I am a frugal man, the £3.50 I paid for this morning’s FT was grudgingly passed to my newsagent.
But I wanted to capture the headline and read about Josephine’s reporting of a meeting with my friends Andy Agethangelou and Judith Donnelly. This may not be a “news story” in that David Pitt-Watson, Norma Cohen, Chris Siers , Novarca and many others featured in this blog, have been telling this story for years. What is “news” is that the story is now leading the FT’s agenda this weekend.
And that is because David Cameron and Andy Haldane and Tom Tugendhat have used their soap boxes to call for transparency in pensions so we know what we are buying, what we are paying and what we can expect when we lock our money away in pensions.
Whether the Transparency Task Force,triggered Cameron and Haldane and Tugendhat to speak I doubt. That we have a sizeable group of like minded people within the pensions community speaking out as one, and a substantial number of our political and business leaders delivering the same message, suggests more than a coincidence.
To me it suggests a Zeitgeist.
the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.
If the Zeitgeist is one of “transparency” then there is precious little that the asset management guys can do but accept that they must come clean about what is really linking out of the funds most of us use to save for retirement )I will return to direct investment in a moment).
As I have intimated in this blog, I have been subject to some iniquitous bullying in recent weeks by representatives of the asset managers and insurers threatening me with legal consequences if I did not shut up, I have been banned from attending a conference I was invited to as a guest and my employers have had complaints about my behaviour in writing candidly on this blog.
This process of bullying is part and parcel of the PR machine that supports the asset managers and insurers and for several decades it has allowed them to take fees from savers without disclosing them.
These fees range from bundling research into trading costs, not sharing stock lending, not controlling the dealers and traders executing trades and charging all kinds of exotic expenses to the net asset value of the funds we save into. The cost of each set of fees may seem small when expressed as a percentage of the fund, but when taken together, these extra (avoidable) costs can reduce the amount of our pension pot by up to a third. The FT article makes this clear.
I don’t claim to be free of this. Some part of the £3.50 I paid for my paper probably came in some roundabout way from these same charges. For the costs leak out in strange ways and were we not claiming such a high amount of people’s savings,I would not have the luxurious lifestyle (relative to others) that I have.
You may accuse me of rank hypocrisy for making my living from an industry that is so dependent on this clandestine charging and you would be right. All I can say is what I say on here, that I would rather detach myself from the world I have inhabited for the past 30 years, than continue to ride the gravy train. Which is why I write this blog and happily take the flack.
The same could be said for the other members of the transparency task force, and indeed those in Government and Business demanding change. This is the very essence of the Zeitgeist. It is quite obvious that Cameron felt he was speaking for Britain when he stood up in PMQs and told parliament that people were sick of rip-off pensions. It’s clear that Haldane was speaking for a wider constituency than the staff of the Bank of England when he said what he did about the communication of pensions.
We are all ripped-off together!
There are a few – a very few – people who do not have to use funds, who can use self investment to by-pass these costs and charges.
There are a few – a very few – funds that offer value for money. I hope I use them!
But most people are in the dark as to whether they are properly invested and being looked after by their insurer/asset manager. For that reason we need trustees and independent governance committees doing their jobs and protecting us from mischief.
Over the past few weeks I have seen the Zeitgeist,
I see a Pensions Bill providing us with protection from malpractice
I read the Transparency Times
The hegemony of the Investment Association and the Association of British Insurers which has allowed the hidden charges to build and build is finally under threat.
It will be painful for many, it will mean a shrinking in the marketing and PR budgets of insurers and asset managers, it will reduce the advertising revenues to the trade press and the numbers of award ceremonies.
It will force pension schemes to consolidate (as we see in the LGPS, in the move to multi-employer master trusts and multi-employer GPPs.
It will reduce the number of pension consultants and drive out the rogue advisers who have survived only on the inefficiencies of the scheme structures they have helped perpetuate.
The Transparency Zeitgeist.
The reason that this “not news” story is on the front page of the FT is because of Josephine Cumbo who understands the Zeitgeist and who is part of the solution and not the problem.
Of course she is not alone, Paul Lewis – Richard Evans at the Telegraph, the Guardian and many other fine independent publications are picking up on this and putting the Zeitgeist before advertising revenues.
It is also because of Andy and the TTF.
But like all these things, the Zeitgeist is genuinely about the wisdom of a very large crowd , the leaders of which are Cameron, Haldane, Tugendaht and before them McClymont and Webb.
Once you get to this point , things tip. I sense they already have.