Guest Blog By Gavin Zaprzala-Banks, Principal Consultant, Punter Southall Aspire
For many years, revealing that I worked in the pensions industry signalled a quick shift in the conversation.
“Pensions? Not as good as property though is it? Do you need another drink?”
“Pensions. Really? Anyway, have you heard the latest news about…?”
Did I ever pretend that I had a different job? Absolutely! However, during the past few years this has started to change and now questions are cropping up during out-of-office conversations more and more often.
Recently, I was sat at home with the family one Sunday evening when the phone rings. It’s answered by my eight year old daughter and the handset is eventually passed to me after it has been determined that there is a specific purpose to the call. It’s one of my uncles, who is with friends discussing pensions over their desserts.
“Hope you don’t mind,” he begins. “It’ll just be a quick question to settle an argument. Is it possible to take a quarter of a pension fund without transferring it first or touching the rest?”
“You see,” interjects a female voice. “I’ve been looking at Pension Wise and reading my company scheme information and it doesn’t quite all make sense.”
What happens next is a few minutes of heavily-caveated question and answer session, while on speakerphone to the assembled dinner party guests. Ultimately, they all receive the responses that they hoped for and are delighted to know that their individual plans are still on track.
This was not due to me paying each the necessary platitudes to ensure I could swiftly return to the attentions of my family. In the main, it was a result of the recent flexibilities which have meant that each guest at the dinner party was intending to take a reasonable and now viable approach to their retirement planning.
Now, I know that all of those gathered around that dining table were professionals, with a decent level of financial understanding. But even so, the complexities of our convoluted pension system (and a couple of glasses of wine) had managed to stump them all.
They all know where to get information and never before has it been so easy to become a self-educated financial guru. Unfortunately, the ease of access to information is made possible via an overwhelming flood of conflicting, confusing and often simply incorrect sources.
People who say that pensions are dead are wrong. People who say that pensions are the future are also wrong. At least, in the manner that we think we know them today. What we need now is to be able to empower people to become more aware of their options and to allow them to do that in whatever way they find most engaging.
More than a quarter of people consider opting out of their pension to increase their take home pay (source: Mintel, June 2017). The balance between managing debt, living for today and saving for the future is an incredibly tricky one to get right. And we’re not helped by the simple fact that money is still considered to be a taboo subject in the UK, unlike many other countries where discussions about wages and savings are commonplace.
Visit Australia and people will openly talk about the value of their Superannuation schemes. In Scandinavian countries, it’s the norm for everyone’s annual tax returns to be publically published. Not so here in the UK – unless you are one of the BBC’s leading stars.
For well over a decade I have listened to industry experts talk about the importance of communication and engagement without anything actually changing. However, you only need to look at some of the more forward thinking companies and their output to see that we are finally witnessing the start of that long-awaited change.
Communications agencies aligning with pension consultancies – realising that content and language doesn’t have to be stuffy, just because it always has been – and building platforms that focus on the end-user from the very beginning.
Punter Southall Aspire strongly believes in this change. We’re working hard to widen the focus from a narrow spotlight on pensions to the far more relevant subject of NEXT GENERATION SAVINGS.
Whether you need to engage your millennials with your benefits package, support your team members as they approach retirement or simply think it’s time to try something different – we are here to help.
Don’t get me wrong, do I still wish I was an astronaut? Of course! But for now, it is great to be in a place that is helping to make a difference.