EB comment – Are we marring pensions with provider influence

However, our annual pensions research (available from the Research section), shows that when it comes down to it the vast majority of our readers would prefer to offer pensions than cash (only 11% said they would prefer to ditch their pension scheme and increase salaries instead). This is despite the cost, admin and the upcoming legislation that will lead to widespread reviews by most employers of their pensions policies and executive reward.

Overall the research sends a mixed message. There are plenty of good intentions (77% feel responsible for employees’ long-term financial wellbeing), but the majority don’t or can’t translate this into action. We have a situation now where 72% of employers offer some form of defined contribution scheme, but 56% of these employers are aware that organisational contributions going into these schemes will not be adequate for employees to retire on.

The solution to how we, as a country, will solve the pensions savings gap is complex, and it will be interesting to read the follow up to last month’s Turner Report.

My initial reaction is to say that we need greater financial education in schools and in the workplace to change people’s mindsets so that they learn to rely on themselves for their pensions savings. However, because most workers in this country are now in stakeholder or group personal pensions (GPPs) I am slightly reticent about promoting this route unreservedly – at least until there is a government guarantee to step in and make good any shortfalls in the event of any further pensions scandals.

I would like to think that most financial institutions are rock solid, ethical organisations that will not leave future pensioners high and dry in 10, 20 or 30 years time. But occasionally bad eggs coddle our trust.

Many employers handed responsibility to financial firms when they closed their defined benefits plans and started to offer staff stakeholder pensions and GPPs.

So do employers generally feel completely secure about leaving the bulk of the responsibility for their employees’ pensions savings in the hands of these financial institutions?

Some employers have already said that they fear the wrath of staff if another pensions scandal breaks.

To be sure the government cannot afford to provide adequate pensions for all of us, but surely they can find a way to guarantee that any monies that staff are putting into their pensions savings today will be there when they retire. If the government can offer this guarantee, then maybe compulsory membership of workplace pensions becomes a good option and not a potential avenue to yet another pensions mis-selling scandal in the years to come.

Debi O’Donovan
Employee Benefits magazine