Those dreaded words “you’re doing ok”.

OK 2

Does that sound positive?

Nobody wants to do ok, we want to be seen as doing brilliantly. There is a relentless optimism in our salutations which makes that normal state of affairs, mundane , dull – even depressing.

So how do I tell a brilliant friend of mine, someone who in every sense of the word is doing great, that her pension is doing ok? The lady has got an AgeWage score of 49 which to mind tells me that her retirement fund  is tracking  the average with a tiny deviation of around 2% from what she should expect – for she is investing in a fund designed to give her the market return.


If her  pension was a horse, it would have run to its handicap mark. If a golfer, it would have gone round in par. Anything other than 50 is simply telling her, her fund and pension provider are not doing what they said on the packet.

I’m talking to her mind, she’s reacting from her heart.


Ok 4

My friend is not happy, 

Unintentional Negative Messaging

There is something in our psyche that requires a mask (we use the phrase “putting a brave face on it”). So when someone says things like they are we jump to the conclusion that they’re rude , which is an unfortunate thing to say about someone who is being truthful.

When a young Norwegian lady spoke her mind to the world, she was patronised as being immature or mentally unwell when it was plain that her autism was teaching us it was we – not her – that were unwell.


“Don’t treat me like a child”

In telling people they are doing ok, we are at risk of sounding condescending, parental – patronising – people hate it.

The autism of transparency

The truth that is being revealed by AgeWage scores , is that people who invest in funds that try to be average and have average charges produce average results that most likely beat half of the other investors in the dataset and lose to the other half.

The alternative is to find a way of investing in trackers at less than the market price or to load up with active risk and hope that your fund manager can produce sustainable out-performance. I once won a competition for describing alpha as “what’s left over when your luck runs out”.

Very few people get any alpha out of pension investing, most people get beta when they pay for alpha and get a lot less than average as a result, my message is that aspiring to more than the average return on your pension fund requires you to accept that you will be expecting more than a 60 score with a real chance of getting less than 30.

A wise trustee told me that he chose active funds so that there’d be an active manager to  blame if things went wrong.

He went on to explain that if he sought the average for his pension fund and missed, he’d be accountable for failure.

This degree of self-knowledge is unusual, it showed an extraordinary degree of ingenuity . He was playing with other people’s money. He told me he invested his own money in trackers.

Why do we continue to dangle the carrot of reward  without reminding people of being  whacked by the stick of risk?

What’s the autistic behaviour – telling the truth or expecting a lie?

The bias of good

You are not going to get to University with three Cs, even if a C is the average. The Government wants everyone who tries to get to university so we now mark exam papers so that a B is a kind of floor. An A or A star is needed to just get a chance of a place at some universities.

ok 1

The class of our university degree may be more evenly spread but those who get a 2.2 or less just stop disclosing the grade and advertise their degree. We can sail through life with success on every line of our CV and we can all collectively be brilliant.

Which is possibly why so many of us feel a lack of integrity in ourselves. Why so many people are frighteningly insecure, why there is so much “unwellness” – whatever the buzz-phrase is for being sick at heart.

Ok 7

We simply can’t bear to be average and when I told this brilliant lady that her pension had done ok, I offended her.

If anyone has any ideas how I can message being “on-track” better than “ok”, I’d like to hear them. I sense that I am lacking a bit of emotional intelligence as I write this blog and suspect that the answer to what I am asking will not come from a male psyche. But ladies and gentlemen, your thoughts on how we can present “ok” would be most welcome.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
This entry was posted in advice gap, age wage, pensions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Those dreaded words “you’re doing ok”.

  1. Peter Tompkins says:

    Fascinating challenge. I wonder if the Behavioural Insights Team (aka the Nudge unit) has thought about this.

    The poor performers will presumably say “oh I need to do better or change provider”. The good performers say “oh that’s good”. And it’s the ones in the middle who are disgruntled.

    Maybe the trick is to have a bit of rubric – 5 quintile descriptions.

    1-20 Your funds don’t appear to have performed very well. You may want to consider your provider or choice of fund

    21-40 Your funds have performed less well than the average. Consider your choice of fund or the provider carefully.

    41-60 Your returns are close to those of an average fund for the period of your investment.

    61-80 You have done better than the average. Keep monitoring the performance.

    81-100 Your funds have done very well. Make sure you keep an eye on your funds in future.

    Try to make sure each message is positive.

  2. John Mather says:

    For those scoring less than 50

    “You will be delighted that you are in the half that made to top half possible”

    For those above 85

    “You are an outlier so ignored”

  3. asmund paulsen says:

    Gratton & Scott reminded us in their #100yearlife book that we have other “savings accounts” that we need to monitor, such as health, regenerative friendships and knowledge.

    Concluding that a person is on track with regard to tangible assets, your comment might be:

    “Please feel free to focus on other important aspect of your #100yearlife such as health, friendships and knowledge. Your numbers confirm that you don’t need worry about your pension savings. They’re doing ok.”

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