I spent most of yesterday in company with pension providers at the MarketForce conference in London (and most of the evening whooping it up with my chums in payroll!).
The Marketforce Conference is clearly a big deal- brilliantly organised and a credit to the speakers and delegates. I was there wearing a press pass, presumably because Marketforce are forward thinking enough to consider social media worthy of formal recognition.
Most of the presentations I saw were based loosely on research carried out by the presenter. for instance…
BlackRock had surveyed 43,000 people and discovered they invested too much in cash and not enough in longer term investments.
Just Retirement found that left to their own devices, people took sub-optimal drawdown decisions.
Various back-office organisations found that insurance companies would be better off investing in the technologies they made available so that we could have pot follows member etc…
In short, the societal solutions put forward were happily aligned to the business plans of the organisations commissioning the research and the solutions to the problems emerging were usually to be found in the re-education of the customers.
There is of course a counter-argument, which was not so well represented but was certainly going on in my head, that the 43,000 BlackRocky “surveyed” were not wrong but right and that for them, cash was a happier place to be and provided greater overall happiness than shares.
Similarly, those who were exercising freedoms in the way that suited them at the time might turn out quite happy with the consequences of their decisions.
And that even the insurers who chose not to invest in back office technology , might be investing in other things (such as taking away the exit fees to loosen up the assets_.
“Synthetic” is a good word as it implies both a fusion of both previous arguments and a degree of artificial congruity.
I don’t think that many of those surveyed would have come to quite this conclusion nor do I think the Business Development Directors delivering the presentations would have entertained the idea that the people surveyed might be right!
Paul Lewis will be publishing a piece of work next week which shows that people who have stayed in cash of late, would have been proved right to have done so. The equity premium – for them – has not emerged and they may be struggling to get above the cash line before needing to spend the money. Martin Lewis does not suggest equity investments because he cannot predict the consequences. More people take advice from the Lewis’ than the 13,000 wealth managers who are the primary drivers of equity investment.
However Derek Benstead, of First Actuarial has shown me numbers that suggest that managed properly, using trickle in and trickle out contribution and spending patterns, equities could be used “usefully” as a long-term investment plan, especially for the savers and spenders who prize income over capital.
Which also addresses questions about retirement income planning suggested by Just Retirement. Their thesis appeared to be that retirement income planning was too complicated to be left to individuals and that advisers, who can suggest, implement and manage the complex solutions in the Just Retirement kit bag, are vital to the future welfare of those retiring today and tomorrow.
I won’t labour the point that a penny spent on back end technology for insurance company legacy systems is a penny that might better be spent helping clients get VFM- as I am out of my depth, but you get my gist.
I believe in big data, I believe in crowd sourced wisdom and (probably because I am a consumerist) I think that the customer is usually right.
Marketforce left me with the impression that the customer was usually wrong and that without substantial re-education, the customer base of the UK financial services industry was going to hell in a handcart.
I do not believe this is the case. I believe that customers are usually right and that it is the funds industry, the retirement planning industry and the technology specialists who are not listening to what customers are actually saying, wanting and needing.
Infact it is the business culture of organisations that needs to change to meet the changing needs of customers, not the other way round.
Which is why it was very encouraging to hear the two most powerful people in the room – Nigel Wilson and Ros Altmann, talking a lot of sense and talking exactly the language of the ordinary people who were so silent in their majority.