Club Quango at #WPL13

Quango

Government needs quangos, the Civil Service most of all. But in a strange way, I am comforted by the various Pension Institutions that are Chaired by the ageing lotharios who I collectively name “Club Quango”.

At Workplace Pensions Live yesterday we were treated to a rare insight into Club Quango, a bizarre fraternity of ageing heavyweights who slug it out between themselves to be top-dog.

It’s a mark of a top-dog that they bestride politics so  pseudo obsequious references to Ministers are always delivered with the tongue firmly in cheek. The current Minister is clearly too busy doing his job to hang around and (like Gregg McClymont) deffo not of the club.

So here is the dramatis personae; I’ve omitted many aspirants and a few codgers that I’d like to be elevated to the club. Here are the great and the good as dished up at #WPL13.

Laurence Churchill; Laurence was the backroom boy at Hambro Life, Allied Dunbar who “polished up the handle of the big front door”.

“He polished up the handle with so much zest,

that now he is the Chairman of a trust called NEST

.I didn’t used to like Laurence because he was my “boss from the dark side” , but now I like him. He is Napoleonic is stature and by nature but he’s proper grounded, has a sense of humour and of the top dogs on display, the only one who spent two days listening rather than a couple of hours postulating. He wins a big five out of five from Taps – Laurence is a scrapper and he gives a monkey.

Michael O’Higgins is an Economist and the Chair of the Pension Regulator. He comes across as quite mild-mannered but I bet he’s a bruiser. He turned up to do a key-note speech on Wednesday and pushed off in a taxi with Gregg McClymont after repositioning the Regulator as our flexible friend. It’s nice to have friends, it’s a shame you can’t talk to them . On the basis of his Professorial Gravitas and inapproachability. Michael looks the part but we have to mark him down a point for being a tad aloof. Michael scores 4

Nigel Waterson is Chairman of the Trustees of NOW and very much the chap you could enjoy a good bottle of club claret and a couple of ports with. He has Lord Monkey the ex TUC chap on his Trustee Board so he’s clearly able to mix it with the hoi-poloi but Nigel is at heart a Tory Grandee. It’s good to have an old style Tory Grandee in the house , give the man a cigar and smoking jacket , he did meander around the exhibition and speak with me in a distracted way so I give him a 3.5 (mainly for bonhomie)

Last and least is Alan Rubenstein , known in our household as “pink shirt”. I am sure I won’t make any friends at the PPF for saying this, but Alan has done a brilliant job since it set up, managing the fund. Alan is an ex MD of Lehman Brothers and his CV is full of  Banking balls-ups but he knows his stuff. So why does he come across as such an arrogant person? His contribution to the event was to wind everyone up with a dismissal of Defined Ambition Pensions in terms of risk sharing to be replaced by a quasi with-profits approach which could be operated by Club Quango (using his banking skills).

When I asked whether this would be a PPF managed affair he imperiously dismissed the idea as NEST territory and he managed to have a swipe at NOW in the process by labelling this notion “ADP” (with the implication that ADP don’t have the courage of their Danish convictions in the UK).

True it has similarities to what happens in Denmark in the state fund there but Alan knows quite well that it is only his PPF that has either the assets or the management expertise to run this idea. NOW and NEST do not have the assets and frankly the remit for DC is to get people the best pension, not to show off banking skills.

What a wind-up merchant – clearly this man is an operator!  I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark banking hall and he was the least approachable top-dog of the four. So sorry Alan, my verdict is that you need to set-off your high horse and spend a little more time with the people who work with and for the PPF – (most of us in the room) , I give you a 3 * (the * being the scope for improvement!)

Club Quango is clearly men only, it’ll be gongs all round as the assets flow the way of NOW, NEST and the PPF under the watchful eye of TPR. (Acronyms – don’t you love em)!

It’s no bad thing having these chaps in charge, they may be bruisers but they all seem to be players with the personality and vision that we need. (And in case you are wondering, you do not get to be a grandee by blogging!)

Collectively Club Quango, for all its buffoonery, is a source for good provided it can harness the immense power of its accumulating funds to the commonwealth of our nation.

Strangely for a man with socialist tendencies, I really quite warmed to these guys. Congratulations to the Pensions Insight/Engaged Invesgtor team for collaring the pack.

About henry tapper

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