Firing lineJan 20 2023

How serving rum to George Michael led to a pensions career

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How serving rum to George Michael led to a pensions career
Phil Brown, group director of policy and external affairs at People’s Partnership. [Photos: Carmen Reichman]

"I seem to remember that I was the youngest person to have held that role at that time," Brown muses.

FTAdviser asked Brown what have been the biggest concerns and challenges the pensions industry has faced in all the years that he has worked in pensions.

He is unequivocal in his response: "The introduction of personal pensions and the removal of the employers’ right to make pensions a condition of service was a watershed moment for the industry; one that didn’t go well. 

"Too many people left their workplace pensions for personal pensions for the wrong reasons. This of course led to the first pension mis-selling review, which was launched in 1994, and, ultimately, negatively impacted the reputation of the industry.

"I had hoped that the industry would have learned valuable lessons but, following the British Steel scandal, I remain to be convinced that everybody did learn lessons.”

In fact, he remembers three significant pension mis-selling scandals; memories no doubt seared onto his mind after his time working for the then Financial Services Authority between 2000 and 2002, when a lot of the pension mis-selling scandals of the 1990s were being unravelled.

Auto-enrolment has had a significant and positive impact on the market, but I would like to see it improved.Phil Brown, People's Partnership

But has anything gone right? 

Brown highlights a few things, but says more is needed:

  • We removed the right of employers to make people join as a condition of service in the late 1980s, and then in 2012 the government reintroduced this right via auto-enrolment.
  • Regulations changed significantly for personal pensions – we have had at least four different regulators and, for workplace schemes, we have had two.
  • Pension simplification was also a huge moment that got lost, as we have spent recent years making pensions more complicated.

Changes for the better

Brown says if he could change policy or implement new regulations to make things better, there would be a host of improvements he would like to make.

He says: "Auto-enrolment has had a significant and positive impact on the market, but I would like to see it improved. We should start with the 2017 Automatic Enrolment Review being implemented, once we are through the cost of living crisis.

"Beyond that, I would like to see better demarcation lines between workplace and retail schemes, which, in my view, would prevent regulatory arbitrage that ultimately leads to poor decision-making where the workplace member carries the risk.

“When the value for money metrics are defined for the whole market, they must be available and accessible to consumers at the earliest opportunity.”