Pensions industry fires back at Opperman criticism

Pensions industry fires back at Opperman criticism
Guy Opperman, pensions minister

Stalwarts of the pensions world have responded to pensions minister Guy Opperman’s suggestion that the industry lacks long-term vision.

Speaking at The Investing and Saving Alliance’s Annual Retirement Conference earlier in March, Opperman told attendees that, were he at the Treasury or the Department of Health and Social Care, he would enjoy the support of think tanks that were “thinking the unthinkable”.

“We just don’t have that in pensions,” he said, and also suggested that a cabinet reshuffle may be in the offing. 

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“I wouldn’t say I’m on my own because I’ve got amazing civil servants. I’ve got an amazing team around me, but I’m always struck by how little input I get from industry as to what [it should] look like in five to 10 years’ time,” he added.

Opperman’s remarks went down badly with a number of the industry’s leading voices. 

Aries Insight co-founder Ian Neale said: “If there is a lack of long-term vision it is on the part of politicians, whose horizon is no further away than the next election.

“We have a vision, Mr Opperman, even a dream, that one day personal ideology and pet projects will be set aside and politicians of all persuasions will work with pension professionals to build a future of which we can all be proud.”

Legislation causes delays

Opperman took the reins as pensions minister in June 2017. 

In that time, he has overseen efforts to introduce pensions dashboards, legislate for the introduction of collective defined contribution schemes, and reform DC products to try and improve value for money.

The Pensions Dashboards Programme was set up in 2019, and the first schemes will begin to onboard members from April 2023. 

The industry has, however, expressed concerns surrounding the workload generated by ‘find and view’ dashboards. Public sector schemes in particular are seen as most at risk of missing their onboarding date. 

“It is well known that Mr Opperman is frustrated — as we all are — by the apparent slow progress of the pensions dashboards project. This does not bespeak a lack of long-term vision in the pensions industry,” Neale said.   

Ian McQuade, chief executive of Muse Advisory, listed CDC, master trusts and consolidator vehicles as ideas that have come from the pensions industry.

“Whether you think CDC is a good idea or not, the industry has invested huge amounts of time and effort,” he said.

“The delay in getting it off the ground [is] as a result of the need for legislative change and getting the right regulatory regime and approvals in place.”

‘Don’t be shy’

Opperman told the Tisa conference that his department has “flagged dashboards, greater awareness, CDC, reform of [defined benefit] hopefully continuing as it goes. I’m a big fan of superfunds, obviously Solvency II may impact on that. But there’s a whole bunch of stuff that we’re trying to do to create alternative products in DB and DC”.