This morning I’m travelling north east to Newcastle on the first train up. I’ll be delivering the graveyard slot for my friend Carsten Staehr at the Cintra Conference.
The people I’ll be talking with don’t like pensions, Carsten’s title is provocative. For the payroll and reward people who are Cintra’s clients, pensions are a pain in the neck, the most incredible mess of rules which they struggle to comply with, always worrying about fines and worse – being dished out by a distant pension’s regulator.
I guess my job is to breathe into their day something of the enthusiasm I have for helping people manage their financial affairs so they have a decent wage before and in retirement.
If pensions are supposed to help you stop work, people should be enthusiastic about them. But “thank God I’ve got a decent pension”, is a phrase seldom heard either in or outside the pension bubble that I live in.
If you get to a point in your life when you find that because you have the money, you can stop work, then your pension has changed your life – no doubt about it. And millions of ordinary people are retired today on good pensions with the prospect of an income ahead of them that lasts as long as they do.
I think we take this for granted. But it is an economic miracle that we have created a safety net for so many through the national insurance system and through workplace pensions.
Yesterday evening I sat with some great pensions people variously representing Local Government Pension Schemes, Corporate defined benefit schemes and the new style DC savings plans. It became clear early in our discussion that this meeting was going to be fruitful and that we would agree a common agenda for a conference being planned for May.
What brought us together was the phrase “better pension outcomes” which is all that we focussed on for nearly two hours. Whether we were looking for greater efficiencies for Local Government Pension Schemes , or improving the certainty of the full pay-out of corporate DB or helping people with the business of turning the pot into an income for life- we were joined together by a strong sense of purpose.
This purpose was made the more real as the people around the table clearly felt they had the power to change lives in a positive way.
I’ll be the first to admit that pensions are to most people “scary” almost unbearably complicated and an aspect of their finances that is best consigned to the bottom drawer to be properly opened late in life, People know damned well that pensions are very important and they feel guilty that they don’t feel better informed about their retirement planning.
This is the challenge that I face today, I will be talking to a group of people who see pensions – both personally and work-wise, as extremely hard work. My job is to make them easier, simpler and less scary.
I can only do this by approaching my talk with a positive state of mind. After the conference, I am having supper with two smart academics who appear baffled by their own circumstances. They told me their retirement problems and I blurted out “that seems simple enough”. I can see the wood – they can only see trees!
Like the people in the conference, my friends are looking for encouragement to do what they want (I assume to find a way to stop or cut down on work and rely more on pensions and retirement savings.
They, like most people I know (professionally and socially), feel embarrassed about asking simple questions about how they can get their money back to meet their financial needs. It is fantastic to be able to help them get better pension outcomes.
Pensions have undoubtedly made my career, last night I really got what my vocation has become and I look forward to my talk this afternoon and supper because I’ll be doing what I love.
I hope that some of the people I’ll be meeting today, will read this blog and say – yes – Henry really does enjoy helping people get better pensions. That is why I am travelling to Newcastle for the day and why I’m happy to!