Last month’ s flawed research from Consumer Focus into pension switching has, quite rightly, been widely ridiculed for the lack of evidence on which it based its sensationalist conclusions.
The Government-backed body suggested IFAs were responsible for an unacceptable level of pension churning into high-charging funds, a problem it says will continue after the RDR. It based its grand conclusions on just 31 pieces of business emanating from two networks over a 10-year period.
Inexplicably, the report’s findings were widely picked up by the national media, leading to scaremongering headlines about advisers and more generally about pensions.
However, before congratulating themselves too much on managing to convince so many journalists to swallow a report so lacking in credible evidence, Consumer Focus might want to ponder some other research featured in Money Marketing this week.
A British Population Survey into the reasons why people are not contributing into a pension, conducted in December, makes for interesting reading. Just over 50 per cent of those without a pension say it is because they cannot afford one but nearly 7 per cent put their failure to save in a pension down to bad publicity, higher than the 4 per cent put off by high charges.
Consumer Focus needs to realise the publicity generated by reports such as its own have consequences, the most concerning being that people are turned off the idea of saving for their futures altogether.
If the research uncovers unscrupulous behaviour or shines a light on an area of the market where standards need to be improved then it is to be welcomed. But if the research encourages sensationalist headlines which cannot be backed up by the evidence, then a considerable amount of harm is being done.
In a fast-moving media environment, Government agencies, regulators, private companies and PR agencies are all well trained in packaging up that killer statistic or message they believe will sell their “story” to the journalist and their readers.
This research from the British Population Survey should serve as a reminder to organisations who wield considerable influence in the public sphere that this influence comes with responsibility. And that in striving to achieve the headlines you crave at all costs, you risk hurting the people you claim to be looking to serve.