Confessions of a benefits manager: Unwanted advice

Candid inadvertently accepts an invitation to dinner with some pension advisers and finds the issue of auto-enrolment hard to escape

I don’t know what came over me. I never accept event invitations from pension advisers. To accept is to tick a box that says: please bore me to death for several hours in some ghastly hotel while several consultants try to sell me services over a rather indifferent dinner.

Oh no, you will find I am usually ‘busy’ for such events. However, last week Oily Oliver from Smarmy Consulting caught me unawares, and now I find myself on his guest list. It is tempting to pull out at the last minute, but a quick look on the web tells me the tickets cost £100 a head and I just can’t do it. I do have some moral code, even when it comes to advisers. No, I shall have to grin and bear it.

The event is at the NoSoul hotel. I don’t know why so many of these corporate events are held there. It is not even near any shops. It is a horrid, anonymous place, designed to take care of American businessmen on a budget; guys who want air-conditioning and plenty of it, regardless of the grey skies outside. I am glad I decided to wear a jacket.

We mingle in the foyer for a while. I am handed a name badge and a glass of bubbly. Someone has spelt my name wrong. I am not usually picky about such things, but I will have a bunch of advisers saying “Hello Candy” all evening.

They will find there is nothing sweet about me. They have also put the wrong company name on the badge. Still, it will give me something to talk about before I get inundated with questions about my auto-enrolment.

You see, if you stand still long enough around here, a pension adviser will ask you how your auto-enrolment is going. Personally, I think it is rather a rude question. I mean, I don’t ask them how their chargeable time is going. We both know what the question is really about. If you look even the tiniest bit unsure, they will be wittering on, selling you their latest auto-enrolment solution.

They don’t have services or consulting any more, only solutions, and creative solutions at that. Call me cynical, but it all boils down to chargeable time in the end.

Finally, people start shuffling into the Kennedy Room for dinner. I told you it was aimed at Americans. I have lost sight of my host, Oily Oliver, but luckily there is a table plan. Smarmy Consulting, it seems, has cut back on hospitality; it has booked only half the table. The rest of the table has been taken up by a rival firm and its guests. I hope they don’t start dissing each other over dinner.

Luckily, unlike most of the guests, I have escaped sitting with a consultant on each side. I just have Oliver to my right and a Japanese client to my left. It is far better to be sitting next to Oliver than another consultant, because he knows so much about our plans that he is limited in the disingenuous questions he can ask about them. And he is already providing a creative solution for my auto-enrolment, so he can’t even ask how it is going. Phew.

Mr Yamamoto, on the other hand, is going to prove a bit more hard work. Perhaps to avoid the disingenuous questions from the consultant on his left, he is very keen to talk to me. The only problem is, I can’t understand a word he says. He is speaking English, at least I think so, but his accent is so unusual that I can only make out every other word. I think he has asked me how my auto-enrolment is going. I nod and smile. My face is beginning to hurt with the effort of it. I try to take control of the situation. My mind has gone blank on typical Japanese benefits, so I resort to asking him what brings him to London.

After dinner, we are released from our seats to mingle once again. I move rapidly away from Mr Yamamoto. He trots closely after me, like a shadow. I think I am the only person who appears to understand him. I put that down to my acting ability rather than any linguistic intuition, but Mr Yamamoto seems to think he has found a friend. I dive into the ladies’ toilet to escape. At least he can’t follow me in here.

There are two female consultants from Smarmy inside, though, and they ask me how my auto-enrolment is going. Mr Yamamoto is waiting at the door when I come out. Sigh.

Even worse, a horrid man from Exorbitant Consultants that I met at some other event has spotted me from across the room. He beetles over to say hello. And yes, he asks me about my auto-enrolment programme. I want to scream, but instead I introduce him to Mr Yamamoto. Mr Yamamoto, I say, is very interested in auto-enrolment. I feel rather guilty about palming the poor man, a guest in my country, onto one of the slimiest and hard-selling consultants I have ever come across, but I just need a break from the pair of them.

Before I go, the Exorbitant bloke stares at my chest, presumably trying to memorise my name badge. I know what that means: he’ll be stalking me on LinkedIn before the end of the next day. I smile, naturally, for the first time all evening; he can contact Candy at Wrong Company Name as much as he likes.

Next time… Candid looks into wellness