I am not a conspiracy theorist, but some of my readers have been reading yesterday’s blog into Uber, NOW Pensions and Adecco’s workplace pension as a good reason to opt-out of auto-enrolment.
Put a workforce of whom the ACDU union estimate 75% are muslim, into a pension scheme whose only investment option is against the financial principles of your religion and you’d expect some conscientious objection. You’d expect high opt-outs which is fine for the shareholders but disastrous for the muslims in question,
Our neo-Christian, neo-liberal view may be that there are aspects of Sharia Law we don’t like : but that does not mean that its financial principles are abhorrent. They are different but they get results, the HSBC Sharia Fund has delivered stellar returns by avoiding investments in banks and focussing on stocks that do not break the Sharia Code. This may not be a portfolio tilt in the conventional “smart beta” logbook, but those who have invested the Sharia way, aren’t complaining.
Trustees will have a hard time arguing that by not running a Sharia fund, they were protecting members from financial ruin (or even the risk of excitement).
And there is more than a hint of bigotry in NOW’s Chair statement from Nigel Waterson,
“If people want a sharia fund, or they want more excitement in their investment lives, they can go somewhere else. They can go to [Nest] or if they want lots of excitement they can go to one of the existing providers”
I’m not sure that “excitement” is a word I would use for investing in pensions, it’s more of a slow grind towards an end we hope will be achieved. If along the way we can make our money matter by investing as our conviction leads us, that grind becomes a little less tedious.
If Nigel Waterson was intending we took NOW’s chosen and only investment option to swap “excitement” for serious investment management, then he would now have to explain the disastrous returns people got from NOW while he was Chair.
He would also have had to explain what he meant by “go somewhere else”, the only option that an employee in a NOW workplace pension has , is to opt-out of a workplace pension.
How many people opted out of NOW because of it not having a Sharia fund we will never know. But last summer the Islamic Finance Guru estimated that muslims could be missing out on £13bn of AE contributions due to Sharia concerns , a survey covered by Pension Expert.
How many people have had to grin and bear NOW’s underperformance we do know, there are over 2m of them and I hope NOW’s trustee board (then and now) takes that seriously.
But like so many fiduciaries, he is not held responsible for NOW’s underperformance , he is long gone and has been replaced by a new Chair, every other member of that trustee team has been replaced, the old Danish investment team from ATP by a new team from Dutch manager – Cardano.
The returns for NOW investors have picked up of late but savers who have invested since NOW opened its doors in 2011 are still looking at lower end returns.
Had investors been able to get their employers to invest in Nest rather than NOW they would have enjoyed better returns in Nest than in any of the periods analysed by Corporate Adviser
Frankly, if I was an Uber driver reading this blog, I would be wondering what NOW is bringing to my and my colleague’s party. That’s not conspiracy theory, it’s just learning from the past.
The great get out.
NOW could (and arguably should) argue that then was then and now is now and I would have some sympathy for the turnaround story, if it were not for the fact that NOW’s history is being rewritten, not by kindly journalists , but by the NOW media department.
Compare these two statements.
“we do not want any members to lose out on the benefits of auto-enrolment due to not being able to invest in a sharia-compliant fund, therefore external due diligence has been conducted on behalf of the trustees to appoint a provider to meet this need”
“We don’t currently have a sharia-compliant fund but we are always keen to respond to member views,” ….“We are looking to launch this option for our members later this spring.”
The two statements were both made by NOW spokespeople but are separated by nine years. You can find out their authors and which of the two statements was made in 2022 and which in 2013 by clicking here.
For all these great trustees, for all the fine words, for all the noble intentions, NOW failed to deliver performance on its main fund and it failed to deliver on its promise to the market (and to the Pension PlayPen) that a Sharia Fund was being made available.
NOW did not retract its CEO’s statement and so NOW lied to the market and now it has been found out. That is not conspiracy, that is indubitable fact.
So who cares?
And while we are about it, just what does the Pensions Regulator have to say?
“We’re determined to build a workplace pensions system that works for everyone. That’s why we encourage employers to consider the particular needs of all their workforce when choosing a pension scheme and there are many available that offer sharia pension funds as an option.”
So what if it turns out that NOW pensions finds Uber drivers opting out of a pension that isn’t offering a Sharia fund? Three quarters of Uber’s workforce is muslim. Will the Pensions Regulator encourage Adecco and Uber to reconsider its decision?
What if it turns out that a high percentage of Uber drivers do not have earnings sufficient for them to reclaim basic rate tax under NOW’s net-pay tax arrangement? What is Adecco doing to ensure that Uber staff are not over-contributing?
I would encourage the Pensions Regulator to look very closely at both questions. NOW may be a convenient pension for Adecco, but workplace pensions aren’t paid to employers, they are paid to people and the people in question, the Uber workforce, seem to be the last people to have been considered.
Who cares? I care.
People who invest their time in getting employers to care about the pensions they offer to staff, care. People who want a workplace pension system to work for everyone – care. So let’s see some action from Uber, Adecco, NOW pensions and the Pensions Regulator.
Actions speak louder than words.
Pension PlayPen helped over 1000 employers choose a good workplace pension. But I must hold my hand up, the information we gave employers was wrong, after assurance that NOW was including a Sharia option, we upgraded NOW’s investment rating. We were mis-sold and so were our customers, our apologies. Though our “choose a pension” closed at the end of the AE staging period, we still care that employer’s were choosing with as close to perfect information as we could get them.
We say that it’s time NOW started thinking about the needs of its members and that Uber and Adecco choose a pension provider that meets the needs of its workforce rather than the needs of its shareholders.