“We are only accepting digital signatures from IFA firms that do business with us”.

It was a short email to one of my colleagues….

At this stage we are only accepting digital signatures from IFA firms who introduce new business to us.

So AgeWage was not going to be privileged with the data requested by a tester in the FCA’s sandbox requesting data for a value for money assessment.

I assumed a mistake and that I could write to Graham Muir and ask him to sort this out. But the mail had been electronically signed by the Head of SIPP. This was company policy.

We have long suspected that data was being withheld from us for commercial reasons but not till the arrival of this short mail had I seen a transparent statement of this (mis)practice.

What the law says

Let me be transparent back. The law of the land, as defined by the law commission is the legitimacy by which e-signatures are accepted or defined and the law of the land says that electronic signatures are valid.

Somewhere along the 12 months since the Law Commission made its determination, firms like Talbot and Muir got it into their heads that it was in their gift to accept e-signatures and that they could provide “introducing IFAs” with the privilege of good service. Meanwhile, anyone who was not lining their coffers would have to go the long way round, go to a printer , mail the person requesting the data, get a letter back and forward the letter to Talbot and Muir who might eventually respond with the requested information.

This in a time of a pandemic.

Restrictions on the free flow of personal data are illegal

The GDPR is explicit, people have the right to have their data on request in machine readable format and data requests are portable so agents (such as AgeWage) can be the recipients of data. Breaking one law (on e-signatures) means breaking another, the GDPR and in the process flouting with health and safety with regards COVID-19.

This is serious stuff. These contraventions of the law cannot be justified on any grounds let along on the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch logic of

At this stage we are only accepting digital signatures from IFA firms who introduce new business to us.

Institutional bad practice

I would like to say that data restrictions for commercial gain are confined to the retail market and that organizations governed by IGCs , GAAs, trustees as well as internal governance would be considering the free flow of data both a moral and commercial necessity.

An employer looking to satisfy itself its staff were getting value for money from their pension should be able to request anonymised data from the scheme record-keeper when the source of that data was their payroll and the funds in the employer pension scheme came from that company’s bank account.

But this reasonable request of data is being denied – systematically – by large life companies. One claims that supplying this kind of request is too onerous in a time of the pandemic. When matters are escalated to the IGC and Trustees of the life company’s master trust, their is no push back. Companies can do what they like it seems.

This is not right

The ordinary rights of employers and individuals to conduct their own  value assessments on their pensions are denied when data is obstructed.

Companies cannot use IGCs’ , trustees’ or their own value assessments as the definitive statements of value for money. Where individuals or employers request data so that they can make their own mind up, companies cannot say no – unless there are clear reasons why.

Organizations who refuse data are demonstrating bad quality of service , IGC’s and trustees, instead of being complicit, should be fighting for the rights of employers and savers to do what the FCA in CP20/9 and the DWP in “improving DC member outcomes” are calling for employers and savers to do. That is to pay attention to their and their staff’s pensions and where necessary make changes.

Open pensions

This kind of behavior is contravening the principles of regulation. It is not treating customer fairly, it is not protecting member’s interests. It is protecting the interests of pension providers, their shareholders and their management.

Nor is it good enough to point to organisations such as Pension Bee and AgeWage and Clear Glass label them disruptive.

Eventually we will have a pensions dashboard and the free flow of data we can call “open pensions”. But in the meantime we must call these flagrant contraventions of good practice and the law.

About henry tapper

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