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John Lawson: What the OFT missed in its workplace pensions report

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In seeking changes to pensions law and regulation, one of my guiding principles is achieving consistency – ensuring the same rules and protections apply, whatever pension you are in.

The Office of Fair Trading’s recent report is a welcome addition to the established direction of continuous improvement in workplace pensions. However, the report is silent on some parts of the pensions industry which, for whatever reason, consistently manages to keep its head well below the parapet.

One such group is non-ABI member group personal pensions. If independent governance committees are a good idea for ABI members providing contract-based pensions, and I believe they are, then surely they should apply to contract-based workplace pensions across the board?

Another area where this same group of providers is missing in action is disclosure of charges. Fourteen insurers are already working on disclosure of pension charges in pounds sterling within annual statements, starting next year. Are providers and master trusts outside this group going to be made to work to similar standards? Thankfully, the OFT did pick up on the fact that not all master trust boards are sufficiently independent from the administrator or investment manager that first conceived them. These are the ones that appoint a token “independent” trustee to add a veneer of impartiality over an underlying commercial bias.

The IGCs that these master trusts establish should, as the OFT points out, be able to carry out their fiduciary duties properly, shifting the default fund or administrator to another service provider when that would be in the members’ best interests. This marks the end of the commercial master trust experiment, in my view. What commercial provider is going to offer schemes via a master trust with a single charge of 0.3 per cent or 0.5 per cent, priced to break even in seven or nine years, when an independent oversight board can switch part or all of that charge income to another provider after two or three?

Nest appoints its service providers in a different way. Its administration and investment service providers know they might only be there for a fixed duration and tender accordingly. I would expect commercial master trusts to be forced by their new independent trustee boards to unbundle their underlying services and charges and sign proper contracts with the board to provide those services for a given term. No board in its right mind would commit to investment mandates longer than three years for most asset classes and Nest’s 10-year contract with Tata should act as the benchmark for the duration of administration contracts.

To enforce proper regulation in the master trust world – these schemes could have as many if not more members than GPPs – the Pensions Reg-ulator needs to get some new teeth. A regulator that needs to plead with those under its jurisdiction to “comply or explain” is not a regulator; it is a standards body.

John Lawson is corporate benefits head of policy at Aviva

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Comments

There are 3 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. John, well said. It seems unlikely that some of the Mastertrusts will be able to genuinely demonstrate that the admin and/or investment can be separated from the Trust.

    This is a problem for the regulators, as they will not want to cause disruption with AE pending, but should not be satisfied with the current structures of some Mastertrusts.

    An easy solution may be to recognise that there is a “price to pay” for this lack of independence, and that this should be remedied by levying an additional charge on the Mastertrust provider of 30bp per annum say. Proceeds to go towards tPR costs

  2. I’m surprised ift the Non ABI GPP providers registered on the OFT’s radar. While SIPPs are important to the IFA sector, they are not mass-market products and (other than Vantage) have virtually no penetration with employers.

    As for “commerical mastertrusts”, these seem to be being used mostly for occupational to occupational transfers and again of little relevance to the market the OFT is worried about (non-advised and buying blind).

    The real issues are with those providers who want to play in the post 2014 market (I suspect few will know till they get there). Those that will, will be those who are delivering great service and a sound investment proposition at a reasonable price.

    We should be more concerned about keeping providers of this type in the market than trying to penalise them for supposed conflicts.

    On a final point, if investment managers cannot anticipate mandates for any longer than three years then short-termism will be the order of the day. While managers should be reviewed , they should not be churned

  3. Not sure the OFT were particularly interested in non-ABI GPPs or these commercial mastertrusts, both of which cater for specialist markets (HNW and occ to off transfers).

    The big issues- helping improve purchasing, wiping out poor legacy practices and ensuring no more hidden nasties take precedence.

    It’s hard to criticise the OFT for sticking to its brief John!

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