Pension Bee ask “who’s Robin who?”


Pension Bee Robin HoodPension Bee don’t play by the rules. They are a pension provider that isn’t run by actuaries. They give support to their customers through enthusiastic bee-keepers.

bee keeper

They run an efficient pension savings plan that offers everyone access to quality funds with a minimum of fuss (and cost).

They have the tools to help us bring our pensions together and best of all, you leave their website and app feeling brighter and more confident about your financial future, than when you landed there.

Pension Bee are also campaigners for better retirement savings. They run the Robin Hood index which benchmarks the pension villains against the pension heroes.

Published this morning. Here are headlines from this their third Robin Hood Index.

Pension BEE 3

Research reveals the best and worst of the pensions industry

  • Slowest provider takes almost two months to transfer a pension on average
  • Quickest provider takes less than two weeks
  • One provider charging customers an average annual charge of 62.1%, while another goes as low as 0.3%
  •  Savers still facing extortionate exit fees to move their pension from a handful of providers

PensionBee has analysed the transfer times, average annual charges, and exit fees imposed by 35 of Britain’s biggest pension providers.

Xafinity transfers taking an infinity

The online pension manager analysed a sample of 7,292 transfers to their platform, and discovered that the firm responsible for the slowest average transfer time is Xafinity at 52 days. This is seven days longer than the second slowest company, Now: Pensions, with Mercer, Towers Watson and Aon Hewitt also proving similarly sluggish.

5 slowest transfer times Position Provider Average transfer time
1 Xafinity 52 days
2 Now: Pensions 45 days
3 Mercer 44 days
4 Towers Watson 41 days
5 Aon Hewitt 41 days

Source: PensionBee.

Total sample size of 7,292 from January 01, 2018. Each individual provider has a sample of at least 5 transfers

However, while these providers are still putting up barriers to transfer there’s evidence others are taking a more positive approach, as reflected by the transfer times of Aviva, Scottish Widows, B&CE, Canada Life and Phoenix Life, who all manage to transfer a pension in under two weeks on average.

Now: Pensions are the most expensive annually

In addition to examining transfer times PensionBee also analysed a sample of 1,056 pensions. It found an average annual charge of 62.1% imposed by Now: Pensions – by far the biggest in the study.

PensionBee calculated the charge by adding up all fees, including fund fees, fixed £-based fees and any other policy fees that may apply. In the case of Now: Pensions, a £-based fee of £18 (in addition to a %-based fee of 0.3%) is applied to fairly small pension values (approximately 40% of the pensions in the sample of 91 were below £100).

The result is a high charge as a proportion of the pension pot. Currently these charges are permitted by the Department of Work and Pension’s charge cap legislation.

5 worst providers by average annual charge Position Provider Average annual charge
1 Now: Pensions 62.1%
2 Zurich* 5.9%
3 Aegon 1.1%
4 Phoenix 1.0%
5 Nest 1.0%

* predominantly personal pensions

Source: PensionBee. Based on a total 1,056 annual charges found between June 2017 and March 2018. Each individual provider has a sample of at least 20 observations.

No Robin here

Largely though, a number of providers appear to be operating a fairer fee structure. Legal & General charge the lowest average annual charge at 0.3%, with Fidelity and B&CE following closely with fees of 0.4% and 0.5% respectively.

5 best providers by average annual charge Position Provider Average annual charge
1 Legal & General 0.3%
2 Fidelity 0.4%
3 B&CE 0.5%
4 Standard Life 0.8%
5 Aviva 0.8%

Source: PensionBee.

Based on a total 1,056 annual charges found between June 2017 and March 2018. Each individual provider has a sample of at least 20 observations.

Phoenix Life enforcing the biggest exit fees

As part of their analysis PensionBee also examined exit fees across 5,431 pensions, with their research revealing that 305 had exit fees present. Staggeringly, the biggest was a £12,245 charge from Phoenix Life – who are entirely responsible for the top five exit fees in the study.

5 biggest exit fees Position Provider Exit fee (£)
1 Phoenix Life 12,245
2 Phoenix Life 10,543
3 Phoenix Life 9,413
4 Phoenix Life 9,206
5 Phoenix Life 7,239

Source: PensionBee. 5,431 from June 2017 to April 2018, of which 305 had exit fees.

The research further indicated that the highest exit fees are on with-profits pensions termed ‘market value reductions’, meaning they escape the FCA’s focus and rules for now.

Staggeringly, one Phoenix Life exit fee would eat up 96% of one unlucky saver’s pension – the biggest percentage in the study – with Abbey Life and ReAssure imposing similarly excessive exit fees.

5 biggest exit fees as a proportion of a pension Position Provider Exit fee as a percentage
1 Phoenix Life 96%
2 Abbey Life 69%
3 ReAssure 56%
4 Abbey Life 47%
5 Phoenix Life 45%

Source: PensionBee. 5,431 from June 2017 to April 2018, of which 305 had exit fees.

What’s the big message for the Pension Plowman?

People have no way of knowing where they are incurring costs and how their costs compare.

Of course the Robin Hood Index is only comparing one side of the value for money equation and people need to understand what value they’ve been getting from their pension.

Unfortunately it’s even harder to work out “value” than “money”.

The numbers published in the  Robin Hood Index are PensionBee’s and so are the comments. A more in depth analysis of what you are actually paying might include some hidden fees from transition costs. The value of a retirement savings scheme has to be found from a careful analysis of past performance – and its drivers. There need to be a separation of luck from judgement by looking at both the reward from the fund and the risk taken to get that reward.

The work started by Pension Bee, needs to be picked up by others. People need to be able to look at their pension pot and consider whether to keep it or transfer it to a better pot. People need to know when not to transfer too, which is why the analysis of exit penalties is important. A lot of the high exit penalties shown here, apply only to certain people. The over 55’s for instance, often get an exit-fee amnesty (as a result of Government intervention).

I stop short of saying we need an adviser to help us do this. 94% of us don’t use advisers and – as there aren’t enough IFAs to go round, a rush to advice could swamp them.

The long-term answer is for the kind of analysis started here, to continue across the whole pension genome so people can compare apples with pears without bothering advisers.

And finally!

After that little lecture, here is the PensionBee video, which is well worth watching!

You can find out more about the Robin Hood Index by reading the full report here

You can read the Beekeeper’s own thoughts here

romi savova

Queen Bee – Romi Savova!


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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12 Responses to Pension Bee ask “who’s Robin who?”

  1. Brian G says:

    All very good info from Pension Bee. I wonder if they informed the customers of the massive MVRs on the 5 Phoenix Life plans so that they could stop the transfers?

  2. Mike Lacey says:

    I thought their Press Release was gibberish.
    What on earth is the point in saying an exit charge is £12000 when no mention is made of fund value?
    And if they really think NOW pensions charge an average 62% pa…

    • henry tapper says:

      The problem of publishing useful information is that you need 30 times more space to explain every aspect of the calculation, than to display the calculation itself. Key thing is for PensionBee to be accountable when challenged – which I hope they are!

      We have to simplify pensions in presentation Mike – otherwise we’ll never get anywhere!

  3. Adrian Boulding says:

    Henry, I like your tag line, who’s Robin who?

    PensionBee “Tracker” Option has higher charges than NOW: Pensions for pots over £9000

    PensionBee “Tailored” Option has higher charges than NOW: Pensions for pots over £4500

    PensionBee “Future World” Option has higher charges than NOW: Pensions for pots over £2770


    In case your readers are not aware, one of my three jobs is at NOW: Pensions.


    • henry tapper says:

      and this is where the limitations of any research arise, as you know Adrian, I hold a candle for your lot – when you’ve built your pot – Now are good value, for small pots – you are rubbish. You need a small pot cleaner upper and a provider capable of taking your small pots profitably. When you are ready, you and Pension Bee and me should talk!

  4. Mark Meldon says:

    Hmmm…I’m not terribly convinced of the actual worth of this information! Presumably (and I can’t see how one can find out from the data released) these Phoenix Life pensions were originally with life offices like Royal Life, Sun Alliance, Britannic, NPI, etc, all of which will have different T&C’s. Mostly purchased in the ‘bad old days’ of capital units or ‘back-end loading’.

    Why not just wait until SRA, when penalties will end, and maybe adjust the funds in the interim? Of, I know, you don’t get ongoing fees for that!


  5. henry tapper says:

    I suspect that the simplest thing to do is wait until 55 when the maximum exit penalty is 1% Mark, certainly worked for me with my Allied Dunbar stuff. Important that this information is out there – we’re working on it in my new venture!

    • Mark Meldon says:

      Don’t leave it too late! Anecdotally, the majority of these old S226 & PPP plans will ‘mature’ within the next 5-10 years. Then there is the issue of GAR’s, waiver of premium, life cover, the oft-forgotten ‘loyalty bonus’ mechanisms. In fact, I often find old policies relatively attractive compared to the expensive and hard to understand ‘DFM’ propositions, ‘expensive’ charges and all.

      For instance, Sun Life were big players in the ‘private pension market’ in the late 1980s and early 1990s and their ‘Extra Fund Injection’ bonus is remarkably attractive. Allied Dunbar plans (a lot them, at least!) have effectively no charges past SRA, and these are just 2 examples. It’s not just a case of saying ‘Phoenix Life Bad’, my super-duper new offering good, without thorough analysis.

      Only yesterday, a chap from Aviva’s ‘Business Retention Team’ called me to explain the attractive proposition they now have for ancient PPP policies – the giants are awaking from their slumber!


      • henry tapper says:

        The word from the sleeping giants is “if you’re off – go quickly, if you’re staying – we will look after you”. If this is right , then things really are changing! However, I don’t see a lot of evidence that people understand what they’ve bought – either in value or money terms – so it’s down to advisers to help them out – a dangerous state of affairs – especially if only 6% of us take advice!

  6. Margaret Snowdon says:

    This research would be much more useful if it stated the number of transfers on which it bases its conclusions. I suspect it may be a small and perhaps not terribly representative sample in all cases. Various bodies, including PASA are looking to improve the speed of transfers, while at the same time ensure that people do not fall foul of scammers.

  7. henry tapper says:

    I think the small print under the tables does help a bit – the research is incomplete but it is at least conclusive! How often do we find perfect research – which never gets read!

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