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Pensions – forget default pathways we need guidance pathways first

Jonathan Watts-Lay
pension strategy

As the debate over default pathways at-retirement continues, please see comments below from Jonathan Watts-Lay, Director – WEALTH at work.

“I find the idea of defaulting members into something without a positive choice being made extremely worrying for a number of reasons.” Watts-Lay explains; “Firstly, although supporters of decumulation defaults see it as a means to a better outcome, history tells us otherwise.

Before Freedom and Choice many retirees purchased an annuity from their existing pension provider, in essence the default position, albeit the majority could have received better rates elsewhere. With default decumulation, we are effectively discouraging shopping around which means the winners are the providers putting the default solutions in place and probably not the member.”

He adds; “In addition, as many individuals will have more than one pension (not forgetting other available savings and investments), if they default based on individual pots rather than the collective value, the likely outcome for many will be suboptimal, resulting in reduced income. This is because many will end up paying more tax than necessary or because they haven’t considered their changing income needs throughout retirement.”

Watts-Lay comments; “Secondly, I believe there are issues around the belief that ‘product innovation’ will solve all retirement income needs; rather than thinking about a broader service model which allows individuals to understand their options before they commit.  After all, in reality income drawdown isn’t a product at all! It’s a strategy for withdrawing retirement savings from a tax wrapper, ideally with other lifetime savings and financial options in mind.”

He adds; “It’s time we agreed that it’s not a ‘product’ issue but a guidance issue, where the answer is providing support before any product is sold or indeed defaulted. The solution is to get employees and members taking advantage of support services that already exist, in particular professional financial education and guidance and for some, regulated advice.

Although Pension Wise take up is relatively low, the user satisfaction is high and a more confident, knowledgeable individual is the result. Employees and members who access financial education programmes and workplace financial guidance services are equally satisfied.  Our experience is that they too emerge more confident, knowledgeable and more able to make informed decisions; it has been no surprise to see significant numbers of individuals changing their retirement plans, increasing pension contributions and seeking out regulated advice as a result.


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