Get up! Stand up! For your pension rights!


I haven’t seen too many smiley faces among Pension people , certainly not in the last five years.

But yesterday, at Workplace Pensions Live 2013, the sun broke through the clouds (metaphorically). Part of this was to do with it being a great even, brilliantly hosted  by David Blackman, well supported by Maggie Williams and her team and held at the best of venues – Edgbaston Cricket Ground!

There was a moment in an afternoon session panel debate after much talk of the surprising reluctance of the great British public to opt-out of the new breed of workplace pensions when David Blackman asked the audience for their experience of pensions governance in the workplace.

Like a Quaker I felt moved to speak and blurted out that at our company, staff had got to fed up with the poor service , high charges and lack of development of our workplace pensions that our staff had risen up against us and demanded a new pension scheme – which they have got.

I don’t know how this went round around the hall but as this was hardly news to me, I was surprised that it seemedweird to the panel. One panelist labelled my staff as “unusually sophisticated” and that this was a one-off, another made the point that most employees don’t know that there is any better so will remain supine.

Let’s deal with these comments.

First Actuarial staff ar no more or less savvy than anyone else, they just have better access to pensions information.

The great British Public is pretty money savvy, sit at the checkout of any supermarket and watch how people use vouchers, special offers and seasonal buying to bring down the cost of their shopping, note the use of and note the general awareness that something has not been right about pensions.

The public  get it, the pension industry doesn’t.

Given the opportunity to get a better pension, staff at First Actuarial got a better pension, I would argue that we differ only from other workforces in knowing that the door is half open. If we can get people as pensions savvy as Marting Lewis gets them money savvy, they will do the rest.

Now let’s think about that second comment. Most people do what they can to do the best thing. That included buying PPI (clearly marked as a “good thing” – an inertia sell but a sale nonetheless).

Unsurprisingly , the 4.2m who have subsequently downloaded PPI claims forms from Martin Lewis’ site and are awaiting financial redress, have done the right thing. The banks have blown their “trusted adviser” brand, Martin Lewis has it now.

Do you not think that the same can happen in pensions?

We have not given people best value from their workplace pensions, it’s not a scandal but we have brought pensions into disrepute over the past twenty years by failing to do the best for the great British public.

Do you not think that the great British public are looking for some leadership which says

  • “this is what makes for good”
  • “if your employer doesn’t offer you this you should ask for it”  “
  • if he doesn’t listen go and get another job/ moan to the union/ organise your colleagues and make a pain of yourselves”.

The cost of pension provision has plummeted, your employer can now provide good quality workplace plans for you and your colleagues for less than 0.5% – that’s half the cost of a stakeholder pension. The quality of admin, investments, communications and at retirement assistance has all improved over the past ten years. Pensions aren’t perfect but they’re getting there!

And it costs employers so little to give staff so much. In our pensions upgrade, First Actuarial halved management fees, improved the default investment option, gave a SIPP option to those who want it and lined up with a provider with a sustainable business plan. It was not hard.

We need to make it easier for employees to know what is good, especially those who have influence over corporate pension purchasing. We need to make it easy for employers to find good and implement good and we need to get staff and employers talking about the funding levels into these pensions. That’s what is all about!

Governance on these schemes cannot  be imposed by Government, it needs to happen organically – bottom up.

It needs staff who hassle employers who hassle providers.

But if Government can create , as they have created with auto-enrolment, the conditions where people will stand up for their rights for a proper workplace pension, if we can give employers access to good quality schemes and if providers can deliver as they say they will, we will have better pensions in this country and the chink of Brummy sunshine will brighten us all up!

hi res playpen


Most people think,

Great God will come from the skies,

Take away everything

And make everybody feel high.

But if you know what life is worth,

You will look for yours on earth:

And now you see the light,

You stand up for your rights.

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 Get up! Stand up! For your pension rights!

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