By Group CEO Sandra Robertson, iPensions Group
The UK economic outlook might be all about uncertainty in the year ahead, but the UK pensions industry can be certain that it has to adapt to a new round of regulation and technological advance while delivering in the face of ongoing challenges.
Inflation is on its way down with the latest figures showing Consumer Price Inflation at 10.7% following a peak of 11.1% but no one can be certain quite yet about its future path. There is a degree of certainty that interest rates will continue to rise and a growing consensus that the UK economy is heading into recession.
There is absolute certainty that consumers are feeling the pain of the cost-of-living crisis and it has had an effect on pension contributions. People are looking at their squeezed household budgets and thinking that stopping or reducing pension contributions might be a good idea.
Research from the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association in October showed nearly one in five (19%) of schemes had received inquiries from members about stopping or reducing contributions. Around 17%  reported inquiries from members wanting early access to pensions while just 28% said they had seen no changes in the behaviour of savers.
It’s an unsettling background for the pensions industry in common with the rest of the country but one which provides the perfect opportunity for the industry and providers to show leadership.
There has never been a time when leadership in the sector has been more important for helping to navigate the uncertainty and challenging times during the current financial climate while also delivering on the upcoming regulatory and industry issues.
The importance of Consumer Duty
Companies had to have implementation plans in place by the end of October 2022 for the new Consumer Duty regulations ahead of the first implementation by July 31st next year.
It is a development that the industry should embrace. Consumer Duty is potentially a huge opportunity for everyone in all business functions to think beyond simply delivering compliance with a rule book and take a holistic approach to ensuring customers receive good outcomes from their retirement savings. It should be a natural shift for providers, advisers, and trustees from treating customers fairly to treating customers well and being able to prove it.
The focus will now be on outcomes which inevitably involves a degree of interpretation. But it should enable advisers to demonstrate their value to customers while empowering advisers to adopt a new mindset. They will need to think like their customers and what they would want. It will drive up standards across the industry which is to be welcomed.
But it is not the only regulatory issue the industry will have to address. Pensions Dashboards are coming with the long-awaited Department of Work and Pensions initiative finally coming to life next year. They are a major step forward in the technological advances across the industry. The Dashboards will enable savers to access data on their pensions including the State Pension in one place online. That should transform how pensions are understood by retirement savers while introducing more consistent reporting and greater transparency.
It underlines the continued need for robust compliance and governance which emphasizes the need for industry leaders to get everyone on board with the vision but to be agile and continuously adapt where necessary.
Tech development has to continue
The technology of Pensions Dashboards is coming to an industry which is already embracing technology with the support of strong adoption among advisers.
Digital solutions are vital to keeping people engaged with their pensions and will be an important tool in helping to minimise cancellations and the reduction of pension contributions. iPensions Group is one of a number of providers enabling customers to access their details online 24/7.
Ease of sign-up is just part of the solution – online portals enable customers to choose their preferred investment funds and monitor their performance online with complete transparency on fees and charges, with access to risk ratings and asset allocation information on their chosen funds.
Technology will not ease the economic uncertainty, but industry leaders have a duty to make pension saving as easy as possible. Delivering transparency, competitive charges and a wide investment choice allied to robust governance and compliance will help reduce the uncertainty in the year ahead.