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Firing Line: Fidelity's Carolyn Jones on policy and products

Firing Line: Fidelity's Carolyn Jones on policy and products

Carolyn Jones did not start her financial services career thinking she wanted to be in pensions.

In fact, she went through a phase of wanting to become a lawyer, influenced by the popular 80s and 90s US TV legal drama LA Law.

She also toyed with the idea of becoming a nuclear physicist – all this while she was studying for her applied physics degree at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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But in her career path to becoming head of pensions products at Fidelity she has done things she did not associate with working in pensions.

Ms Jones said: “I have done big systems projects. I have worked on big mergers and acquisitions; looking at how you bring two groups of employees together with very different benefit structures.

“I have met government officials and presented at parliament. I do media work and some filming, but, I am in pensions.”

Following the departure of Fidelity’s head of pensions policy Richard Parkin last year, Ms Jones is now also carrying out external-facing pensions policy duties.

This means she gets to work closely with the regulator.

Her team sits centrally within Fidelity’s three main distribution channels: direct to customer channel, the workplace and the fund network channels, which focuses on advised relationships.

Ms Jones says the dual oversight she has of policy and products puts Fidelity in a "fairly unique position" of being able to look ahead at how regulation will impact the sector and vice versa.

She added: “We are quite different to other organisations in that we see policy and product as an actual fit-together. Where we are sat is, if we can get close to the regulator and to policy, and influence that policy and understand in plenty of time what the policy direction is, we are better placed to design for the future.

“Equally, because we have a global reach and a lot of retirement experience in countries we operate in, we can bring that global view and look for similar experiences to help regulators understand the consequences of their actions.”

One such consequence has come about as a result of pension freedoms; it has created a larger group of unengaged individuals who are not paying enough into their pensions.

This, Ms Jones said, prompted a change in the way Fidelity is trying to engage with customers directly or through its adviser channel.

She said: “In the past, pensions were really about the accumulation phase and the engagement strategies, and the products or services people wanted were really about: am I paying enough, have I chosen the right investment or should I be in self-select and am I making the most of my tax relief?

“That is where the focus of service offerings was, because that is all you could influence. A small minority had drawdown, but really you are all targeting annuity. Auto-enrolment just brought more unengaged people into that environment.