This election was brutal. Gregg McClymont knew his fate but Steve Webb’s defeat was a shock to us all – sadly electors don’t wear pension goggles.
Just as we were resigning ourselves to BAU, David Cameron announced Ros Altmann’s appointment (after a twitter of rumours about David Gauke). It was as surprising as the Conservative majority.
Altmann has for 20 years campaigned for people forgotten by the system. We have become so familiar with her being the “dissenting voice” that her inclusion in Government seems shocking.
And with that familiarity has come contempt; many in pensions are sceptical of her motives. Her media profile leads “experts” to whisper she puts style over substance. Some have gone further, accusing her of championing herself on the back of the causes she espouses.
Whatever your opinion of her motives, underestimate her at your peril! Ordinary people see pensions through her eyes as they see personal finance through the eyes of Martin Lewis (another fierce critic of the “pension industry”). Altmann has had her share of critics but has never appeared bothered, she keeps on saying it as she sees it and the nation believes her.
Altmann now has chance to turn words to action. There is an immediate need for some housekeeping. I don’t expect all the Webb reforms to be adopted. The bulk of the DA agenda should be reviewed as should “pot follows member”. There may be legs in the secondary annuity market but in needs an easement in EU solvency regulations.
Altmann should look hard at NEST and its debt to the DWP. NEST exists to make auto-enrolment happen, not the other way round.
And Altmann will undoubtedly threaten the fund managers, insurers and their 50 shades of intermediation so people can get better value from their pension savings. As a former fund manager, she knows where the bodies are buried. The ABI and IA know this too.
Parts of the Pension Regulator are not working as they should. There is a conspicuous rift between tPR’s DC unit and their counterparts at the FCA – (think who’s doing the work on “value for money”). The DC initiatives tPR have pursued, most notably the master trust assurance framework, have been inconspicuous and ineffective.
Perhaps the biggest threat will be to the “movers and shakers”. Search the NAPF website and the only mention of Altmann is their press release on yesterday’s appointment. Nor does the NAPF feature on http://www.rosaltmann.com. The pension lobby has more of less ignored her. Altmann is as welcome to the pension oligarchy as Kevin Peterson to the England cricket squad. (Ironically , KP’s highest score was made on the day of Altmann’s appointment).
I suspect it’s because Ros Altmann’s appointment is a champion of change – most especially the changes brought in by the 2014 budget. The Pension Freedoms were greeted by the pension establishment with consternation. Altmann understood them, embraced them and has ridden their bow- wave all the way to power.
Altmann’s promotion is also a blow to the historic male hegemony. She is supported by Lesley Titcomb, Charlotte Clark and Michelle Cracknell, the levers of power are now in the hands of women – all focussed on improving consumer outcomes. Diversity and consumerism appear part of a wider policy trend from a Government framing itself as populist.
David Cameron’s talks of “bread and butter” ways of improving people’s lives”. The strategy is to be grounded in “true social justice and genuine compassion”. Viewed in this context, Altmann’s appointment is not surprising at all.
Someone’s moved the cheese. The “Premier League” of pension projects – the implementation of the single state pension, auto-enrolment (II) and the management of the pension freedoms – are all about people. The corporate agenda surrounding he management of DB guarantees has (at least in policy terms) been relegated to the “Championship”.
Altmann may not have moved the cheese but she understood and articulated the zeitgeist better than anyone. Her position recognises this.
Perhaps it’s time to move on.