Suggestions that secretary of state for work and pensions Esther McVey may no longer be committed to the delivery of the pensions dashboard project has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth around the industry.
Personally, I do not see the problem. This is the perfect opportunity for it to take back ownership and control of the project.
The current scope is so unwieldy while also being so constricted in its distribution (only to be available via the new single guidance body) that it is doomed to failure anyway.
We need to provide consumers with detailed information about their pensions and other long-term savings digitally but not in the format the dashboard evolved to.
Plan of action
I spent the best part of a year in 2016/17 working with the Treasury as an independent member of the prototype project.
Because of this first-hand experience, I can say with confidence that dashboards can be delivered by multiple organisations in less than six months, provided we focus on the greatest area of need: the 10 million-plus consumers that have become members of auto-enrolment schemes in the last seven years.
The majority of auto-enrolment pension providers can already deliver information on these contracts electronically. To make dashboards a reality, we need only adopt one or more of the finder services already built as part of the prototype.
Just think of the millions of people in their 20s and 30s that have contributed to workplace pension schemes. Most will have now been in at least two, if not three or more, such arrangements. They live their lives on mobile devices, so why not deliver dashboards using their preferred way of communicating?
A coalition of the willing could create such a service by early next year, in line with the original timeline for the dashboard project.
To reduce the risk of fraud, delivery could be restricted to organisations regulated by the FCA, either under the long-standing investment regime or the new permissions put in place with open banking legislation.
Older consumers with far more complex pension arrangements do need access to more data, and this will take more time.
But if the industry can show its commitment to improving consumer access to auto-enrolment data, it will be in a strong position to go back to the government and persuade it to come on board with state pension benefits, as well as corral any trust-based schemes or other laggards still not rising to the challenge.
One of the biggest things I learnt while a member of the steering process was the dire state of data and record keeping in some areas of the trust-based pension community. Big parts of that community need to get their affairs in order but that is not going to happened overnight.
One of the major constraints on the progress of the dashboard project was a belief there is a need for new primary legislation to compel all organisations to participate. I understand it has now been recognised this is no longer needed as a result of the General Data Protection Regulation.
Take back control
Like so many things, the dashboard project became a victim of Brexit. It was clear early last year that, despite having delivered two working prototypes in an incredibly short timescale, the Treasury simply had more pressing issues it needed to attend to. Once the 2017 election was over, all resource supporting the project evaporated.
In the 15 months since, it has evolved from being a valuable instrument that would have helped millions, to a white elephant with all the hallmarks of the next hundred million pounds government IT project to fail.
McVey is both brave and right to call time on this, but it should not be the end for the concept. The industry now has an opportunity to take back control and implement a practical and achievable roadmap ahead.
Let’s not gnash our teeth about what might have been but get on and deliver dashboards everyone can be proud of.
Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre