Pensions Awareness Day 2023 – some somber thoughts.

I have spent much of my life embarrassing myself in the cause of “pension engagement”

Pension Geeks – the embarrassing early days!

This photo was taken at the first of the Pension Geek’s pension awareness days and I see I am promoting a right odd assortment of organizations that got behind the Pension Geeks and their bus. I wrote about this back in 2014

Nearly ten years on I am an older and more skeptical person. I wrote this on Linked in the light of  what has happened in the past 18 months,

The main reason “engagement” has been seen as so important is because it is seen to increase contributions. It may do, but this is surely not why we have a VFM framework. A framework that is designed to increase engagement is a marketing not a VFM construct.

I am not minded to change that view, harsh as it is on the many communication practices that exist as a means to encourage engagement , nor the marketing departments of workplace pension providers who pay them.

It is important that we promote higher contributions , because more saving for retirement means a better retirement and where there is “net disposable income” pensions don’t tend to get the priority they deserve. The smart use of language, as pioneered by Quietroom’s Vince Franklin and latterly Joe Craig is important as is the tone of what we say and the means we use to get our message out.

But we have to put this stuff into perspective, the sizzle is not the sausage.We have learned to love ourselves a little too much and have allowed our award ceremonies to go to our heads.

Our attempts at engaging the public are at the margins, the big issues – when we get our pension , how much we get and how much the tax-man gets, are discussed on Martin Lewis’ Money Show and in the pages of the popular press, we are incidental to the conversation. Robert Cochran makes this point very well on the latest VFM podcast.

A cautionary tale.

Pension Awareness is too important to be entrusted to the marketing departments of insurance companies. This story is here to remind me and you, that what matter is what people do and not what they say. Hats off to Jonathan Bland and Rachel Parkinson, thanks to James Biggs and those who have supported them much better than I

I went up to Peterborough one Sunday, knowing that Aegon had their pensions office there. I thought it would be good to stand in the square and answer questions. I met a fair few people , including Mark Ormston who was passing by.

Guy Opperman came up from London -giving up his Sunday

Nobody from Aegon showed up.

But Aegon did show up later. Two year later , Aegon bought the Pension Geeks who are now an integral part of Aegon’s pension strategy.

The press release contained this statement.

Aegon has been working with Pensions Geeks since 2018 and the relationship has gone from strength to strength as the Geeks have become increasingly important to enhancing the company’s workplace communication approach

I read this and thought of all the people who had been on that bus in Peterborough , giving up their day to help people with their pensions and then I remembered that even though it had an office 200 yards from the square, no-one from Aegon turned up.

Pension Awareness and “customer centricity” are hard to marry! This was how Aegon CEO , Mike Holliday- Williams greeted the acquisition.

“We’ve been massive fans of the Pension Geeks work for a number of years and have seen first-hand how powerful and popular their communications and events are with people. Strategically, customer centricity is a significant focus for us and we’ve invested heavily in member experience and personalised communications recently, so today’s acquisition further strengthens our capability in these areas.

The bus has been scrapped.

But to Aegon’s credit, the Pension Geeks have not been scrapped. Even though I had thought they had been subsumed into a morass of corporatism, they survive.

So what’s the future for  “Pensions Awareness”

Will there be a Pensions Awareness Day in 2023? Yes there will.

It’s between September 11-15th and the Pension Geeks are still driving things forward.

But it will be with a new team from the DWP and in a new financial environment.

A new and more serious mood has taken over

The nation has moved on and so has Pension Awareness Day

2022 was a shocking year for pensions. The State pension went up by less than a third of the cost of living and our workplace pensions generally went down in value by 10%. Only DB pensions seemed in better shape by the end of the year, though no one believes that having lost £500bn from their asset base, they really are.

The DWP’s focus is now on the value that people have got for the money they have saved.

There are fewer good news stories and a lot more people have barely survived last winter. Our mortality and morbidity statistics for the first quarter of 2023 are truly shocking – on a par with those in the second and third quarter of 2020.

Here are the messages from the Geeks


Tackle the tough times and take care of your finances. Watch our video for the top tips now.


While pausing your pension would bump up your take-home pay, it could cost you more money in the long run.


A more sensible way forward.

Here’s my thinking, having listened to a podcast on awareness and engagement with Robert Cochran.

  • We’ve drunk too much of the Kool- Aid. We’re sick of it
  • We want to know fact not speculation – straight answers to tough questions
  • Pensions aren’t fun – they’re bloody important and a lot of people feel bewildered
  • We need to get a proper system in place so that people can work out if they’re getting value for their money.

If Pension Awareness Day focusses on these issues, then I think Pension Awareness Day will become more relevant and less incidental. The Pension Geeks now trade as Pension Awareness, I wish them well in all they do.

And I hope that after a terrible 18 months, we can use this year – to deliver these serious messages to people – with their usual flair.

Engagement is not just about getting more money into pensions, it’s about making sure that money works as hard as the people who earned it.


About henry tapper

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