Pensions are stranded off-line; this must change!

Live link to the ONS data is here;

Alistair “@HelloMcQueen “McQueen has the knack of finding insights where others fail to look. Here he is showing us how our behavior has changed radically as a result of a little spikey ball that none but scientists has seen and no one had heard of this time last year.

In a year we have woken up, locked down and found a vaccine for a deadly pandemic. In a year we have (nearly) agreed a data template for a pension dashboard and announced a timeline that (nearly) tells us when we might be able to see our pensions and pension pots in one place.

“Time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore”, sang a noble laureate, the dashboard will arrive but in the meantime we must wait to be rescued like Robinson Crusoe – with no signal.

The internet makes keeps those who guard our pensions honest. On-line there is no hiding from the impact of poor pension management. Whether it be in terms of investment, the costs levied on our pension pots, the quality of the record keeping or simply the capacity to show us what we’ve paid others to guard.

Organizations that cannot today, nearly two years after the original “dashboard available point”, make our data available to us online are failing us.  But in our recent test in the FCA sandbox, the average time for a provider to satisfy an online data request was 29 days – and even then – only 45% of responses were in a digitally readable format.

Meanwhile, I attend many well-meaning seminars that agonise over “engagement” with pensions as if – by posting another video on another static website, we can rescue Robinson from the sandy margin of his island. I am skeptical about the capacity of any data provider to engage with its membership if it has not made a commitment to be dashboard ready by now; meaning that I am skeptical about all pension providers.

The day that one provider offers an API to me and allows my organization immediate online access to pension data that it holds on behalf of its customers is the day that I will declare pensions officially open. But there is not one- not even Pension Bee or Smart , that offers this facility to a third party adviser.

What we have instead is the online platform, where financial advisers are granted exclusive access to a view of funds held , at their instigation, in a gated community to which only the adviser and the client has access. This is not “open pensions” but the equivalent of an “intranet of things”, where the data is kept within the confines of a closed group. There are obvious advantages to this, not least that it enables data, like money – to be part of the fiefdom of the adviser and platform manager. But this is like Robinson Crusoe being allowed to communicate online with the monkeys and parrots , but having no access to signal beyond the strand.

The failure of the Pension Dashboard Program to go beyond the narrow expectations given it in 2019 is a crying shame for pensions. While the rest of the  country has stepped up to the challenge, the dashboard program has hunkered down and accepted that it must wait for the pandemic to end before moving forward.

So back to McQueen’s chart, we are now able to do just about anything online but pensions. We have a timeline that says we may be able to see our pensions online in 2023 but that depends on the capacity of providers to be ready by then. The providers should have been ready by 2019 and have shown no noticeable interest in improving their readiness in 2020, despite the very obvious advances in people’s readiness to go online.

It is time that Robinson Crusoe had a SatNav and some signal to get him home. It’s time that the pensions industry started putting its customers fairly. Organisations like Pensions Bee and Smart who have gone the extra mile are cruelly denied the right to share data via dashboards by the rest of the pension ecosystem that resolutely sits on its hands and debates the arcane detail.

  • People cannot find their pension, £20bn is lost – that is a scandal that we need to address now!
  • People have a plethora of pots, that is an inconvenience that we could address now.
  • People have no way to engage with their retirement income holistically, that – in a time of open finance – is a nonsense.


About henry tapper

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