There are a number of reasons why I can’t make the NAPF Conference this week
- I have to talk to accountants , payroll managers and finance directors in London, Birmingham and Slough
- The conference now costs too much for my pocket
- The conference agenda contains nothing on it that connects with the world of the 1.8m employers about to join workplace pensions for the first time
Of the three, the most desperate is the third. The NAPF seems to be stuck in a 1990s time-warp -bemused by the “ephemeral” changes brought in by the Pension Freedoms, advances in technology, the disintegration of the DB consensus and the progress of DC workplace pensions as the predominate means for employers to help staff to a better retirement.
In the three days of the Conference there is not one session that deals with Auto-Enrolment. It’s not even on the agenda as a topic for large employers who are about to re-enrol for the first time.
As Joanne Seagers implied when starting a speech earlier this year “with auto-enrolment nearly over” , the NAPF have declared UDI on smaller employers.
Those initiatives that were supposed to be addressing the needs of SMEs such as the Pension Quality Mark, don’t get a mention on the agenda, instead the conference is dominated by talks from trophy speakers (Clive Woodward, William Hague, David Willetts, Eddie Izzard and Steve Webb). Sorry – but these are yesterday’s men!
Yes the new Pension Regulator and Pension Minister will be speaking but who will they be speaking to? The people who need to deliver the great pension projects in the room are not invited and those who remain in this time-warp are frankly not interested.
Large chunks of the current debate on how pensions are managed are completely ignored. There is nothing from the FinTech sector, there is no engagement with the question of what is value for money, On “advice” and how we engage, educate and empower the silent majority, the conference is just that – silent!
We have a two nation pension system. The nation of the “haves”, represented by those at the NAPF conference, and the nation of the “have nots” who aren’t within the NAPF’s scope (apparently).
If I was Jo Cumbo, who has the tricky job of interviewing Lesley Titcombe, I would be asking her what her priorities for her time as Pension Regulator are. I know the answer, it is to make auto-enrolment work and to ensure that workplace pensions work for those enrolled.
The big issues facing employers in the UK are to do with making auto-enrolment stick and -amazingly – the NAPF sees this as none of their business.
If I was Ros Altmann, I would be asking myself the question – why am I here? This is no longer the constituency that matters. Her presence would have been appreciated at the Celtic Manor last week when 500 payroll specialists spent two days working out how to deliver auto-enrolment and considering how to pay people their pension freedoms and pondering the proposed changes in pension taxation so they could deliver them.
It is not just that the NAPF is becoming irrelevant, it is actually becoming obnoxious. It is putting two fingers up to the consumerist agenda , to the democratisation of pensions through auto-enrolment and pension freedoms. It is now no more than a club for those who do not want to move on.
Meanwhile Rome burns. George Osborne is delivering hammer blows to the NAPF’s fertile pasture – the LGPS. The impact on the business models of the large proportion of NAPF members who are dependent on LGPS – will be as profound for them as RDR has been for IFAs.
The ticking time-bomb of the FCA’s value for money call for evidence and the DWP’s uncompleted work on the charge cap for workplace pensions is a further storm-cloud.
Worst of all is the threat of a radical reform of tax relief that will see pensions losing their hallowed status in the tax reform and relegated to a sub-set of ISAs
The self-immolation of the Investment Association can best be interpreted as an allergic reaction to change. Taken together, the impact of political reform demanding that members get a better deal from pensions is swamping the fund industry on which the NAPF depends.
Without the support of a well-nourished fund industry, the NAPF is nothing – unless it can reinvent itself as relevant.
That this conference agenda offers no kind of outreach beyond the narrow circle of NAPF stalwarts shows just what a death spiral it is currently in.
The only way that the NAPF can make itself relevant again, is by reaching out beyond it’s traditional support, the dwindling band of members with substantive DB assets. But I fear it does not want to hear from those running the payroll , the accountancy networks and those who are delivering the pension revolution.