“Pensions aren’t dead yet!” January pension play pen lunch


At an unusually passionate lunch, notable for the absence of the principal villain, Michael Johnson, the Play Pen set about putting pensions to rights.

For those not in the loop, the Telegraph posted an article espousing the views of the aforementioned Johnson which claimed that such were the structural inadequacies and so badly was the reputation of the pensions industry “shot”, that pensions as we know them would be dead by 2050. It was this contention that was under discussion.

These were the playmates who sat down to eat a pie and drink a pint at the Counting House on Monday 7th January 2013

Con Keating – Brighton Rock

Henry Tapper -First Actuarial

David Taylor – OCP

David Parks -PQR

Stephen Cohen – CEO of Governance for Owners

Lucie Boyes of Mattioli Woods

Charles Tatham – Chairman of  Charles Tatham

David Hargreaves – Founder – the Pension School

Robert O’Donovan – Radcliffes Le Brasseur

Joan Desmond – Speechly Bircham

Peter Weiner- Pensions Trust

The vote that concluded the debate suggested that on the substantive issue – will pensions as we know them today be around in 35 years time, the answer was an unqualified yes.

But there was an eerie sense of “parallel universes” in the room. The world inhabited by Con Keating and the collectivists which saw pension savings  as a collective means to extend the “triple-locked” state pension and those who considered pensions as a “tax wrapper” for the accumulation of private wealth.

The Michael Johnson agenda clearly plays to the latter group and there was consensus among those primarily interested in financial education and planning, that pensions were currently in big trouble – their distribution wrecked by RDR and their reputation for delivering to promise  in tatters. Yet there was optimism that these troubles were temporary and that through Auto-Enrolment, the RDR and the drive to more open and honest charges, the public could be won round.

But for the collectivists, Johnson’s position was considered at best irrelevant and at worst deeply disturbing. Clearly Johnson has credibility at the highest level of politics and the concern expressed was that Johnson’s paradigm contained no space for the collectivism that underpinned the broken UK DB system, nor the partially broken Dutch DA system nor indeed a system of collective insurance that we might call “welfare”.

In as much as Michael Johnson’s paper was a “call to action” for both the collectivists and for those pursuing the “financial empowerment” agenda, the lunch was a demonstration that provocative as he is, Johnson has indeed created a disturbance that the traditional pension establishment has failed to do.

We may not think his conclusion right but we cannot ignore him. But there were two aspects of the lunch which added to and went beyond the arguments in “Put the Saver First”.

  1. The vision of financial empowerment that underpins the individualistic approach to retirement provision is inadequate – a collective system is needed at least in parallel and almost certainly as the prime means of funding people’s retirement.
  2. A sense of humour is required in these matters. For people to feel confident in their pensions we need a little more of the spirit of Bo-Jo and a little less of the earnestness of M- Jo!

It was a great shame that Michael was not at the lunch!




About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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7 Responses to “Pensions aren’t dead yet!” January pension play pen lunch

  1. Henry – I certainly don’t think RDR and AE are the solution to anything. My solution is the in-house financial advisor / financial planner, paid for by the employer and there to be exclusively on the side of the employees against the financial services industry.
    I have started the M Jo paper and and have got the impression he seems to believe the financial services industry can solve the pension crisis by its own innovative thinking. This is an extraordinary view as the whole problem is the only way the financial services industry makes money is at the expense of its clients as it does not produce any real wealth. I will continue reading but I’m not hopeful so far.
    David Hargreaves

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  3. henry tapper says:


    We won’t succeed by getting people to go it alone. There needs to be a collective approach, through the state pension and through collective pension savings schemes. To be fair to MJ he does acknowledge this though his plans for superisas and early withdrawal confuse me as to his intentions regarding helping people provide proper retirement incomes for themselves (and each other)!

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