainly forgotten in a plethora of mergers and takeovers over the years.

And now another one. Aberdeen and Standard Life are to merge.

I suspect the name Standard Life will survive. But then I thought that of Norwich Union before it gave way to the clinically globalised name Aviva.

Pensions Age Magazine quotes the marketing gobbledygook: ‘[the] merger would harness Standard Life and Aberdeen’s complementary, market leading investment and savings capabilities which would deliver a compelling and comprehensive product offering for clients covering developed and emerging market equities and fixed income, multi-asset, real estate and alternatives.’

They mention synergies. And surely there will be. In the way of job losses for the back-room functions mainly. But what about the investment managers- the individuals tasked with making the strategic decisions? Changes are not always welcomed to the people that do the work. They are used to a system, used to a style. When that style changes, so might their appreciation of the job they do. This in turn can affect returns for clients.

Synergies? Cost savings more like. And cost savings don’t always mean benefits for clients.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Daily Mail Fabricates News - Not so new news

The news out today that the Daily Mail fabricates news is not such new news. Working in the pensions industry, their regular pension headlines have been the bane of many a pensions manager.

The Mail had the ability to pick up on a half-truth and fabricate a complete story out of it. The results were usually concerned members of pension schemes panicking that they have the right plans in place.

The negative Mail headlines for pensions caused unnecessary grief and may well have stopped employees from joining a pension plan they should have been part of.

The poor journalism on display at the Mail has found them out.