Even the best can be beaten by pensions

Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti

I remember my Shoot annual having a feature on great goalies – “even the best can be beaten” was a line I adopted for myself as I stood between the sticks for my school. This picture – from a 1965 FA cup semi- final was my favorite (and yes I know – Bonetti actually saved it).

The thought came to me as I received an unexpected call from someone who was “the best” in her time. Caroline Instance was first CEO of OPRA (the forerunner to TPR) and then CEO of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. She kept goal – in a manner of speaking – for the pension and actuarial industry and she was seldom beaten.

She found me on linked in – which she recently joined as a concession to progress.

She was great and good and I listened with fear as she introduced herself again to me.

And her story is salutary. Here it is – she is happy to hold herself up as a victim of the complexity she presided over.

How pensions defeated the pension regulator

In her various careers, Caroline built up a large accrual in DB pensions and – on reaching her 66th birthday recently, a right to the state pension. She is not quite sure of her right to the state pension as she was caught by the delays occasioned by equalizing the pension age and again by changes in the state pension age and changes to the single state pension in 2016. She isn’t complaining, but she does not get the state pension she thought she’d get.

But worse, she has spent a great deal of her and other people’s time getting what relief she can from issues surrounding the lifetime allowance. She is aware of various efforts that have been made on her behalf to mitigate the impact of the LTA but has no idea what they are or how to find out whether she has or is paying excess tax unnecessarily.

Rich people’s problems? Certainly. She is not asking for sympathy, simply to bring to our attention how someone who at one time oversaw the rules, is now completely befuddled by them.

We had a good chat which I had to cut short as I had a meeting to go to , to discuss improving member facing governance of DB schemes with Knowa. As we discussed using AI to inform trustees of their duties and ensure they remained compliant and on top of their fiduciary duties, memories of this conversation knocked around the back of my head.

How do we help a generation which is dependent on but beaten by pensions. Like Andy Haldane who has admitted to being totally baffled, Caroline is an intelligent woman who is simply not wired for the complexity she is being expected to master. Her memory of her days when she set those expectations clearly haunts and amuses in equal measure.

As we press ahead with artificial intelligence driving our propositions, we should spare a thought for the emotional intelligence of people like Caroline and Andy, who recognize that we may have created a pension system which only Artificial Intelligence can master.

That is a frightening thought. My nostalgia for muddy days in goal reminds me that football is only a game. Pensions most definitely isn’t.


The high-powered world of pension governance today – dependent on artificial as well as emotional intelligence.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Even the best can be beaten by pensions

  1. Byron McKeeby says:

    Not quite the Cup Final, Henry.

    Chelsea keeper Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti made that flying save during one of the 1965 FA Cup semi finals, against Liverpool at Villa Park. Bonetti’s acrobatics were in a lost cause, as the Reds won 2-0 and went on to win the Cup, beating Leeds 2-1 after extra time in the final at Wembley.

    Liverpool’s manager of the time is also famously said to have opined that football is not “only a game”.

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