“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

Joe Strummer

I am very pleased that Con Keating and Iain Clacher’s recent article has got so much attention , both in terms of readers and in terms of social media comment.

Though I am one of those who thinks the Pension Regulator is going through the motions on its DB consultation, I am happy to be proved wrong. If Guy Opperman wants to look at an alternative to the wasteful system of valuations and complex de-risking strategies that characterize DB funding, then he should seriously consider the Keating alternative.

To do so would be to challenge massive vested interests within the funds and consultancy businesses that make up a big chunk of the pension industry so I very much doubt anyone will dig out the many fine essays that Con and others have published in Long Finance longfinance.net/media/document

‘He that ears to hear’.

As a 15 year old I bought one of the first 5000 copies of the Clash’s eponymous first album, it came with a sticker which you posted to the record company and you then got a bonus EP sent you in the post. One of the tracks was the band in conversation with an NME journalist. Strummer is asked why nobody can hear the words and he replies that his singing is like the Jamaican toasters, only meant to be heard by those who have ears to listen (Joe knew his scripture).

I always sided with the journalist as the Clash didn’t put their words on the inner sleeve (till later) and I didn’t know what Joe was going on about in songs like White Riot. But I got there in the end and I can say much the same about Con Keating’s arguments. They take some studying but you get there in the end.

This is principally to explain a tweet from the very wonderful @highereducationactuary (Aka Mike Harrison) who features regularly on this blog and a very good answer from Mark Rowlinson, a former colleague whose company and insights I miss a lot.

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There is of course another way to promote your views on twitter. Here John Ralfe seeks to make fun of Con Keating by publishing an unflattering photo of Con and a flattering photo of himself. This does not make for constructive debate.

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(I am often criticized for my rejection of John Ralfe’s arguments and conduct and this is why).

Challenging the received idea.

That there is a debate on how we fund our pension obligations going forward is to a very large extent down to contrarians like Con Keating. Which reminds me that the biblical quote ( Matthew 11:15Mark 4:923) that headlines this blog and has been referenced with respect to Joe Strummer is that while we all have ears, fewer have ‘ears to hear’.

Another of my friends commented to me (after reading Con’s piece)

The issue of should we protect older people or open up the economy has huge parallels to the DB and DC dichotomy.  On covid we started by protecting the members at risk.  DB like.  Threw money at it.  Now we need to pull back, remove most of the prudence, get employers back to making money.  Let’s hope we don’t go too far though and do the pensions equivalent madness and throw all the risks on to pensioners.  Not looking good though.

He went on to ask if I agreed with Con.

Do I agree with Con?

In as far as I am capable , I agree with Con. But for me to say that I fully understand the deep simplicity of Con’s arguments, I would say that I can only partially agree. My ears are a bit bunged up and I suffer from a low understanding of the maths.

My inability to properly argue Con’s case is not the same as my denying its validity. I  agree with Mark Rowlinson’s comment, which I take as a kind characterization of my admitted limitations!

Con Keating has never ducked a debate and always answers genuine questions. I am keen to give him a platform (as Professional Pensions had) and there is something about the immediacy of a blog that can ignite this debate.

I’m pleased to see that Mark went on to explain his position on Con Keating’s thinking and in interceding , couch the argument in a language that Mike can understand and articulate.

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My challenge to the Pension Regulator

I may have rather clumsily dismissed the forthcoming DB consultation as a distraction from getting on with fixing DB pensions by force majeure (something the Treasury may have to do).

If the Pensions Regulator thinks there is time to consult, then it should not consult for the sake of validating its pre-existing position but consult on all options, including Con Keating and Iain Clacher’s proposal.

My challenge is also to Guy Opperman, who as Pensions Minister has responsibility for keeping DB funding within the remit of the DWP. If the DWP are not to lose DB pensions to finance (with the potential consequences of brutalizing pensioners), then radical arguments need to be included in the discussion.

I sit in on a number of conversations between trustees and consultants about upcoming valuations (mainly at LCP 11ses). At yesterday’s event, someone attempted to bring up Con’s article. That someone has gone on to write a comment on my blog.


Con Keating’s response is entirely in line with my thinking

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My challenge to the Pensions Regulator, (who has been openly challenging me back) is to open his ears (for he has ears to listen).

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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5 Responses to “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

  1. ConKeating says:

    Let me begin by saying that the blog is a joint effort, and that the discussion above would leave the impression that this is my work alone. It isn’t. It is joint with Iain Clacher, who is Pro-Dean of Leeds University Business School. Iain and I arrived at our conclusions (and the CAR concept) independently of one another. In Iain’s case this was long ago while preparing a report on pensions for the PLSA. In mine, while doing work for SEI on the then-proposed Dutch FTK regulatory regime.
    Given the responses we have seen, we will write a further blog expanding and explaining further what we have laid out in the last one.

  2. ConKeating says:

    PS Neither Iain nor I follow Twitter

  3. Peter D Beattie says:

    Just another boring DB scenario that is doomed to go nowhere! Consultations used for delay – and a means to push a problem ‘into long grass’. I too do not use media such as ‘twitter’.

    FAS/PPF Pensiner/Military Veteran (that says it all!)

  4. ConKeating says:

    Let me just say that you have my sympathy. There is no justification for the reduced benefits offered by PPF and full benefits could and should have been offered-The levies already charged are more than enough to cover full benefits.

    • Peter D Beattie says:

      Thanks Con for your support and sympathy. Unfortunatey my action group PAG still await the outcome of Judicial Reviews and it is an absolute disgrace the pensioners have to face the cost of these actions now over 20 years to get what they paid for!

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