Opinion  

Altmann's comments on Lisa take the biscuit

Neil Lovatt

Baroness Ros Altmann’s recent warning that the Lifetime Isa has “mis-selling written all over it” was a typical ‘chattering class’ defence of pensions.

I find it remarkable the conservative forces in this industry are once again circling their wagons around their favourite middle-class tax break rather than recognising the reality, outside of the Baby Boomer generation, that pensions are failing in this country. 

Decades of mis-selling and supposedly ‘once-in-a-generation’ pension reforms that seem to arrive every Parliament - leading to horrific complexity and a system of private saving that doesn't even remotely connect with social security - have resulted in the pensions brand shattered in the eyes of the vast majority of the population. 

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No wonder then that the main power users of pensions are the wealthy and well advised who comfortably suck up the vast majority of tax relief on offer.

It’s no surprise that any attempt to undermine this regime would be met with fierce opposition. 

And what better way to attack a new alternative to pensions by describing it as having "mis-selling written all over it”? as Ros Altmann did with Lisa. 

For a former pension minister to label a new product, which addresses many of the issues people have with pensions, as something that would be mis-sold is taking the biscuit somewhat. 

The pension brand is incredibly unpopular with customers.  In focus group after focus group I watch customers roll their eyes when they talk about pensions.

Trust in financial services is incredibly hard to establish but trust in pensions has been almost impossible of late.

For the majority of the population, the attraction of tax relief on pensions suffers directly due to locking your money away for decades.

Let’s not forget that the appeal of pensions was so low in society that we had to legislate for the de facto compulsory purchase of pensions by the young with auto-enrolment and the National Employment Savings Trust. 

Listening to the great and the good of politics and the industry wax lyrical about how well compulsory investment in pensions is going increasingly sounds like a religious leader telling the people what’s good for them from a pulpit.

‘If only people really understood the value of pensions like we do they would definitely invest in them.’

It’s that sort of denial that left politicians, not to mention myself, with egg on their face with the Brexit vote. 

The reality is people don't get pensions, they don’t like them, they don't trust them. Forcing them on people is not the answer. Reforming them or, in my view, replacing them entirely is the answer. 

And so we turn to Lisa. Lisa is by no means perfect but it points the way to a more flexible future where long-term investing is more acceptable and no longer just a middle class tax break for the wealthy and well advised.