Why are we so unproductive?


News is out that Britain produces in five days what the French produce in four

Robert Peston has written a series of articles on this over the past few days. Here is the gist of it.

on the basis of the figures published on Wednesday, if the productivity trends of 1992 to 2007 had continued from 2008 to the end of last year, output per job would be 15% higher than it is, and output her hour would be 17% higher.

Which means, all other things being equal, each of us would be paid 15% more in total, and 17% more for each standard shift we put in.

Economists argue why we have and are falling behind countries we benchmark ourselves against

1. Productivity growth before the crash was exaggerated by the spurious productivity of banks and City firms that were taking crazy economy-imperilling risks;

2. Since the crash, too many lame duck firms have been kept afloat, under pressure from politicians, preventing the necessary re-allocation of capital from low-productivity firms to better ones;

3. As a nation we’re lousy at innovation and we don’t have enough highly skilled people (compared with Germany, for example);

4. The City is too short-termist and is hopeless at investing in winners;

5. Companies lack the confidence to invest adequately in expensive new kit, and would rather incur the costs of taking on cheap people to boost output, confident they can fire these people if all goes pear-shaped.

I will return to a consistent theme of this blog, that of the financial services industry’s obsession with intermediation.

Chris Radford has written on here about our need to produce better product that does not force us to pay for advice that we can give ourselves.

The Telegraph asked the question “what do I do with a £100k pension pot; I don’t want to pay for advice”. Andy Young and I tweeted the question and got this reply

Suggesting that we might be able to deliver more for less by embracing new technology, meets with (at best) a stony silence, more like active hostility from those who will not embrace change.

Every conversation I have with insurers about pension freedoms ends with hand-wringing about my obsession to give people what they want when they want it. We cling to out-dated service level agreements as if consistency with the past is more important than the challenge of the future.

While PayPal forges a future where a large part of our economy will operate not just without cheques but through mobile phones, pension providers complain about the difficulty of ditching legacy systems.

Complexity is needed to maintain the status quo, the status quo involves high levels of employment but low levels of productivity.

The drivers for change are coming from other countries where the idea of controlling your retirement pot using an app is not fanciful but the reality.

Today I will be discussing with people who have no formal training in Pensions, how we can make end to end processing of that auto-enrolment process a reality for payroll, employer, employee and member. All the innovation in this area is coming from young people who are seeing opportunities to innovate. The resistance to change comes from those clinging to yesterday’s distribution model.

All this will make a lot of people cross, and that is part of the problem. We have a nostalgia for a mythical world where pensions work, that drags us back as we reach for change. I see our pensions industry and weep, that so many people are employed without gain , doing jobs that could be automated freeing them to do productive things like making sure people’s money goes further, is more spendable and provides security and happiness rather than frustration and disappointment.

If this sounds a rant – well it is! We need to change the way we do things, shape up to the world we live in and restore confidence in pensions. Are we really doing that?



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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3 Responses to Why are we so unproductive?

  1. Reblogged this on My Blog News.

  2. David Hepplewhite says:

    Henry you have hit the nail on the head we have too many vested interests which leads to resistance to change and innovation. The issue is too fundamental to allow the industry of old to hold sway.

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