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Nic Cicutti: Is ABI the baddie it’s being made out to be?  

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 McKenna: ABI must be removed from pension dashboard project

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.

Pensions minister: Data protection key to prevent dashboard scams

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 nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk

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Comments

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

  1. Nic,
    By using the Government gateway sign on we have the same problem we had with Lifetime allowance protection where recently advisers were no longer able to complete applications on behalf of clients
    Extending this to the dashboard will reduce engagement and result in more cost as we are adopting a sign on that is in excess to what banks require
    In short excessive and promoted with an agenda that I had hoped the ABI has moved on from – I doubt all of their members understand the implications of this strategy esp as DWP are now driving it – hardly the best government department re communications!

  2. Nic,
    Both you and I have been around long enough to catalogue a list of woes with regard to the industry shooting itself in the foot and usually the ABI is in the mix somewhere. The ABI is a trade body for insurers(in exactly the same way as Libertatem is for IFAs)and as such should be recognised for what it is and for the agenda that it brings. It is not for me to justify Ian’s comments – they are, as you have said,spot on – but they do need highlighting and supporting.
    If the DWP wishes the Pensions Dashboard to succeed it needs to take more notice of the people on the ground actually doing the job and less notice of a self-serving trade body.
    The alternative is to ask the FCA to wind up independent advice and leave it all to the Banks and Insurers.

  3. Firstly, thanks to Nic, @Robert Reid and @Eric Purdey for validating the points I have made previously. I have delayed commenting on Nic’s piece until now as I had another column on the subject in the works. You can now read this at https://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/issues/11-january-2018/28-ian-mckenna-four-ways-make-pensions-dashboards-better/.

    As both Robert and Eric have pointed out the ABI is a trade body for insurers and sadly, while progressing the project in isolation, i.e. without the external oversight previously provided by The Treasury and independent members of the Treasury Steering Group, of which I was one, they came up with recommendations which failed to recognise important practical issues that would impact both the success of the project and adversely affect the relationship between pension providers and advisers. I do find it ironic that having been so happy to throw the adviser community under the bus, that ABI members are now faced with the prospect that we will end up with a dashboard that they will not have access to. This would have been far less likely had they supported the adviser community.

    It is worth pointing out that many people within provider community recognise the ABI’s proposed approach was a flawed but it is difficult for them to say this publicly as the ABI do not like criticism. The ABI could learn a vast amount from the Personal Finance Society when it comes to managing all stakeholders.

    That said, right now, I think the important thing is for advisers and pension providers to develop a common set of messages focused on what will deliver the greatest benefit to consumers. For more detail on my thoughts read the article at the above link.

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