Does pensions dashboard still need a guiding hand?

Does pensions dashboard still need a guiding hand?

The pensions dashboard project has hit several bumps in the road since it formed part of the Financial Advice Market Review recommendations in 2016 – and the latest developments could prove the biggest yet.

With the slated deadline for its launch now less than six months away, not only are the dashboard’s finer details still yet to be revealed, but fears surfaced during the summer that it could end up being scrapped entirely.

Those concerns have been alleviated somewhat, but the government itself now looks unlikely to be taking a truly active role in the scheme. In the meantime, its March 2018 feasibility study is still yet to be published at the time of writing.

The dashboard – a project initially assigned to the Treasury and managed by the Association of British Insurers – is intended to enable consumers to see all of their pension arrangements on a single digital interface. It has been heralded as a key component in encouraging consumers to play a more active role in managing their finances.

Although the project is running behind schedule, little suggested it was in jeopardy until this summer. On July 17, The Times reported that Esther McVey, secretary of state for work and pensions, was planning to jettison the dashboard, citing the distraction it would cause to the implementation of universal credit. This sparked outcry from a number of providers, leading industry figures, and consumers. In response, a petition was set up on the 38degrees website to save the initiative, gathering more than 125,000 signatures by early August. 

Ms McVey and pensions minister Guy Opperman both allayed fears in early September and reaffirmed the government’s support for the project. But the ministers’ failure to respond immediately after the rumours surfaced has drawn criticism.

“I was exceedingly disappointed,” says Fiona Tait, technical director at Intelligent Pensions. “In 2016, consumers’ expectations were created by then chancellor George Osborne, who told them that the government ‘will ensure the industry designs, funds and launches a pensions dashboard by 2019’. 

“Since then, a number of organisations from across the industry have contributed to the dashboard project, and they also have a right to expect this work will lead to a tangible and worthwhile result.”

Industry, over to you

Despite restoring its backing, the government looks set to take a back seat rather than a lead role. In September, it announced plans to facilitate an industry-led dashboard, which “will harness the best of industry innovation”.

It added: “We will continue to engage with the industry on this model and the government will protect pension savers and personal information by legislating where necessary.” 

A collaboration between the government and the industry to produce the best possible working dashboard appears, on the surface at least, to be sensible. But concerns have been raised about whether an industry-led initiative can obtain all of the necessary data. Some have accused the government of dodging the difficult decisions.

“A working dashboard could certainly be delivered by the industry, but it would not be as comprehensive or as trusted as one delivered under government sponsorship,” says Ms Tait.