AWT -VFM – the head boy touch


I’ve always looked up to Andrew Warwick-Thompson who is the sort of bloke you’d expect to have been head boy at your school. Calm , authoratitative and seemingly never wrong, not as annoying as me – but almost!

I hadn’t expected to agree with much he said on Darren and Nico’s VFM podcast but found myself agreeing with most of what he said. “Most” excludes his derogatory remarks about Pension Bee who offer a quality of service that his master trusts should use as their benchmark (but won’t!).

But I’m hear to praise AWT not to bury him and he says some smart things about DC pricing and the inclusion of illiquids. He has some sensible ideas about the choice architecture we give to savers in workplace pensions and if you are to find a way to like the Pensions Regulator. it’s probably the way Andrew does – by praising the team he built around him.

As regards VFM , AWT has decided it’s about the features you get from your pension provider. I can see why you would want to commoditise performance , as it’s not something that a trustee of funder can influence in the short term and I can certainly see why no provider wants VFM to be decided on price.

One of his master trusts runs two defaults, one to compete on  performance and one to compete on price, this is s good way to have it both ways. He mentions that SWMT board meetings have a section set aside to review sales pipeline and review recent pitches. It’s a commercial world and how VFM is determined is going to impact provider commercials, especially if it starts feeding through to employer decision making.

And I love the way the great man turns this podcast into an extended pitch for the features of Scottish Widows and Cushon, both of which he is a trustee of. This is not bad but good, trustees should back their choices – his enthusiasm is a good advert for his trusteeship.

This “features” based stuff , goes back to the 31 characteristics of a DC scheme, a concept that TPR promoted while Andrew was boss of DC. If employers do buy the “quality of service” message, then we will see an interesting “secondary market” to come.

We need to find ways for employers to consider workplace pensions as an employee benefit. Making them an employee benefit means getting people loving what they are investing in and whether that’s Julius Pursaill’s Golden Eagles or Robert Cochrane’s LBG app, there are few other master trusts that have invested in the UX like Andrew’s schemes.

This pod is also grown up about defined benefit scheme funding and on the value of  private markets (not illiquids) in delivering performance. For all Cushon’s noise on ESG, this is not a pod about stewardship, social issues or the environment, it’s a pod about the importance of trusteeship, something we hear very little about.

And there’s a fascinating section of the pod at the end , where AWT explains how he expects to see the numbers of Master Trusts falling to 10 or so (with no mention of GPPs).

In full head boy style, he explains how he helped consolidate the LGPS by running its central pool. Nights out in Wolverhampton don’t sound his style and knowing the care he takes of his family, his short service as CEO of Central is understandable.

Andrew Warwick-Thompson is opinionated and his views aren’t mine but there is a quirky humour about him which ensures that we’ve always got on. He may remember my personalised parking space at the Pensions Regulator



About henry tapper

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