Whatever happened to the portable personal pension?


This is how the National Audit Office introduced their last report on regulating to protect consumers. That was in March 2019.

UK households spend a total of around £140 billion a year in bills on water, energy and telecommunications, and fees and charges in financial services. These sectors provide services that are critical for security, well-being and social participation, which consumers purchase directly mostly from private companies. Each sector is overseen by a regulator to ensure that services are provided in a way that meets public policy objectives, including that markets work well for consumers.

The four main regulators of these sectors – Ofwat, Ofgem, Ofcom and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) respectively – were set up to be directly accountable to Parliament, independently of government. Their long-term high-level objectives are set out in statute, including a primary statutory duty to protect the interests of consumers.

Government, Parliament and consumer representatives have expressed concerns about whether these sectors are working as well as they can for consumers, raising questions about the effectiveness of the regulators. In protecting the interests of current and future consumers, regulators have to consider the often-competing needs of different stakeholder groups.

The outcomes regulators are seeking to achieve can also be affected by a range of factors over which they have limited influence, such as droughts or changes in the wholesale cost of energy. Faced with these challenges and differing views over their effectiveness, it is vital that regulators measure and report transparently their intentions and achievements in meeting their duties towards consumers.

It’s timely that Pension Bee come out this morning with research that shows how far financial services is falling behind consumer expectations

New research from  PensionBee, finds that difficult processes deter pension savers from switching, more than any other essential service.

PensionBee discovered that only 26% of consumers found switching their pension provider easy, compared to 73% when it comes to home or contents insurance and 69% for energy providers. Difficulty transferring drives lower engagement with
consumers, as more than a third of respondents (35%) report never having tried to change pension providers. This is compared to only 10% when it comes to both home or contents insurance, and energy providers.

Although pensions can be transferred electronically using a system called Origo Options, many providers still use paper-based transfer processes. The average switching time for electronic pension transfers is 12.5 days, in comparison to 34.4
days for paper-based transfer providers.

A 34.4 day average transfer time for paper-based providers is higher than the average transfer times of other essential services. Regulation requires that mobile phone contract switches must be completed in one day and bank account transfers equire a saver’s current account and direct debits to be fully transferred within seven days of the request. While OFCOM rules and the Current Account Switch Guarantee have removed barriers to switching in these industries, outdated
pensions legislation from 1993 currently permits pension providers to take up to six months to transfer a pension.

Only about 1 in 5 respondents (21%) feel very satisfied with the service from their pension provider, compared to 36% for current account and mobile phone providers, two essential services which guarantee switching in a week or less.

Here are some startling numbers


Transfer Times

Provider Transfer Times (days)
Mercer* 42.4
Hargreaves Lansdown 42.0
Capita* 37.0
LV= 27.2
B&CE 24.4
Towers Watson* 23.8
Now Pensions* 21.9
Quilter 21.2
National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) 17.2
MoneyBox*                              14.6
Prudential 15.0
Novia 13.7
Smart Pension* 13.8
True Potential* 13.6
Hornbuckle (Embark Group) 13.0
Royal London 12.7
Aviva 11.0
Scottish Widows* 10.6
Standard Life 10.5
Aegon 9.8
Legal & General 9.8
PensionBee 9.5
Fidelity 8.5
Phoenix Group 9.4
ReAssure 9.3
Canada Life 7.5
MetLife 7.8
Zurich Group 7.9

Sources: Origo Transfer Index 1 July 2020 – 30 June 2021. All data is from Origo unless a provider does not use Origo or has chosen not to disclose its transfer times in the Origo transfer index. In those instances, PensionBee data has been used for the following providers marked with * and sample sizes are indicated in brackets: Capita (>100), Mercer (>100), MoneyBox (>100), Now Pensions (>1,000), Scottish Widows (>1,000), Smart Pension (>1,000), Towers Watson (>100), True Potential (>100)

Average transfer times

Pension transfer type Average transfer time
Paper-based 34.4 days
Electronic 12.5 days

Source: Origo Transfer Index 1 July 2020 – 30 June 2021 and 554 paper-based pension transfers to PensionBee from Mercer, Capita, and Towers Watson. 

 Average switch time by industry

Pensions (paper-based transfers) Pensions (electronic transfers) Energy Current bank account Mobile phone Home insurance
34.4 days 12.5 days 17 days[1] 7 days[2] 1 day[3]

Source: Origo, PensionBee. Insurance is purchased annually and will auto-renew or expire, so switching times are not comparable.


Levels of Satisfaction

What score would you give based on your overall satisfaction/dissatisfaction with customer service? Current (bank) account provider Home/ contents insurance provider  Mobile phone provider (contract not handset) Energy provider (gas or electricity) Pension provider (workplace or personal)
Very dissatisfied 1% 0% 0% 4% 1%
Dissatisfied 2% 2% 1% 7% 2%
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 13% 22% 15% 24% 30%
Satisfied 48% 54% 48% 45% 47%
Very satisfied  36% 22% 36% 21% 21%

Source: PensionBee, September 2021. Total respondents: 248. Numbers have been rounded.

Ease of switching

How would you rate the effort required to switch to another provider? Current account provider Home/ contents insurance provider  Mobile phone provider (contract not handset) Energy provider (gas or electricity) Pension provider (workplace or personal)
Very difficult 2% 0% 1% 1% 6%
Difficult 6% 3% 6% 7% 13%
Neither easy nor difficult 14% 14% 14% 14% 20%
Easy 36% 40% 38% 42% 14%
Very easy 21% 33% 27% 27% 12%
I don’t know/I’ve never tried to switch 21% 10% 15% 10% 35%

Source: PensionBee, September 2021. Total respondents: 249. Numbers have been rounded.

[1] Switching energy tariff or supplier, Ofgem

[2] Switching your current account: step-by-step, YouSwitch

[3] Transferring your mobile number to a new phone, YouSwitch


Perhaps it’s time to get the NAO back!



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to Whatever happened to the portable personal pension?

  1. Pingback: Pension administration – a tale of two cultures | AgeWage: Making your money work as hard as you do

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