Last week the Law Commission confirmed that people did not need to use a wet signature to sign a contract or request information. So long as they could identify themselves electronically, they could ratify decisions , get data – do pretty well anything within the law, by simply confirming who they were online.
This may be what the law allows, but it is not what pension providers allow. Many leading pension providers still require wet signatures on data requests and to confirm transactions. Scans won’t do – Docusign won’t do and when it comes to passing information to delegated agents (such as AgeWage) , it’s the provider – not the customer – who calls the shots.
This is very much at variance with what the Law Commission have laid down as the law. Indeed denying people the right to request data digitally, once they have identified them is now contrary to the law – it is “illegal”.
But insurance companies , SIPP providers and the administrators of trust based occupational schemes continue to deny people access to the information and refuse requests to pass data to the third parties selected by the customer.
It is time that something is done about this. We were promised a Government “Non-commercial” dashboard by the end of the year. We aren’t going to get it. If we want to see our pension data in one place and make sense of what we have, we are going to have to do it ourselves. But so long as the people who hold our data , stand in the way of our getting it, the excitement of taking back control will recede. We all know what comparison I could make – I won’t.
We need an intervention and I’d hope that it would come from our two pension regulators , the FCA and tPR. I would hope that they would spend time with the Law Commission hammering out some guidelines on a common standard that could help us identify ourselves.
There aren’t many items which make us unique – national insurance number, date of birth, full name. We simply need agreement on what is the minimum data set needed for the people who own our data to tell it is us, and that should be that.
We need to feel confident that if we ask for something to happen we can do so using digital messaging and get what we want delivered to us in reasonable time.
Forget APIs and straight through processing, we are asking for something much more basic than that. We are simply asking that a common means of identifying ourselves be prescribed by our regulators (in consultation with the Law Commission) to stop the current lottery.
I have a digital identity crisis, I cannot ask for data as Henry Tapper with many companies unless I send a letter signed by myself. Yet I can be auto-enrolled without signing any letter. One of the companies that is demanding my wet signature , has no signature of mine in its possession!
Until pension administrators catch up with the world of open source data , people will continue to see their pensions as inaccessible and difficult. They will not engage with the things we want them to do – because pensions are just too hard.
Now is the time for change, with manifestos in the air. Now is the time for us to call on Government to push towards a proper system of e-signatures and online data verification using a common standard. It is within Government’s grasp to do this and Guy Opperman – our pensions minister – has said exactly that
Bringing more choice to the market can only be a good thing for everyone who is putting money aside for their future.
With that extra choice though, comes a necessity for savers to have the information they need to make the right decisions for themselves and their families. That is one of the things pensions dashboards will achieve and I expect the industry to start testing dashboards by the end of the year
Their introduction will signal the beginning of a transformation in the industry. Just as fintech has completely revolutionised how we all check our bank balance, pay our bills and manage our day-to-day lives, a similar change is coming to the pensions industry.
This is the future, where a pension is transformed from a dormant concept in people’s lives until they are approaching retirement, into an active, dynamic force which they can engage with at the touch of a screen.
I want the pensions industry to step up, to help both savers and themselves – after all, the more engaged a customer base, the more profits a company can make.
By giving people choice, pensions information at their fingertips, and protections from those who would potentially jeopardise their pensions, we are building the best country in the world to grow old – a place where people can choose what to do with their savings and can trust the system to protect that investment.
Guy Opperman is Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion