A consistent theme of the pension reforms we have witnessed over the past five years has been a focus on the consumer of pension savings – the pensioner.
Set in the wider context of welfare policy, the proposals to re-align pension taxation to incentivise savings, Government demands that LGPS starts putting its house in order and the appointment of a consumerist as minister for pensions shows Government increasingly losing patience with the private sector.
If we- those who work in financial services delivering pensions to pensioners, aren’t prepared to change, then – it would seem – we will have change thrust upon us.
Whether we are talking about today’s pensioner- liberated from the unwelcome choice of annuity of drawdown, tomorrow’s pensioner saving through auto-enrolment or the mass of us paying our council tax to prop-up LGPS malpractice, the Treasury and DWP are placing themselves firmly on the side of the consumer.
This is a radical departure from the decades in which Government has appeared to be in thrall to the pension industry. The power of the financial services lobby – represented by the ABI, IA and NAPF , appears to be diminishing. At recent Government meetings I have attended, they have not been at the table.
Nowadays, it is the “noises off” that seem to be attracting the Government’s ear. Voices that would have been drowned out by the financial services lobby, are now in charge. It is not just Ros Altmann. The bases of power in Government – at TPAS, MAS, CAB, tPR, FCA and in Westminster itself, are now loaded with consumerists (principally women) who have no history.
By “having no history” , I mean the prejudice of the past that ordered and controlled public policy to an innate conservatism. Whether we agree with the process adopted by the Treasury in implementing change, there can be no doubt that change is happening. The chaos that we are currently going through to get to a new consensus is nasty, but it seems that eyes are on a particular prize – better outcomes for the pensioner and a fairer deal for the tax-payer.
I am really pleased to see certain major financial institutions not just rolling with change but embracing it. Gregg McClymont is due to join one of our most progressive fund managers – Aberdeen, Legal and General continue to drive the auto-enrolment and DC agendas by being ahead of the governance game, the payroll industry is coming to terms with auto-enrolment and beginning to shape up to the challenges of 2016 and beyond.
Organisations that consider pensioners first and put the consumer outcomes of their strategic thinking before short-term profitability , are likely to be the winners from current change.
Strong Government, as we have it today, will not tolerate conflicts of interest from the private sector and those bodies holding out against change- in particular in areas such as fund pooling for the LGPS, the proper disclosure of what we are paying for pension funds and the abuse of auto-enrolment through poorly conceived and managed workplace pensions, will have a short shelf-life.
An increasingly confident consumer lobby, fronted by the new Minister and populated by an army of passionate and skilled users of our social media are in the ascendance.
It is time to put the present and future pensioner first.