“Savers who cash in their pensions face charges of up to 20%”

which 4

 

I repeat the Daily Mail’s headline which is absolutely accurate.

I am glad that they did not use the word “penalties” as this implies a non-contractual lock-in being imposed by insurers. This is not what is happening. Insurers are only applying the rules in the policies we took out in the 70’s, 80;s and 90’s but as Ruth Lythe puts it.

“Most savers will not even be aware the charges exist as they are buried in the small print”

I spoke with Ruth during her research for this piece. She’d picked up on my piece earlier in the week in which I explained just how easy it was to take more commission from a pension policy just by filling in a couple of boxes to your benefit and not the clients, I even admitted to having done this myself. The article’s here

Of course the “reason why” letters always had an explanation for extending the life of pension contracts (and thereby creating early surrender charges) which meant that compliance officers gave such bad practice a big tick. The various regulators were comfortable as long as the boxes had been ticked and the whole charabanc moved on from one record quarter to another.

Who do we blame?

It was not just the guys who sold the policies who got rich, it was people further up the pyramid. Blame needs to be shared but it cannot be ducked.

The comments from Daily Mail readers suggest that they are not particularly interested in pointing the finger at any part of the process or to any particular person- the whole stinking mess is to be avoided.

I remember talking to journalists about this problem in the 1990s and explaining how the policies we were selling then would be maturing in the first three decades of the next century. It was hardly newsworthy. Though journalists could understand what the issue was, they couldn’t make copy out of it and so the practice carried on – unhindered by consumerists, unreported by journalists.

One brave soul in the Mail’s comments tells another reader he should have paid attention to the small print. No doubt he was one of the ones who did and bought wisely (or luckily). But people have got to learn to be better buyers before we can solve the problem of mis-selling.

Who do we praise?

Martin Lewis makes “money-saving-experts” of his readers and teaches them how to buy simple things better. He teaches techniques of bartering, how to use Maths to work out which is the better deal on butter or soap powder, he teaches people to fight back when they have been wronged.

I take Martin as my hero and my website, http://www.pensionplaypen.com sets out to make better buyers of small employers who are buying pensions on behalf of their staff. This blog is part of that process.


 

Are things any better today?

But there are headwinds. We need professional advisors, accountants, financial advisers and the finance specialists within these companies to step up to the plate and become “skilled and knowledgeable”, purchasing with precision.

Instead we get discouragement from a trade body and a pension regulator

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.”

 

Is the new regulation any better?

The regulator has swung through 180 degrees. From the laissez-faire of the 80’s and 90’s to the prohibition of advice from anyone with the chalice of “skill and knowledge”.

I wrote a comment on the thread of the accounting web article that contained that statement and print it in full here

The problem with using a phrase like “skill and knowledge” is that it is absolutely meaningless. I work for a firm of actuaries that have skill and knowledge coming out of their ears, but most actuaries have no means of applying it to 5 man companies trying to choose a workplace pension!

You can have level 6 qualifications as a financial adviser and still not understand how hooking your payroll up to that provider is going to cause problems, you can’t learn the skills of understanding a company’s needs and matching them to the right workplace pension.

The Pension Regulator is “risk-based” which means he would like minimum scope for litigation. The Regulator would like factual presentation without “opinion”. This assumes that employers will be able to look at pensions data and make rational decisions by properly comparing the propositions of NEST and AEGON and NOW and Legal & General.

This is simply beyond most employers., THEY NEED OPINION, they need simple statements like “look- if your average age of employee is over 45, NEST doesn’t look a great deal” or “Legal and General works for employers who want x,y and z”.

Organising all those nuggets of information into one place and then using technology to produce messages which say “employers like you choose x” is very difficult , expensive and risks failure. But it’s what the 1m plus SMEs and micros still to buy their workplace pension need.

Steve mentioned that they can get all this information and come to a decision  (with a thick 40 page actuarial report recording how they got there) £500. He’s right – www.pensionplaypen.com

If small practices are going to get involved- (and if they don’t who will?), they cannot take the risk of choosing a pension on themselves, they should tell their clients to use a repository of skill and knowledge and get them to click that link.

We can’t all be skilled and knowledgeable, but bosses can be better buyers!

Until we can find a way of making those who buy the pensions for us “good buyers”, pensions will continue to be bought without anyone reading the small print. We need proper information that genuinely helps the 1m employers to take sound decisions for their workers and we need it delivered in a way that suits us in the second decade of the 21st century.

I put my hands up- as a financial adviser between 1984 and 1995 I was part of the problem, as a social entrepreneur in 2014, I am part of the solution.

 

 

 

About henry tapper

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