Should we by-pass “personality”?


personality by-pass

I once went to an interview at Goldman Sachs and sat in front of two successful guys (much younger than me). They picked up from my CV that in two of the previous four years I had been nominated as a “pensions personality”.

So how did you lose your personality in those other two years?

was their smart-arse question.

The oldest oxymoron in town

“Pension Personality is an oxymoron” (even the joke is stale) .

So how do you promote something  that leaves those who are nominated as personalities ridiculed by those who aren’t?

“The curse of personality” should be a course taught in outplacement consultancies!

Nevertheless,  these personality awards continue year in year out , nowhere more so than in pensions, and if you think it’s judged (as the sports personality awards are judged) by contribution over the year, think again!

“Pension personality” is measured by a readers poll in Professional Pensions and judged at a night out at the Grosvenor House Hotel. There are variants from other magazines which feature similar people and it’s part and parcel of the payroll, accounting and other “worlds”, all of which appear to have a personality crisis.

The pension personality crisis is chronic, which is why the same old faces appear on the Professional Pensions list. Like a Greek tragedy, the audience are able to watch as the hubris of “would be pensions heroes” is dashed on the night.

Everyone is able to breathe a sigh of relief when normal order is resumed. The winner is invariably sufficiently a part of the pension establishment to pose no proper threat to “Business as Usual”.

To prove a point, there is no list of past winners searchable on the internet and only somebody like me (a serial loser) can remember who the winners were. I know I’ve variously lost to Ros Altmann (twice), Ronnie Bowie, Malcolm McLean, the Princess Margaret Snowden and I fully expect to lose this year to Steve Webb.


Those aspiring to personality will crash and burn!

The great Greek Tragedy thing is really no more than a morality tale. Those who are thrust forward onto the peak of Pension Parnassus are exposed once the ceremony is over for over-reaching parvenues while the genuine article is ushered into the bosom of a Hymans Robertson, JLT or Barnett Waddingham to ensure order is maintained.

Ros Altmann, who I think is the only twice lauded personality flew so high that she is now under a restraining order from the Treasury of DWP of a combination of the two.

“They know there’s no success like failure- and failure’s no success at all” – Dylan

For those who win are subject to  bitter envy, and those who lose have little prospect of success.

There is nothing so likely to alienate a future employer as the prospect of managing the preening ego of a pension pre madonna). We are the misfit mascots of the pension industry, the funny guys who weren’t that funny any more – cringeworthy veterans of a popularity contest we are bound to – year in year out – like Ixion’s wheel.


The corporate curse!

I’m pleased to see that Margaret Snowden and Ros Altmann have both kicked down the Boardroom doors in the past few months and Malcolm Malcolm(who is too much a gentleman to kick anything down) continues to be a spokesperson for doing the right thing in a semi-detatched way.

So I guess that pension personality still has enough edge to it to be career-limiting for serving politicians, regulators and anyone on the exec of the IA/ABI/PLSA

PR agencies who make a living from de-risking personality, seem to have worked this out! Those personalities who have their profile managed by our spin-doctors stay well away from personality awards!


Personality management

If a genuine power-broker accidentally finds him or herself on a pension personality list, the marketing department is put on  high alert!

When Robbie Bowie (who runs Hymans Robertson) won his award, he chose not to turn up (he had a family function). I remember the row of Hymans tables and the guests that were able to stand up and applaud their leader while the rest of the contestants (who’d made it to the show) shrivelled like salted snails!

This year’s list of contestants, should be mindful that nomination for a personality award will arouse collegiate envy, could be career limiting  and will promote them to #1 on the water-cooler bitch-list.


A personality or a corporate tag?

Hilariously, the advertisement of these awards is tagged not with the personalities but with their employers! May the corporate curse fall upon them

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 08.20.15

First Actuarial should be relieved that they do not appear next to my name! I’m pretty sure that they are! If you decide to vote HENRY TAPPER at least you know what you’re voting for!


Is personality the same as conduct risk?

I suspect it is- at least it is to my partner!

A compliance officer told me recently that if people would leave her alone- she’d be better at doing her job. Precisely!

When I’ve been reviewing the IGC reports, I’ve been struck by how many shots of board rooms, where people’s faces have been redacted through that blurring process which is supposed to make you feel something dynamic is going on.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 08.59.19

Sometimes, the photos are cropped so you see people’s bodies but not their faces.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 08.59.40

I guess that personality is the unacceptable face of diversity and lest we find our organisations accused of having a “star-culture”, we try to stop our stars shining

This can create Maoist behaviours. Every LCP partner has there photo taken in the same style, in the same room and with the same expression.

I won’t illustrate but if you go on Linked In and search on LCP – you’ll see what I mean!

Suppression of digital identity starts in schools. My son is constantly reminded that the photo he posts to Instagram could come back to haunt him when he has to prove himself a “fit and proper” person in later years.

Google yourself and search images – it’s scary!


Is personality bad news?

Personality appears so, at least to corporates.

Yet financial services  companies  continue to flirt with personality award ceremonies as they do with social media.

Like the oxymoron itself, they don’t believe in pension personality but they talk of it incessantly.

I remember one industry heavyweight complimenting me on naming my business Pension PlayPen but replying to my suggestion that his consultancy might want to pass business to me with the words “I don’t think we’d ever want to associate pensions with a playpen”.


Personality, like play can be bad news, if you are in the business of eliminating risk. But without personality and “play”, we have nothing but the barren algorithm that governs our activities.


Personality is independence

People tune in to Moneybox for Paul Lewis, watch Money Saving Expert for Martin. Ros Altmann can speak for pensions in the tabloids without so much as a PR agent.

Even though these people are paid well, they are paid because of their independence.

What Paul and Martin and Ros have achieved is independence.  They are genuinely independent in a way that I and Steve Bee and Tom Mcphail aren’t. We have a line to tow.

Michael Johnson and John Ralfe are self-funding and have the capacity to speak as they find (and do) – they have enormous personality from the freedom they have created. Now they have to connect with people like Martin , Ros and Paul.

For they are the true blue-bloods who should be lauded as personalities. The rest of us are mere journeymen in hock to the payslips we anticipate at the end of the month!

personality bypass


About henry tapper

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

4 Responses to Should we by-pass “personality”?

  1. Gerry Flynn says:

    Why don’t you create a ” Pension PlayPen” personality of the year award to “cock a snook” at the establishment?

  2. henry tapper says:

    We’ve tried it at a few of our parties Gerry!

  3. ancientllm says:

    Teehee! I once went for a job with them as a computer programmer. Smartass question from a PhD was “haven’t you wasted your PhD?” Rob

  4. henry tapper says:

    By “them” I take it you mean Goldman Sachs?

Leave a Reply