In a column a few years ago, I remember describing Ian McKenna as one of the most important people writing in the pages of Money Marketing.
Ian is constantly spurring the industry to engage with digital progress, signposting new developments and pointing out their relevance to an occasionally reluctant (if diminishingly so) band of advisers.
So when he picks a fight with an organisation like the Association of British Insurers over an issue like the pensions dashboard I find myself listening carefully.
Ian has chosen to enter the ring with the ABI several times in the past few weeks. In November, he called for it to be thrown off the pensions dashboard project because he believes it to be neither a “fit, impartial or reliable party to progress the project”. Strong words.
His opinion is based on a document on the subject, published by the ABI the previous month, which Ian quoted in his column: “In the mid-term, a number of technical solutions may be found that will allow for delegate/proxy access for a third party, once the consumer has provided consent. Any delegated access proposal would need to be acceptable to stakeholders from a legal and data security perspective.”
Ian interpreted this as meaning the dashboard will not – in the short term at least – allow advisers access to the information on it without their clients printing it off and giving it to them in hard copy. This would be a disaster, handing those big insurers with limited business relationships with advisers an inbuilt advantage when the dashboard is rolled out.
In his latest December column, in which he socked it to the ABI yet again, he wrote: “Surely this will arouse many advisers’ worst suspicions as to the motives of a pension provider in delivering such a service. If I was asked to come up with a mechanism to undermine the adviser community in a digital world, I would struggle to come up with a better plan than the proposed minimum viable product recommended in this report.”
As I say, when someone like Ian pronounces so strongly on issues such as this, we really should be listening hard to what he is telling us.
Except that, somehow, I just do not see what he is trying to get at.
Ordinarily just about everything the insurer’s trade body has done in the 25 years since I have been writing about it has filled me with a mixture of suspicion or derision.
In this instance, though, I did not interpret the purpose of the ABI’s involvement in the process in quite the same way as he has.
What all the research issued seems to be suggesting, including the latest document published in October called Reconnecting People With Their Pensions, is that when the dashboard is launched in 2019 or as soon as practicable thereafter, it may not have all the features consumers would hope to see in order to make it instantly attractive.
The document talks about legal compulsion (or the threat of it) as a way of forcing providers to supply the data necessary to present a viable mixture of information. It also refers to the need to include, as a bare minimum, government data about the value of an individual’s state pension.
Ian is undoubtedly right in suggesting a dashboard which excludes advisers will be a failure.
It would immediately cut out a massive constituency of potential users, whose previous engagement with pensions through their advisers ought to make them natural mouthpieces for the benefits of the dashboard. As he also points out, the likelihood of advisers supporting dashboards in which they are not treated by providers as central to the ongoing planning process is slim to none.
But if this is the case, why would providers deliberately want to shoot themselves in the foot?
I hope Ian will tell me what I am failing to see here. The issue is a vital one and all of us need clarity as to what is being planned and what needs to be done next.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org