NEST have something to shout about and it’s not news. Like good background music, they’ve succeeded in being there but not getting noticed.
They’ve gone about their business over the last three months increasing their participating employers from 40 to nearly 80,000. This is some achievement and down, in no small way, to their slick new suite of web-based tools that allow employers and intermediaries to join NEST and manage contributions “at the touch of a button” (RTI style).
Last night was NEST’s chance to show off to payroll and they weren’t shy wheeling out the big guns, CEO Helen Dean, MD Debbie Gupta and Nick Sex, NEST’s operations whizz. Great credit to them;- this is quite a story and a good news story for pensions in general.
832 employers joined NEST last Tuesday, over 4000 joined over the course of the week, as Helen Dean told her audience.
“Auto-enrolment can’t succeed if NEST doesn’t succeed”
Tata inside – the unsung heroes
That was the message from Helen Dean and it’s true. For all my moans about the money it’s taken NEST getting there (and it is a lot of money), NEST is looking solid as a rock and with Phil Methold and Richard Harvey in attendance, it’s clear to see the relationship with Tata is working. I won’t over egg the pudding, the contract re-negotiations with Tata must be nearing completion and we taxpayers are paying quite enough already Phil!
The back offices of NEST (and those doing the heavy lifting at their rivals) are the unsung heroes of auto-enrolment. To take on 40,000 employers in a quarter (832 last Tuesday) is a remarkable achievement in itself, but NEST were constantly reminding us (as they must themselves) that this run of form must continue right through to 2019 and beyond if we are to avoid the capacity crunch.
Where NEST has got first run
If this sounds like I want my cake and to eat it, that’s exactly right. A strong NEST allows other players to prosper and choice makes NEST stronger. As the clock ticks down to April 2017 when NEST’s yoke of restrictions are taken from them, NEST will no longer be special needs and will compete unconstrained.
It might be argued that this will shift NEST to the top of any ladder of choice and make choice redundant.
This is not how I see it. NEST offers a service that is different – a low cost provider that requires employers and their agents to do it themselves and has little time for employers without the where with all to manage their affairs online.
NEST’s style of operations makes it well suited to process driven payroll (last night well represented by Shelly Cliffen of Nannypaye). If you have to manage through 5000 + nannies, all the sole employees of 5000 working Mums and Dads, you don’t have time for niceties, Shelly told me that 100% of her employers had used NEST to set up pensions. Nannies do NEST!
But there is no reason, as other providers launch the same tools , that Nannies could have other pensions, provided- and this was the theme of the evening – it is as easy to run with choice as it is to run with NEST.
The great thing is that where NEST goes, others follow and the sign of a strong market is that we can properly talk – today – of meaningful choice for even the smallest employers. The Pension PlayPen sounds right for nannies!
And what of the big beasts?
NEST now has integrated with most of the big payroll operations, and they were in the room last night. To see Kevin Hart of Sage, Mark Paraskeva of Iris and Alex Rowson of QTAC, on the same panel was impressive. We hoped that it wouldn’t happen but it did- Mark Paraskeva mentioned hairdressers – immaculately coiffured as he way. It was left to one wag in the audience to suggest that Alex Rowson might never have visited a hairdresser and Kevin Hart never needs to!
Putting aside the cheap gags, there’s no doubt that its the payroll software suppliers who hold the keys to NEST’s and therefore auto-enrolment’s long-term success. NEST also appear to have the support of Moneysoft and we would hope soon -STAR. They showed a list of further associations , among them our good friends systemsync, who’s pensionsync products interfaces with NEST as well as several others.
It was good to see so many of these software houses shaking hands with not just Pension PlayPen but with pensionsync. Our two organisations – in differing ways, ensure that NEST is not the only fruit and that informed choice is available to all.
A capacity crunch averted?
Despite auto-enrolment failing to get a common data standard, I am – three months into the surge, more confident that we will cope with the staging of the 1.8m than I have been at any time over the past three years.
The good offices of PAPDIS were felt last night though (perversely) NEST’s refusal to go the PAPDIS route probably did for PAPDIS as the common data standard. Instead it set off the process of creating individual APIs and launched the rise of pensionsync as a consolidator.
No one last night was drinking the Kool-Aid, there was no sense of job done- but there was a definite feeling that the job is getting done and no sense at all that NEST is falling over.