What’s the row over pension charges now?
You may have been listening to Radio 4 or perhaps seen the TV news, Steve Webb the pensions Minister is doing the media rounds having announced that charges on pensions should be capped at 0.75% which he announced yesterday and has been plugging his cause since. There is no doubt that there are many very expensive pensions and I would go as far to say that there have been lots of “rip off” pensions. There are too many vested interests, this has broken out in a row over pension charges.
We now have various think tanks and Providers all taking the opportunity to price to the bottom and distance themselves from “rip off pensions” as quickly as possible. An assortment of spurious views about the impact on the final value of a pension fund is now doing the rounds. The vast majority of this is utter drivel. We are all to blame for this (advisers, providers, investors, regulators and Governments) why? Well because over the years we have colluded in the deceit that anything to do with financial services is free. It isn’t. I had hoped that this delusion would have been put to bed by the introduction of RDR, yet AE (auto enrolment) exposes the deep resistance to a shift in mindset.
Can a pension have low charges?
It is perfectly possible to use a pension that has low investment charges and by low I mean less than 0.30%. However this is merely one element of the piece. The administration costs are high due to well intentioned regulation. The “sales costs” are high due to well intended regulation. The regulation is designed to protect the investor and the wider market.
Why does AE have unique charging problems?
The unique problem that AE brings is that there are some very tiny premiums. Suppose you earn £10,000 a year and in several years time you will have contributions of 8% a year (£800) a cap of 0.75% on this would be £6… ok its based on the value of your fund, but given that most will not be more than £4,000 that’s £30 to cover the investment and administration for the year (and by the way you can opt in and out, switch funds, vary the payments creating more administration). It’s a nightmare for pension providers. Some have come up with some low cost solutions (hardly any investment choice) and some have a fixed monthly fee. Well even at £1.50 a month (£18 a year) that’s a higher proportional charge on a small fund of £1,000 (1.80% to be precise). The Government backed (taxpayer funded) NEST is loss making and will be for many years. This is typical of Whitehall delusion that they then expect commercial enterprise to replicate. We all know Governments are not good at maths… don’t we?
The solution is right under their noses
Stakeholder pensions (with low charges) failed because there were other better alternatives at a lesser or more competitive price. The Government (this one and the previous one) believe compulsory membership isn’t quite ok, so we have a “difficult not to join” approach. However, I would argue that today employers and employees already have a proper pension system. It’s called National Insurance and the State pension. We know it’s not good enough, so why not simply make it better for everyone? It has no investment risk and is already set up. For those that want (and need) more than the State pension (most of us) then there are plenty of very good pensions around, any decent adviser can structure a sensible plan – but it is not free… neither should it be. If we want to create a society of that is independent of the State, we all need to face some adult truths.
Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA
If you are not drawing your State pension, then by now you should have picked up that pensions are changing – again! This time rather than making employers set up a pension that nobody might use, they have decided to force employers to set up a pension that everyone in that firm will use (unless they have an exemption or opt out). This will include mandatory contributions, which will be 3% from the employer and 5% from the employee (eventually). Whilst the employee can opt, he or she will be opted back in after 3 years (with the option to opt out again) – the ideal being that eventually you will forget and naturally begin building up a pension. Auto-enrolment is the path of least resistance.
Employers have begun (well some months ago) asking about AE. To say that there have been teething problems for the first of the large schemes would be an understatement. So today Steve Webb has intimated that SMEs will have a more simplified approach – now please note that AE is already meant to be a “no brainer” with no question asked other that “do you want in or out?”. I am left perplexed at what other new idea could be so simple… perhaps reforming NI and collecting payments directly would be sensible? I suspect that such “radical thinking” would be rather unwelcome. Anyhow when any Government uses terms like “simplified” or “simplistic” my cynicism really kicks in, as invariably this is code for “we have no idea of the consequences” but someone at a think tank thought this would work.
I am attending another presentation on AE next week, I am hoping that this will provide better insight into the latest “alteration”. I freely confess that it is better to change and adapt based upon experience, but for once, it would be nice to have some firm guidelines so that we all know where we stand..