Why the door’s slammed shut on open pensions.

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During the week, AgeWage was invited to compete in the  Nesta Open Up Challenge. Nesta is funded by the UK lottery – they are an agency of change sponsored by the likes of you and me;

As any entrepreneurial start-up would, we were excited by the prospect of a £1.5m prize fund to unlock the power of open banking for UK consumers. It’s hard not to want to be involved with an organisation with this claim

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality. It also means changing lives for the better

My aim for AgeWage is to provide all of Britain’s pension savers with a simple number telling them how their pension has done – in terms of value for the money  contributed.

So when I read that the eligibility for this award focusses on organisations that

Must target a total potential market of at least hundreds of thousands, ideally millions of consumers.

I felt in the right ball park.

But then the bad news; organisations that enter

Must use the Open Banking Implementation Entity (“OBIE”) API endpoints and conform to the OBIE Read/Write standards (“the Standards”) to programmatically access digital bank account data and/or payments functionality, even if in practice the Product does so indirectly by using the AISP or PISP capability of an authorised Technology Service Provider (“TSP’). Evidence of usage of OBIE API endpoints and conformance to the Standards may be sought by the judges as a condition of acceptance onto Open Up 2020.

and that was when our application ended.

Open pensions are as far away as ever

Our summer at AgeWage has been spent helping our investors apply for and receive the data they need to get AgeWage to provide them scores.

We struggle with bulk uploads of data from insurers and third party administrators that never arrive.

We are told we cannot process data because

the data provider

  • won’t accept e-signatures
  • won’t accept emailed letters of authority
  • won’t accept AgeWage as a data processor
  • won’t identify a customer without a policy number

I could go on.

We cannot operate effeciently unless we can exchange data in a free way. But there is no freeway for data requests because we do not have open pensions.

The idea of a free flow of information between customer and data provider is not entertained; despite the pensions dashboard being supposedly delivered this year.

Using scams as an excuse is not good enough

It is true that there are scammers who would like to steal money – after stealing data and pensions administrators, like banking administrators are right to be vigilant. But that does not mean that pension providers should put the up the shutters against innovation.

The data protection act of 2017 gave individuals the right to have data held by others about them , returned on request in digitally useable format.

That does not mean in a PDF or embedded into a word document. It means in a format where the data can be extracted and used for purposes the data owner has in mind.

Which might just include finding out how their pension has done compared to the average pension – by way of an AgeWage score.

Scammers are not to be used as an excuse for providing this information.

The sooner pension providers  think of open pensions the better

Earlier in the year I made a fuss about the pension dashboard and the exclusivity being given to Origo in the design of its functionality. I wanted (and want) pension information to be freely available on request through the use of the same data standards that have made open banking a reality.

There are of course limits to the success of open banking, but we are living with the happy results. I get a text message every day of money in and out of my account – on my phone – my watch – my laptop – where I want it.

My money is now more accessible, more manageable and better governed than ever before. That’s because there is absolute transparency between First Direct’s systems and what I see at 6 am every morning.

This kind of transparency was achieved because of the determination of the CMA to force banks to out customer data using secure protocols called the CMA 9.

It is now expected of anyone wanting to compete for money from Nesta, that they subscribe to these standards.

I cannot subscribe to these standards , because – much as I would like to adopt them – there is no counter party. And there is no aspiration amongst pension people (other than with a few Pen-techs like Pension Bee), to see this change.

Until there is this aspiration, the pensions dashboard will continue to dawdle along at an unsatisfactory pace and the public will become increasingly disillusioned.

The old way of doing pensions, where you worked a lifetime and then got told what you were getting at retirement is gone. That was the world of SERPS and DB pensions

Instead we have a world where we have to take decisions on what we’ve got, which – by the time we get to the end of our working lives, will include many pension pots.  People need to get the information they need to take decisions for the future and organise themselves. They simply don’t want 400 sheets of paper – they want a single sheet of numbers – so they can make sense of their information.

Lengthy wake up packs are precisely what people don’t want. Wake up packs present information in the way we want it digested, but it gives people financial indigestion.

We have to move to clear digestible financial information available at the swipe of a phone , using proper security protocols. We must move to open pensions and the organisations that must make this happen start with Government and work right down to AgeWage.

This starts with Government and ends with AgeWage

Whether the energy for change starts at DWP, BEIS or HMT – we need a new commitment to open pensions for currently the door is slammed shut.

We need the pensions dashboard released from MAPS and put in the hands of the technology entrepreneurs that disrupted banking to give us open banking. Those entrepreneurs are all around us, they are waiting to work on pensions given half a chance.

We need the ABI and its technology partner Origo- to open itself to change and not seek to colonise the infrastructure of the pensions dashboard.

We need insurers, third party administrators and the in-house teams that manage occupational pensions to work towards a solution that applications like AgeWage can adopt.

So that we can hold our heads up high and say that pensions is no longer the technology laggard, but fully participating in challenges that Nesta and others set us!

About henry tapper

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