The day the IGCs had their picnic

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Apparently yesterday was the day the IGCs had their picnic or whatever they do when they congregate at some legal temple in the City.

The IGC’s – let’s be reminded – were set up by Government to keep the insurers from the grips of the Competition Commission following the harrowing findings of the Office of Fair Trading. The OFT found that employers and employees were getting a thoroughly bad deal from many workplace pension providers and recommended independent governance of those providers as a last chance saloon.

Clearly enough time has ensued for the insurers to have returned to business as usual. The Governance Committees have been set up and chosen by the insurers with the help of headhunters – in the pay of the people who run the money for the insurers and (unsurprisingly), the boards are packed with faces who also appear on the boards of mastertrusts.

The magic circle of fund managers who provide services to the policies which ordinary people contract to include State Street which within the last two years  has been convicted of stealing money from occupational pension schemes such as Sainsburys and the Royal Mail. As I reported recently, State Street are the lead  investment manager for Scottish Widows and master trust Peoples Pension, the Governance committees of which are headed by the same person Babloo Ramamurthy.

Pitmans and PLSA DC head honcho Richard Butcher appears on a large number of IGC boards as well as sitting as a trustee to mastertrusts (though less since the demise of GenLife). It was his tweet that alerted me to whatever was going on in the City yesterday

Well the OFT and the Government and the FCA were all pretty clear that the IGCs are there to promote the interests of members or (more rightly) policyholders.

But this is all a little too difficult for the IGCs. So rather than find ways to engage , educate and empower policyholders to save, the consensus is that IGCs are really about compliance with whatever rules the FCA sets.

Despite the craving of the public to know what is going on with their money (see viewing figures for Martin and Paul Lewis), the IGCs have convinced themselves that whatever they produce will not not be read, and what is read, will not be understood.

Of course – if all you’ve ever known is how to hide behind compliance – then all you’ll ever produce is undigestible, complex, 50 page reports. Josephine Cumbo of the FT challenged the received idea.

At one point in last night’s debate on twitter a lawyer suggested that were the IGCs to issue a robust challenge to insurers and fund managers, they’d risk frightening people into opting out of pension saving.

Josephine Cumbo . would have none of that!

For it seems the IGCs have decided that business as usual is preferable to disturbing the status quo.

I cannot remember a spike in opt-outs when the OFT reported, indeed the general public seem much happier to know what they are buying and what it costs, especially if they have an independent and trusted expert showing them the way.

Surely this is what the IGCs are supposed to do, not act as a megaphone for the insurers and fund managers.

Jo Cumbo went so far as to engage with Steve Webb (well almost!)

If you press the link on Jo’s last tweet you can see a great many more tweets from a number of participants – voices that should be heard by the IGC boards.

There are voices missing from the IGCs , they include the voice of Josephine Cumbo but also a number of genuine consumer champions who understand what value for money means.

David Pitt-Watson

Dr Chris Sier

Norma Cohen

Nigel Stanley

Steve Webb

Gregg McClymont

Mick McAteer

Con Keating

Emmy Labovitch

Paul Lewis

Martin Lewis

Andrew Young

To name but twelve.

 

These are not people who will be seen on the boards because they are genuinely unconflicted and can speak for the interests of the policyholder.

If you were, like Rene Poisson,  for 20 years MD of  JP Morgan Fund Managers  you might have difficulty managing conflicts of interests with a portfolio of jobs that includes

Chair of the Advisory Committee for Five Arrows Credit Solutions

Chair of the JP Morgan UK Pension Plan and its Investment Committee

Chair of Standard Life Assurance Ltd’s Independent Governance Committee

Trustee Director of the Standard Life Master Trust

Director of the Universities Superannuation Scheme and Chair of its Remuneration Committee

Director of Stemcor Holdings Ltd and Chair of the Remuneration Committee

The reality is that most of these IGC members are part-timers and use their busy portfolios as an excuse not to exercise any pressure on the insurers and their suppliers

As Richard Butcher tweeted last night

So there we have it, a bunch of part-timers, worried about criticising  the people who pay them and scared of upsetting policyholders by telling them what is going on.

This is pretty vapid stuff and if the FCA had a mind, it would re-read the OFT report which spawned IGCs and ask itself whether it hasn’t just created another talking shop paid for by the people it was designed to protect.

I will not mince words, what we saw on twitter last night was disgraceful and what we are seeing as DC Governance is generally so poor (by comparison with what we see in the USA, Canada and Europe) that something needs to be done.

We need these IGCs to be populated by people with the independence, character and perception to stand up to the vested interests intent on maintaining poor value for money for the consumer. We clearly are a long way from there right now.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen, Director of First Actuarial, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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