The ground moving under us.


What I like about August is that it gives you a little space. Nothing much gets done because at least one decision maker is away and we’re all waiting for September. The French just forget about working in August.

Because there’s space, there’s chance to re-organise and work out what the priorities for the rest of the year are. If we want to be grand, we might even consider there “space for strategy”.

I haven’t been to business school and never studied strategy, but as I understand it , there are four ways to consider strategy in the context of what’s going on around you.

  1. You get what’s going on and build your strategy around the big trends
  2. You can’t work out what’s going on but do your best
  3. You work out what’s going on  and try to influence it
  4. You can’t work out what’s going on and decide to change the world.

I think most of us fall into category 2, traditional strategy falls into category 1, the likes of Apple fall into category 3 and mad entrepreneurs and terrorists fall into category 4.

In my world, the world of saving for and spending in retirement, I can see plenty “going on” but it’s hard to make much coherent sense of it.

  1. There is about to be a massive influx of new savers in the UK due to auto-enrolment
  2. The incentives to save are under review and look like they’ll be realigned to help the poor
  3. Access to advice is being looked at, again the aim’s to help those who are “advice poor”.
  4. We are absorbing the impact of the changes to at retirement taxation- the Pension Freedoms.

Taken together there appears a general loosening of the prescriptive rules that have governed  retirement saving and spending in the UK. Strategic thinking has moved beyond guaranteed benefit schemes (DB), these are now considered a legacy problem.

The implication for those following strategy path one, should be to focus more on delivering mass market pensions and mass market advice and relegating previous strategies that focussed on an elite group of customers. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. Most people I follow are continuing to target their resource at the traditional customer base, the wealthy employers and employees who have always bought their services.

Is this concentration of effort on managing the legacy of DB pensions and the wealth of the elite few a  burying of the head in the sand , or is it  visionary. I suspect it is the former and that the outcome of the various reviews going on concurrently will be that many advisers and providers find the ground has moved under their feet.

What happens when the world changes and you don’t , tends to be a stampede to the new high ground. Noah must have watched with a mixture of mirth and despair as those who had not listened made their way to the higher ground. Noah was I suspect the Steve Jobbs of his time. Not only did he see what was going on, but I build his own Ark so he and his family  could rule the world.

There are terrorists who look at change and try to blow everything up. They stand by the detonator and press whenever a passing train is approaching, trying to de-rail and destroy. They hang around on twitter , attend conferences and heckle. If they had power they would be dangerous. I thought Osborne was in this camp but my views on Osborne are changing, he’s more in strategy group 3 than I thought.

There are a very few strategy one players, those big enough to reconstruct the landscape after the ground’s moved. The forward thinking providers, those payroll organisations planning for the future, a few consultancies who get the new paradigm. There are even fewer genuine innovators showing the rest of us how the new world will work. Because they are innovators, we are blind-sided to them, they are winning wars we don’t even know are being fought! That is what it is like to be a Glaxo in the sixties or an Apple in the noughties.

The thing I like about August, is that it gives me time to think about these things and try and work out where I want to be. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be floundering in strategy group two, I certainly don’t want to be in group four trying to change the world. So I guess my choice is between being ahead of the curve or on it (groups 3 and 1 respectively).

If you’ve had time to follow these ramblings , perhaps you’re wondering the same question.

Whether I’m right depends, to a large degree, on whether I’m reading the direction in which the ground is moving- or whether it is moving at all. Reading the runes is one part of the equation, establishing how you react to change is the other.

ground 2


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
This entry was posted in advice gap, annuity, pensions, Pensions Regulator and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply