Profile: ‘Mr Sipp’ John Moret talks regulation and rebirth

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In one of life’s strange coincidences John Moret is reminiscing about his first job in financial services at 107 Cheapside, the same building in which he started his career some 46 years ago. The principal of consultancy firm MoretoSIPPs and chairman of The Pensions Network – known to some in the industry as “Mr Sipp” – is now semi-retired, having left permanent employment with Suffolk Life back in 2010. But the first time he stepped foot in these offices at the heart of the City he was fresh out of university and yet to be bitten by the pensions bug.

“It was a Monday and the job was with Sun Life,” he recalls. “When I left university I was offered jobs with half a dozen life companies and Sun Life won. I did a three-week graduate training programme and was paid reasonably well at just over £1,000 a year.”

Moret went on to earn his stripes in the pensions world with several firms including Winterthur Life, PPML and Suffolk Life. His name has become synonymous with Sipps, which did not even exist prior to 1989.

“Personal pensions were seen as boring in those days because all you could invest in were the funds of the personal pension providers.”

His appetite for self-invested pensions was whetted towards the end of his time at Sun Life, which was a pioneer in small self-administered schemes. But it was Nigel Lawson’s 1989 Budget speech that paved the way for Sipps, enabling people to invest their personal pensions in unit trusts, equities and commercial property. Moret found this investment freedom instantly appealing.

“These are natural sorts of things for people to be interested in. Why force people to take such a closed and narrow route?”

To say that Moret is a fan of Sipps is an understatement but even he has been disappointed by their regulation. “I felt right from day one that the regulatory framework was not fit for purpose; it’s been a disaster. We need to redefine a Sipp. Most are just personal pensions that are far removed from what Nigel Lawson envisaged.”

For Moret, a return to the days of a list of acceptable investments would be a step forward as it would remove the current complexities around standard and non-standard investments, and the taxable property regime.

Given Moret’s passion for Sipps his decision to retire from Suffolk Life may have seemed surprising, particularly as he set up MoretoSIPPs shortly afterwards. Did leaving Suffolk Life involve a lot of soul searching?

“It wasn’t a struggle. I’d gone there in 2004 at the invitation of Henry Catchpole [former chief executive of Suffolk Life]. He said ‘let’s grow the business and have some fun’, so that’s what we did.”

“We were successful in growing the company, and sold it to Legal & General in 2008 for over £60m. Legal & General sold it for £45m to Curtis Banks earlier this year.”

Moret says he did not want to work for a traditional life company again and by the time he retired he had already reduced his working week from four days to three.

Semi-retirement suits Moret, as he can do all the things he loves: spend time with his four grandsons, travel, stay active in the pensions industry and play in the International Tennis Federation’s senior tournaments. Moret has played at Wimbledon – but the only spectators were his wife and his opponent’s wife. He started playing tennis when he was a child: his home in the London suburb of Carshalton backed onto a tennis club. In another strange coincidence, Moret’s son and his family moved to a house in the same street. “My name is still on the board in the tennis club.”

Moret’s enthusiasm for things he really cares about make him an inspired choice to chair The Pensions Network, a membership-based network for senior pension professionals. The organisation currently has around 40 members who meet around four times a year. Some call it the “Gleneagles of the pension industry”.

“We have some amazing talent in the industry and it’s an opportunity for that talent to come together in a stimulating way. We have some incredible speakers and the content is so diverse.”

Earlier this month it marked its 10th anniversary with an event looking at the next decade in pensions. Events are normally held under the Chatham House rules so that members can talk freely but Moret wanted this one to be different, with the content being made public.

“We have some amazing talent in the industry and it’s an opportunity for that talent to come together in a stimulating way.”

Much of the debate was around the need for innovation and change, particularly in response to digital technology and medical advancement. So, mirroring the subject matter of those debates, what lies ahead for The Pensions Network?

Moret says: “More of the same. We ought to try to keep abreast of technology and some talks could be given remotely. For example, Rob [Syndaxi director Robert Reid] had to travel from Canada to speak at one of our meetings, so that would help. We could introduce some regional networks too. At the moment, most meetings are within the M25 as most of our members are based in London, but we do have people who travel from further afield.”

The anniversary event also revealed the causes for concern within the industry, such as the impact of lower incomes, lower home ownership and the potential end of defined benefit schemes on people’s retirement savings. What is of particular worry for Moret?

“I worry about savings regimes where the agenda is set by the Treasury, as it leads to inconsistencies with changes in Government and Chancellor. It’s not the way for investing people’s hard earned savings.”

He feels the regulator is having to play catch up as policies change in line with the political thinking, increasing complexity, which in turn increases costs. “We missed an opportunity in 2006 with pensions simplification.”

Five questions

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given in your career?

Good timing is everything.

What keeps you awake at night?

Not very much – my world tennis ranking and golf handicap going in different directions!

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?

Fast developing changes in technology. There is a long way for the industry to go.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…

Focus more resources on driving out scammers, fraud and incomptence then press for the Financial Ombudsman Service and The Pension Ombudsman to be merged.

Any advice for new advisers?
Focus on client proposition and monitoring client experience regularly.

CV

2011-present: Principal, MoretoSIPPs consultancy

2010-present: Chairman, The Pensions Network plus non-executive posts elsewhere

2004-2010: Director of sales and marketing, Suffolk Life

2000-2004: Managing director & executive chairman, PPML

1995-1999: Director, sales & marketing and head of marketing, Winterthur Life

1986–1994: Pensions manager, Provident Life (subsequently Winterthur Life)

1983-1986: Assistant manager for individual pensions, UK Provident

1970-1983: Pension/admin roles including actuarial trainee, Sun Life Assurance