One of the most successful recruitment campaigns ever- focussed on this simple question. It asked young men to imagine themselves once the fighting stopped having to explain to those in their care the contribution they’d made to the war effort.
There are around 1.25m employers in the UK who may be asked much the same question in the next decade by employees keen to work out just why they have been enrolled into their current workplace pension.
Why did you choose that workplace pension – boss?
What other pensions did you look at- boss?
Is any of this written down – boss?
To which the answer “dunno” will be shameful just as the thought of telling your kid you did nothing for the war effort would have been shameful to the potential recruit.
A year ago , I wrote this on the Office of Fair Trading ‘s report into the wretched purchasing decisions of employers setting up workplace pensions for their staff.
And yet the financial services industry has turned its back on the problem. We have done nothing to engage employers with an understanding of workplace pensions and we are now in the process of setting up thousands of workplace pensions for employers who have no understanding of the product they are buying into nor the alternatives that they have never investigated.
This week http://www.accountingweb.com published a frightening article which demonstrates the total breakdown in the advisory process. You can read it by pressing the link above but the frightening bit is the comments of the Pension Regulator.
The response from TPR was: “Although giving advice to an employer regarding their choice of pension scheme and/or fund is currently unregulated, TPR believes that people without the right skills and knowledge should not be giving advice or expressing an opinion on this and we recommend sticking to fact based communications on this matter.
“There is also a risk of blurring the edges and straying into the regulated advice space, if the individual representing the employer is or will be a pension scheme member, as they could be investing their own money into the pension scheme.
“We believe that the ICEAW have published a handbook which advises their members against giving advice or guidance to employers on the choice of pension.”
So the employer who wants advice on his or her workplace pension has to find someone with “the right skills of knowledge” and will have to take decisions based on fact rather than opinion.
Going to the accountant will get a “computer says no” response and a referral to the ICAEW handbook while a visit to an IFA may not result in much better. The majority of IFAs tell us they neither have nor the skills and knowledge to provide this kind of advice nor the customers to pay the fees to allow them to properly research the market.
Much as I recognise the Regulator’s concerns about the blurring of the edges between retail and institutional investment, the fact is that it was tPR and the FCA which issued a join communique in March this year which concluded with this statement.
You are either an employer or you are not. The employer takes the decision on behalf of the employee and even if one of the employees is the person taking the decision , there is nothing blurred about this statement.
This is feeble stuff from the Pensions Regulator and the ICAEW. At a time when we are facing a national challenge to turn 1.2m employers on to pensions, they are turning accountants and IFAs off advising clients.
The Regulator tells me that only 40% of accountants are interested in helping their clients with auto-enrolment. Well I’d be surprised that 4% would be interested in helping their clients choose a workplace pension.
The formulation “skills and knowledge” is not one that has any regulatory meaning and is therefore open to challenge by anyone interested in the Professional Indemnity policy held by the accountant or IFA.
So is there anyone willing to stand up and be counted as having the skills and knowledge to help employers?
Is there someone who can help employers choose a pension and document the choice?
Is there someone who can help them explain to their staff in years to come the choice and why other providers were not chosen?
Well of course there is and the Pension Plowman and his Pension PlayPen do this job. We don’t just ask employers to consider NEST , or NEST and NOW, or NEST and NOW and People’s pensions. We get employers to consider all options and we produce an audit trail that tells them not just why they bought but why they didn’t buy.
Perhaps the Government will have to nationalise us!