There was a time when I was not very popular with the great and good of the pensions industry.
Many in the industry were concerned about the damage I might do to the pensions industry if I kept going on about the way means-testing made pension saving absolutely pointless for so many people. Most people thought it best not to talk about this subject at all.
But I felt strongly that it would have been wholly wrong to auto-enrol thirteen million employees into such a flawed pension system that could have put them at risk of losing a catastrophic amount of value from their pension savings.
As time went on, the issue did come to be recognised as one of the biggest problems in UK pensions.
To solve this, the current coalition Government made the historic move of scrapping the earnings-linked state second pension to half the workforce and improving the one resulting state pension to a level where means-testing will no longer be an issue. That, I thought, was the most history we would see being made for a generation.
Steve Webb, who I think deserves great credit for being the standard bearer of these reforms, is the pensions minister we have always needed.
We’re lucky the right man turned up at just the right time. While I was going on and on about means-testing, I was also saying that if we ever did get rid of it, we ought to also consider letting people make their own decisions about what to do with their pension savings.
This is particularly true now they are no longer able to fall back on the rest of us for any more support than a basic subsistence-level state pension – each individual is very much on his/her own when it comes to savings.
I was therefore thrilled (and more than a little surprised), when Chancellor George Osborne announced his intention to make savings more flexible for each individual. It made me wonder whether some of the other things I’d been suggesting at that time might also one day happen.
In particular, I have always thought that the distinction between pensions and tax-preferred savings such as Peps, Tessas and now Isas was an unnecessary, and needlessly complicated, one.
After all, why should people decide at the point of saving that the savings are going to be either short to medium-term or long-term?
When somebody starts to put money aside for the future and they are asked “Is this money for buying a car or a holiday, or is it for when you are retired?” they should be able to say “I don’t know yet. I’ll decide later.”
If we had just one tax-preferred savings product that might be used either wholly or in part as an Isa is today, but equally well could be rolled into longer-term savings aimed at producing retirement income or covering long-term care costs then this whole concept of silo-based products would become completely unnecessary.
So would the complex advice that supports the sale of such products. If we can trust people to manage their own financial affairs when they are pensioners we should also be able to trust them while they are savers.
Who knows, one day we may see a combined pension/Isa savings pot that benefits from the power of auto-enrolment at work and contributions from employers. In the light of Osborne’s recent Budget announcement, that may not sound too far-fetched after all.
Steve Bee is director at JargonFreeBenefits