George Osborne has announced the Citizen Advice Bureau as the delivery mechanism for face to face guidance over the new pension reforms.
The Treasury announcement is here.
This doesn’t come as a surprise – CAB had been after the work and the Treasury clearly didn’t have too many alternatives. Nonetheless, the news will be treated with consternation in some parts of the financial services community.
Posh people don’t do Citizens Advice!
And the Citizens Advice Bureau has been conspicuous by its absence in the pension reform discussions.
Gillian Guy, its CEO is a new name to pension people and her opening pronouncement that
“People who have diligently saved year after year towards their retirement deserve to choose how to make the most of their pension pot and good guidance is central to helping people make the right decisions for them.”
Suggests she is going to be “on message” – the deliverer not the thought leader!
Where Gill has been effective, and I follow CAB through Money Saving Expert, is in helping people get back on their feet and helping people avoid the kind of crippling issues you get when your health goes, you lose your job and there is only the skimpiest of safety nets to fall back on.
That we don’t hear from Gill is because she is busy elsewhere, that CAB does not compete to be pension geeks is as it should be.
For those who need detail, it will be available from TPAS, a bunch of self-confessed pension-holics whose attitude to the deluge of work that is likely to come its way appears to be “bring it on”.
MAS Side lined
The Money Advice Service is clearly out of the picture, consigned to delivering a directory of financial advisers to be signposted by TPAS and CAB reps when there’s need for someone to give a “definitive course of action”. It seems that MAS have had people on secondment to the Treasury helping with the online decision-making but that’s the extent of their involvement. Frankly, I’m not surprised, MAS needs a kick up the backside which is why we are pitching ot run the Directory for them.
If TPAS is in the van, and CAB the face to face delivery mechanism then the next question is
Can CAB deliver?
The answer should be yes – but in a limited way and not in the sophisticated way many imagined.
I suspect that the face to face session will be very basic but very effective.
CAB is the place you go if you are in debt or about to be, it’s a place for people who can’t or won’t pay for professional advice and it works incredibly well. Everyone I know who has used CAB cannot speak too highly of it as it delivers the straightforward guidance people need when they are facing a financial crisis.
What CAB cannot do is provide a service commensurate with the needs of the more financially sophisticated. That is because CAB’s skills are in dealing with an absence of money, not an abundance.
So what the Treasury is creating is a face to face service that does not attempt to provide the sophisticated help you can get from an adviser (or from TPAS). Advisers should be pleased with this. I suspect that very few people who will be prepared to pay financial advisory fees will walk through the doors of CAB for anything, let alone pension guidance.
TPAS will become the point to which any complicated guidance is referred and the MAS advisory directory will signpost advisers where advice is needed and can be afforded.
CAB should be up to the job of providing simple help to people make the most of their pension pot –indeed if it tries to do more- it will do less.
For many hard-up people, the majority if not all the pot will help them go “debt-free”. Spend time on www.moneysavingexpert.com to understand what a life-changing experience it is for people who have struggled with a lifetime of debt to have this burden lifted.
If CAB can only help indebted people use pensions to go “debt free”, Guidance will have served a great purpose.
But CAB can do much more than this.
CAB advisers are trusted; like Martin Lewis, they are seen to be on people’s side. To have a local person who knows enough, explaining simple things about the choices on how to spend their pot is of huge benefit to many people. For the first time many people will have the right to understand what they’ve saved into all their lives and this right to guidance is not to sniffed at.
Many members of my family have worked in CABs and I know they find their work rewarding in many ways. I suspect that many , some of my family members included would not currently feel skilled enough to talk with people about their options but I am quite sure, with training and self-study, they can skill-up to the levels necessary.
That is because the most important skills are already learned; the capacity to listen and get on the wavelength of ordinary people is what CAB is famous for, it’s why people who use it love it. Www.moneysavingexpert.com has 214,000 mentions for CAB on its site, Martin Lewis calls it “an outstanding organisation” and he has made a personal donations of £10m to the cause.
All this may seem a bit harsh on the squeezed middle, who may feel a little let down. We (for I am one) should not feel deprived. There will be huge amounts of information for us to learn from in the press, in the workplace, from our providers and from TPAS and the Treasury,
Face to Face was not for us, this resource should be targeted at people who need it most, those for whom the Citizens Advice Bureaux do such a great job at the moment.
For people who are struggling – niceties such as the difference between “advice and guidance” don’t matter. People who go to CABs need “help” and that’s what these guidance sessions will give them.
So well done George on this. Though I suspect your visit to Sutton’s CAB on Saturday was a rare one, I’m glad you made it and that you and your department got this decision right.