Fanning the faint flame for better workplace pensions

LeonardCohenPA140311

There is a crack in everything- that’s how the light gets in

Over the next few weeks, Britain’s various IGCs (and baby IGCs) will be reporting on the state of the insurers and the non-insured SIPP providers from an independent viewpoint.

I have berated some of  the IGC Chairs for being confused about their purpose and no-doubt some have thought that I was grandstanding. Over the past weeks I’ve been in touch with many IGC Chairs meeting several face to face.

Those I have met, and they may be the self-selecting good guys, have shown a spirit to work for the member that surprised me and pleased me. It would seem that there is a genuine willingness to adopt a common way of reporting on value for money. However, several IGC chairs and members said they were worried that they had been given little support from the FCA in developing a reporting template.


 

At the same time that IGCs are proof reading their reports, so the Chair of our occupational DC schemes are getting their Governance Statements ready. In theory, these chair should be going through the same process with their schemes as the IGCs. In practice, all but the very biggest schemes will lack comparable resource to what’s available to the IGCs.

The accounting firm, RSM, have produced an excellent 55 minute recording of a recent seminar on the duties of DC Chairs in producing Governance Statements. You can listen to it by following this link. It is very good that they have mad this freely available.

I hope that the IGC reports will have a trickle down effect on occupational scheme Chair’s statements and that we’ll see a cascade of good governance over the months to come.


 

There is a common enemy to good governance, which goes beyond “non-compliance”, it’s what we call “box-ticking”, a practice of meeting minimum standards without engaging with the spirit of the thing. You can easily spot box-tickers , they use words like “exercise” and would much rather buy you a coffee than discuss the job in hand.

I have no doubt that much of what we will see from the IGCs will be “box-ticking”, but those who have engaged with me recently don’t seem to be box-ticking at all. I’d go so far as to say I’m actually looking forward to reading the Chair’s statements!


If that last statement confines me irredeemably to the status of pension anorak, so be it! You might ask why I think these IGC statements are important, here are the five reasons they will be important to me.

  1. I work for a consultancy, First Actuarial, which helps medium to large employers to choose bundled pension services from the providers the IGCs provide oversite to and insight on. These reports could be a window to the state of the provider’s good health
  2. I run Pension PlayPen which uses the primary research created by First Actuarial and applies it to the same providers. We simply translate and deliver to a wider constituency of employers
  3. Both First Actuarial and Pension PlayPen are keen to drive up the quality of governance for all DC schemes , including the Master Trusts and Single Employer Occupational Schemes. Our hope is that IGCs will raise standards for all.
  4. The IGCs will , I hope, create between themselves a framework for measuring value, measuring costs and measuring value for money, which we can all use in judging whether a provider is worth using.
  5. I am a member of one occupational DC scheme and a policyholder with one insurance company providing a workplace pension. I have a personal interest in seeing better management of my retirement funds.

Put together, these five motivations for getting excited make me anticipate the publication of the IGC statements with hope and trepidation!

If we get box-ticking, then IGCs will have let me down in at least five ways.

I cannot speak for others, I don’t hold myself up as some self-appointed regulator and- as the rubric at the top of the blog says, I speak on this for Henry Tapper, not for any part of the industry, nor the Regulator nor even the companies I work for.

I don’t expect many other anoraks to read the IGC stuff. But I will do my best to make sure they do! And the anoraks may inspire others to take an interest – especially the journalists and broadcasters for whom there is much public trust. And if they publish and broadcast enough, over time, there may be public interest in the output not just of the IGC Chairs but the governance statements of the occupational pension schemes.

No one is saying this will happen overnight, my expectations for year one are very low. I want to see more and better engagement in 2017 and in the years beyond.

The flame which the IGCs are tending is weak and could easily be extinguished, that might be in the interests of some providers but it would not be in the interests of policyholders (or the members of occupational schemes). The flame must be kept alive so it can catch the tinder and so create a great blaze that can shed light on dark corners!

These IGCs may be funded by the Providers, but they are for us, without them we will be the poorer. If we let them fail, it is because we pay them no heed. If we make noise about the IGCs, we blow oxygen to the tender flame. Let’s do that!

 

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen, Director of First Actuarial, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
This entry was posted in pensions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply