Business software is not glamorous; writing about the goings on of the annual BASDA conference was going to be a challenge, especially with a sexy pension dashboard conference happening concurrently.
So I’m pleased to bring a good news story to your desktop- from the software geeks who here-to-now have focussed our minds on E-invoicing, pan euro vat handling, UK Gaap and Identity assurance.
Charing my debate on the state of the market, I took out all extravagances. Nothing here about pensions dashboards, employee engagement or financial education in the workplace, our agenda would stick with compliance, dealing with the non-engaged and the issues of interoperability that beset payroll when setting up and administering auto-enrolment process.
Then to my great surprise, questions started to come from the audience.
“Why didn’t we turn the debate on its head?”
“Shouldn’t we be treating AE as an opportunity?”
“How can we get employers to put more into pensions?”
“What are we doing to restore trust in pensions?”
Like me, the panellists – hardened by years of scepticism from business audiences, found all this hard to take in. This is what we were supposed to be saying!
The Pensions Regulator, Neil Esslemont took off his tin helmet , walked out of the trenches and waved enthusiastically, representatives of People’s Pensions and NEST looked at each other with expressions of wide-eyed disbelief and Dr Will Lovegrove, architect of the pensionsync software that is keeping choice alive, raised his eyebrows.
Social purpose in business software?
To be fair to the progressive payroll software houses, Sage QTAC, Bond, Inuit and Xero (all of whom were represented), they have been engaging with pension issues for some time. Their difficulty is in persuading their users (accountants, bureaux and DIY employers) to engage with pensions.
From what I’ve seen, these software suppliers are the “though leaders” for their users and for many in payroll , what those in the BASDA room say – goes!
There are of course good commercial reasons for business software suppliers to reach out to pension providers and sponsor choice in the market, not least that it brings business software such as the API technology developed by NEST and pensionsync and People’s into play.
But what we saw yesterday went way beyond a cynical exploitation of Government legislation to feather personal nests. I sensed throughout the day with these folds, a strong sense of social purpose, whether we were talking about RTI with HMRC, more efficient invoicing or fighting cyber-crime.
May the message ring out in Whitehall
The success of AE II, the delivery of Auto-Enrolment to 1.7m employers still to stage (and workplace pensions for the vast majority) is in the hands of the BASDA community and especially the individuals driving change. Hats off to Kevin Hart who was our MC for the day and to Alex Rowson and Paula Green, who lead BASDA and their businesses’ orientation to the new AE world.
I hope that these people, on whom so much depends, are properly recognised by those of us in pensions who will benefit.
And I hope that from the Pension Minister down, those with an eye to policy, will listen to what these people are saying.
Today we have a Queen’s Speech, which I hope will contain a Pensions Bill, I hope that Bill will contain help for the business software companies so that they can deliver positive outcomes to the toughest miles ahead.
These guys get the message. Auto-enrolment isn’t about compliance, it is about delivering better outcomes to millions of people who have previously been excluded from workplace pensions. Auto-enrolment compliance is a by-product of the wider process, not the end in itself.
I thought I would find the evangelists for workplace pensions among SMEs among the IFAs and their trade bodies. I was wrong, I found them yesterday, sitting in the BASDA audience.