“Who’s on our side?”


I’m having dinner with TV educationalist Alvin Hall, a man almost as well know for being attacked by ostriches as for his charismatic TV appearances.

Looking through the list of other guests at the supper I reckon they represent the interests of some 200,000 ordinary working people – and that’s just the pension managers – apart from them, there are people like me who are hired guns- employed to talk to staff -on the employer’s or trustee’s behalf.

Alvin was involved in a workplace project with Morrisons, I’ve written on this blog about their Save Our Dough and about the way that Alvin gained the staff’s trust.

It doesn’t always work. The members of the BBC Pension Scheme didn’t take to the £1m campaign to convince them of the benefits of accepting changes to its financial plan. But I suppose reports in the Telegraph about the BBC bosses in “secret champagne dinner paid for by KPMG” didn’t help.

From the anecdotes I’ve heard from BBC pension members, the view was that KPMG were there at the company’s bidding. They ended up (probably unfairly) being seen as part of the problem.

Ironically, almost all the pension strikes we’ve seen have been from members of gold-plated schemes who see future benefits being a little less than gold. Companies that never bothered with pensions don’t seem to get the same grief!

The lessons we’ve learned from our work with  staff of large employers is that you cannot hope to educate unless you can engage and you can only engage if you are empathic-independent and competent.

Proving your can empathise with staff involved a bunch of skills from the emotional intelligence locker- skills which aren’t taught to actuaries an which have to be learned (we actually had to use a consultancy to de-program us from our actuarial ways!

Proving you are independent is even harder. It’s not just a matter of being independent of the boss, it’s about showing you are not in anyone else’s pocket.

Alvin Hall mentions Martin Lewis as a man who has convinced his money saving experts he is on their side. He does so by telling them how he is making money from their site and explaining that it’s his money saving experts who are making him rich. I’m one of them and I don’t begrudge Martin a penny.

I don’t suspect martin would take our his paymaster’s for fancy champagne dinners, but if he did, I’m sure he’d write about it and explain why.

So tonight I’m going to be getting out the First Actuarial check-book to pay for our supper so that we can better understand what Alvin reckons is right and better understand what the pension managers reckon is right – so we can do the best as hired guns – to get it right.

And you can be sure that I’ll be writing about what we found out, so that a few more of us can work out how to be “on your side”.



About henry tapper

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