The case for doing nothing

Unilever Australasia

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An interesting post from a brave fellow on a pensions website “Small firms should do nothing in advance of pensions reform”.

Not the kind of thing you’d expect from a corporate pensions adviser and certainly not what the community to which he posted was expecting.

But the kind of post that challenges the assumptions of cosy pension groups whose received ideas have change little in the 25 years I’ve knocked around in them.

Paraphrasing the argument, the adviser suggested that any attempt by late staging microfirms to plan for auto enrolment would be thwarted by changes in legislation between now and 2015. Underpinning the argument was that the primary reason a small firm would involve itself in providing pensions for its staff was because it had to.

Speaking with a pensions dignatory yesterday morning, I discussed the change in mentality from the paternalism that has kept him a trustee for the Plumbers pension scheme for the last 25 years and the arguments of the corporate adviser.

We concluded that there seemed little space in corporate strategy , especially the strategies of small employers for soft questions such as “what can we do for our staff, how can we help them retire and what can we do to protect them or their family against sickness or early death.

These questions appear expensive luxuries and certainly secondary considerations relative to strengthening balance sheets, maximizing P&Ls and improving shareholder value.

The attitude fo the corporate adviser seems entirely consistent with an accounts driven strategy. There really is not space in a purely financial strategy for what might be termed the “employee value proposition. Is there properly a means of measuring the return on investment on people?

After all, even a firm as benevolent as Unilever is now being lambasted as it seeks to unwind what it considers its unsustainable staff pension promises. If after all that Unilever has done , it can suddenly be regarded as a corporate thug, the case for doing nothing is obvious.

Of course I exaggerate, the reason I joined First Actuarial was because I found there a group of people who believe strongly in the value of proper pensions delivered through the workplace as part of a balanced settlement between shareholders and the means of their wealth their workforce.

It’s the reason I’m putting myself forward for  the NAPF Retirement Council. The NAPF is a power for good but it is only as good as the people who involve themselves in it. Up and down Britain, their pensions groups meet to discuss and improve the pension lot of the millions who benefit from the schemes it represents.

There is a case for doing nothing and it is a logical case – but it’s not a course of action I intend to follow.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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