Unlocking the ownership of a pension pot – frustratingly hard


At the very end of Martin Lewis’ 90 minute pension special last night, he turned on his audience who were whooping up the opportunity to find a fiver down the back of the sofa (

We spend 85 minutes talking about things that make differences of hundreds of thousands of pounds and you get excited about saving £15!

The reality for most people of having three five pound notes in their hand , rather than tens of thousands of pounds getting paid to them at some time in future is what Janet Weir calls “ownership”.

Ownership is not the same as engagement says Weir. People will only engage with their pension – if they feel they own it. She talks of ownership in terms of “feelings and emotions”.

There has to be an emotional attachment to money. We know that we can exchange a fiver for a pint of beer (well in Spoons you can get change too). We know that a fiver can feed a meter for a day – it could mean meeting a bill that matters. A fiver in the hand is worth a lot of pension stuck in the bush.

One of the things that I learned yesterday was that people are a lot more likely to turn up at a pensions seminar if the pension seminar is talking about why their pot has decreased in size than why it has increased in size. One attendee at a session I was chairing said that they had to close a Zoom when more than 1000 staff tuned in to hear an explanation of what had gone wrong in 2022.

The reason is “ownership”.

When the Equitable Life nearly went bust towards the end of last century, I was recruited to a roadshow which visited all the sites that Unilever operated in the UK. It took about 3 months and I did over 80 presentations.

Sessions were well attended, people wanted to know from the Equitable what was going wrong and they wanted to know what Unilever were doing about it. Many of the sessions were angry, people had lost thousands of pounds from their AVCs. But rather than stop paying , they started again with another insurer and many transferred the bad pot to the better one.

I think what worked was that people started thinking of their AVC savings as money that was buying them tangible things. I remember a scientist telling me that the Equitable had lost him his Caribbean Cruise and he had promised his wife he’d get it back for her.

One of my colleagues when he presented to miners in Maltby, had a simple presentation. It  involved an A1 gatefold presenter stuffed with pictures of what in the 80s , we called “dolly birds”. He’d open one side of the gatefold out with the words

“lads- you won’t out of that when you retire?”.

A murmur of consent would generally follow.

He would then open the other gatefold to reveal around 100 £10 notes pinned to the presenter and in a South Yorkshire way would continue

“well you’d better have plenty of this then”

At this point, brochures and application forms would appear on a table and the miner’s club would become a hive of financial activity.;

No doubt none of this would be acceptable as a financial promotion and he would not have been deemed to know his customer. But what he was selling – whole of life savings plans, were bought because hees with security and potentially a little cash in later years.

I thought of my colleague when I saw Martin getting frustrated. We all get frustrated by pensions , they aren’t sexy, they are hard and there are many things that we’d rather think about – like finding a fiver down the back of the sofa.

But as Janet Weir and Martin Lewis remind us, it is our job to make pension saving real.

Victoria Derbyshire, when she was 5-live presenter, once explained that she didn’t save for retirement, she spent on her retirement. She saw money that she put away for the future as part of something she liked doing – “spending money”.  Her emotional connection with her pension was simple – it was her spending money when she got older.

She saw “saving” as an act of denial, a negative activity and she saw “spending” as a positive act that affirmed to her – a future she could look forward to.

We need to find ways to help people emotionally connect with their money and that means more than explaining tax-relief, the value of salary sacrifice and investment performance.

Ownership opens the door to engagement, getting people to own future money is hard.


Derbyshire – spending on retirement not saving for it


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 Unlocking the ownership of a pension pot – frustratingly hard

  1. Adrian Boulding says:

    LCP have a method of modelling “economic utility” that is capable of encompassing the point made here, namely that people care much more about loss of pension than they do gain of pension.

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