Auto-enrolment – real-world concerns for SMEs

I attended two of the political party conferences last month, those where I thought there would be the most exciting pensions chat. I realise for most of the UK population, the phrase ‘exciting pensions chat’ doesn’t resonate, but it works for me.

Listening to some of what was said, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only thing that matters at all in pensions is the level and the transparency of the charges. But I’ve talked about that a lot recently so enough said on how charges are only part of the equation.

The other thing that struck me, though, is the increasing way in which we talk about small businesses as if they were nothing more than a commoditised mass of equally minded employers, concerned solely with solving everything that’s perceived to be wrong about saving into a pension. Someone said to me recently (not a politician) that the key thing we need to do for employers is give them the confidence that all costs associated with running the investment default strategy are fully disclosed to their employees.

Really, is that the key to everything? Again, I think we need to address that, sure, but is it really something that’s going to propel pensions into being something that’s trusted.

I’m back to obsession with charges again. I’ll stop.

I speak to employers a lot about pensions. Some of them are even grateful for me doing so. I don’t sell them stuff; I just raise awareness of their duties and suggest (as the recent NEST research firmly shows) that many of them will probably conclude they need the help of an adviser.

I recently spoke to a number of small firms at a lunch in Edinburgh, organised by a networking firm called Thrive. I found it fascinating to hear the views of the people round the table about auto-enrolment.  Many of them are very positive about it, and realise they need to start preparing; some were surprised by what’s involved; some were off to speak to an adviser afterwards. None were negative about it.

But don’t listen to me; listen to them. There are a number of commentators on workplace pensions at the moment who I think would benefit from doing the same Surely the key to getting businesses engaged with auto-enrolment is listening not preaching?


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