A tale of two cities – ABI and #TUCpensions


it's cold out there

It was a straight choice. Pay £500 + VAT and hear the Treasury talk about financial services in Bishopsgate or Pay £0 + VAT and hear the DWP talk about pensions. It wasn’t a hard one.

Guy Opperman , DWP Minister for Pensions and Social Inclusion spoke to TUC delegates, while the Treasury, PRA and FCA beguiled the ABI. I went to the TUC and it was a day well spent.

Peoples Pension bridges the gap.

I was impressed to hear Darren Philp tell me , after successfully chairing a session on policy at the TUC, that earlier in the day , he had spoken in place of Patrick Heath-Lay (People’s CEO) at the ABI. It is a mark of Darren and People’s Pension that they can bridge the gap.

But I fear the gap is generally as wide as ever. The TUC heard from Guy Opperman , a speech that appeared to have been rewritten by the Minister following his meeting with Royal Mail and CWU the day before.  In it, he mentioned that there is still a long way till the CDC plan Royal Mail want for their staff, can be put in place. In the afternoon, we were shown why when Ray Ellis of the CWU and his advisor Hilary Salt , explained how radical the Wage for Life plan, they have designed will be.

Having read both the Minister’s and the DWP’s comments on CDC earlier in the year, I am amazed that Royal Mail has got this far! I had the chance to speak both to Opperman and to his civil servants and I am in no doubt that – for all the positioning – the will exists to make this happen. As Opperman said, it will take the current cohesion of CWU and Royal Mail to last, for CDC to happen.

What Opperman didn’t mention , but Frank Field did, is that this cohesion has seen a 50% rise in the Royal Mail’s share price, almost certainly propelling it back into the FTSE 100 this week.

I am very grateful to John Ralfe for pointing me towards an article in the Times by Patrick Hoskings. The article ends

john ralfe uss 1

The USS is another matter

While both sets of delegates were wrapped up warm , the Beast from the East was lashing the picket lines at the various London university sites that divided the venues.

The UCU and UUK met during the day and announced that they were taking their dispute to ACAS. It should be remembered that Royal Mail and CWU went to ACAS with little more hope of a resolution of their long dispute. Let’s hope that ACAS can succeed where the 35 previous meeting haven’t and come up with a solution that produces a lasting settlement.

An adviser to UUK as well as several members of UCU were at yesterday’s TUC event. I am not sure that the ABI got as far as considering these matters. I see that one of the sessions on its agenda involved putting the consumer at the heart of everything insurers do, one can only take them at their word – let’s hope the ABI accept- if they don’t embrace – collectivism. Like John Ralfe, they might be swayed by Patrick Hoskings’ balanced article.

For all that, there are huge differences between our Universities and Royal Mail and we should not assume that all collective solutions are the same. As Ray Ellis pointed out, the scope for Royal Mail to have provided a defined benefit pension was pretty well zero, the same cannot be said for the UUK’s sponsorship of USS.

Helping people understand their investments

The ABI’s promotion of customer engagement was advertised like this

Customers are now accessing and engaging with long-term savings through digital channels more than ever before

Their session on customer engagement , focussed on

how digital solutions could help customers to understand and engage with long-term savings in the future, the role that digital solutions could play in extending AE to the self-employed, and how existing players in the platforms and workplace markets are evolving to meet customer needs and expectations.

Meanwhile Guy Opperman devoted the second half of his talk to the promotion of “patient capital” and the TUC promoted the second half of the morning to discussing how we can find ways to get people to engage with pensions through their investments.

The two approaches are not of course exclusive and it would be great to hear how a pensions dashboard could bring awareness of ESG issues or how CDC could employ the digital solutions the ABI are promoting, to include mature savers orphaned from the advisers who set up their insured plans in years gone by.

Bridging the gap between Bishopsgate and Congress House.

Like the Pensions Minister, I cycled to Congress House. He came from Fulham, I came from Blackfriars. As I cycled , I passed UCU picket lines and felt the cold, so did the Pension Minister (who looked remarkably well for his ride).

Riding from the City to Westminster , from the heart of global capitalism to Congress House, took about 20 minutes, but the cultural divide between the ABI and the TUC seems as wide as ever.

While Darren Philp, made it across, there were few others in Congress Hall who would have sat easily in Bishopsgate. And yet Royal Mail has shown the shareholder value that can be created by finding a collective solution promoted by a Union, UUK may yet find a collective solution , rather than the individual solution it is currently promoting. The ABI may see engagement in terms of digital solutions but these are not incompatible with the TUC’s vision of engagement through ESG.

I am not sure I would have paid £500 +Vat to sit with the ABI, but I would be happy to talk with them about what I learned at the TUC. Robert Frost taught “good fences make good neighbours” and it would be fanciful to suppose that the ABI and TUC should share common land, but it is not fanciful to suggest that there should be better bridges between them.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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