Ros Altmann is our new pension minister, this is unequivocally good news.
For years people have been poking fun at Ros Altmann for her claims to be a Government Advisor. Between 2001 and 2005 she was an advisor to no 10 on how to manage its pension debt, following an earlier career in fund management as an analyst, economist and managing international equity funds.
In 1999 she was a consultant to the Myners review and since 2005 she has been variously CEO of SAGA and consistently a vocal champion for the pension rights of those who have had no other voice. Most recently she has shouted for change in pensions, and got it.
Without Ros Altmann’s campaigning, the changes in tax rules which have resulted in the Budget Announcement in 2014, might not have happened. Ros has consistently challenged the status quo, even through the election where her call for the abolition of the cuts to LTA have been most welcome.
Ros is a conservative and can delight in the overall majority won by her party last Thursday.
I see no reason to poke fun at Ros Altmann. After 15 years outside of the cosy environment of the investment banks, she has earned the right not just to be our pension minister but to command our respect.
Fortunately she has some admirable personal qualities, including a thick skin, a sense of humour and a playful spirit which will, I hope, see her through the next five years.
The mystery of her appointment
How she has come to be pensions minister is – and will probably remain – a mystery.
In the midst of the election it was announced by Tory HQ that she would be, under a Tory Government, our consumer champion for financial matters, a ministerial post she would take up from the House of Lords. Ros is already a CBE so a move up stairs is a relatively small step. I commented on this development and her previous role as (unpaid) champion of the over 50s in July last year.
None of this prepared us for taking on the role of Pensions Minister, an altogether more formal role. The first hint that it might be on the cards was Sam Brodbecks’ scoop on May 8th that Ros Altmann had turned down the Pension Minister’s job.
By yesterday, the FT’s Financial Adviser subsiduary was confidently predicting that David Gauke was to be the next pension minister, a move I found confusing as this could only be a step backward from being Financial Secretary to the Treasury. However I welcomed the news- Gauke may know little about pensions but he is a good steady politician and I hope he’ll be a help to Ros.
At some point yesterday, David Gauke either decided not to take the job or Ros changed her mind. But, much to the embarassment of some journalists (and to me who’d swallowed the hook), it was Ros that David Cameron announced as Pension Minister.
Not the colour of her rosette- but the colour of her heart
I’m pretty chuffed. Ros is brilliant, she is a genuine people’s champion- most loved by older people who see her as a role model. She is Thatcher with compassion and Blair with financial nouse. I think she will be immensely good for the country and – grudgingly – I have to take my hat off to David Cameron for seeing this.
With Ros at the helm, calls for an independent pension commission will fall away. Her style is consensual, she listens and comments , not the other way round.
Her policies are inclusive. Though she is an enthusiast for Pension Wise, she sees the limits of financial empowerment and has spoken often and well for the need to encourage collective decumulation for those who don’t want to manage their drawdown or purchase an annuity.
She is a campaigner to retain the tax privileges accorded to pensions and I expect her to fight hard to reverse the ravages of the sliced and diced LTA.
But she will have to take tough choices. She inherits a soon to be launched single state pension which – we are finding- still has some work to be done on it if it is to be fair for all.
The abolition of contracting out is creating huge challenges for corporately funded defined benefit schemes. It is raising again the pension inequalities between the private and public sector.
She will have to deal with the consequences of the fast-tracking of freedom of choice which no-one seems to be fully ready for.
She will have to see through the most difficult period of auto-enrolment.
Most importantly of all, she is going to have to do this for a largely sceptical public not as an outsider but an insider.
Whether she’s up or down!
Never has it been more important for our pension industry to get behind our pension minister. We have been lucky for five years to have had a champion and we are doubly lucky to have another.
But Steve Webb was a master politician who knew his way around, Ros is not a politician and she will be operating not as an MP but as an unelected peer.
She will make mistakes – plenty of them – it is up to us to support her through those mistakes and not to make things worse.
So good luck Ros Altmann. You have achieved a huge amount already but the best is yet to come.