“Quality service” if it comes at all -does not come free .

I’ve been thinking while I navigated the Thames on Lady Lucy about consolidation. Yesterday I wrote a blog about why I think scheme consolidation mainly helps those who have little understanding of how their pensions are managed and aren’t ready to take action themselves – this represents a majority of us – most of us need to have value for money managed for us because we aren’t good enough at pensions to do it for ourselves.

But what about those of us who are proactive and set about setting up our own pension , using a pensions aggregator like Pension Bee , Hargreaves Lansdown, Interactive Investor or AJ Bell? What if they pay extra for advice inside – with an IFA or a bundled advisory proposition such as SJP?

While most “experts” agree that scheme consolidation is a good idea, there is not such a consensus about moving money out of workplace pensions and into “retail”. Combining pensions through a retail consolidator is frankly – frowned upon – by these same experts.

This is mainly because retail platforms require you to pay more for the same thing as is available through a workplace pension. I am referring here to an investment proposition. For instance the default savings proposition at Pension Bee costs 0.75% and is available within some large Aegon workplace pensions at around half the price.

The lower price is exclusive to the workplace pension but is seen by experts as offering irrefutably better VFM.

But this is not the way the “buyer” sees things. He or she sees the service from the aggregator (say Pension Bee) as worth paying more for. Pension Bee might be seen as more friendly, proactive and quicker. It might be offering guidance on matters that otherwise would need financial advice and Pension Bee’s and buyer’s interests may be aligned – the value of the customer increases as pensions are combined and the cost of the  investment decreases as certain tiers of saving are reached.

The same arguments can and are put forward, even by noticeably more expensive providers such as SJP, where the high AMC buys time with an SJP adviser , time that if used productively, can pay for the fees several times over.

It is only where the ceding pension is offering a comparable quality of service and funds offering, that a pure cost comparison can be made.

And even then , there are emotive issues that may drive consolidation where the reward is less rational but none the less real. If you leave a past employer on bad terms, you may not want to keep your money in their trust, no matter the financial advantages.

The drivers that influence the urge of the individual saver are rarely entirely rational. They usually involve some kind of before and after analysis that is based on the value set of an individual. This of course can lead to danger and we know that many attempts to consolidate end up in poor decision making – some of them catastrophic. Which is why we have regulators.

But the fundamental driver for ordinary people to consolidate is much simpler than the reasons not to. For most people, the prospect of managing their retirement over decades, drawing money from multiple sources (11 is accepted as a typical number of pots and pensions we accumulate over a savings lifetime) is “not on”.

There is of course a consumer duty on consolidators (at least those who are regulated by the FCA) to offer value for money and from July, providers will have to share how they see themselves doing this.

The Consumer Duty does not quite fall in the same way on occupational pension schemes, which are regulated by a different organization, but it is likely that the VFM framework that they will need to be a part of, will include metrics on service quality that will include how trustees and their administrators manage demands from retail consolidators for the transfer of funds.

The VFM framework is based on a holistic view of value that includes net performance and service quality. It also sets out to put in context the cost of investment and service so that purchases are made on a balanced decision.

The experts who argue that workplace pensions should not be judged on price cannot argue that the decision to transfer out of them should be governed by cost alone.

Quality service does not come free and until workplace pensions invest in their customer’s experience in the way that retail propositions do, they will continue to see outflows. The ball is very much in the court of the providers of workplace and legacy providers, if they cannot shape up, they risk losing assets or worse – regulatory closure. The DWP’s VFM consolation makes it clear that they have three existential tests, one of those  is “quality of service”. Schemes that do not cater for the needs of consumers to consolidate their pensions, should remember that.

About henry tapper

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