An open PLSA

An open PLSA

Richard Butcher, Chair of the PLSA, wants to open it up to its members.


Richard's address to PLSA Annual Conference 2017

It has been a busy few years for the PLSA, against a background of, if not unprecedented, then at least very unusual circumstances.

Outside of the UK we’ve had the unexpected election of Donald Trump; an angry or angered (depending on our point of view) North Korea; continuing strife in the Middle East and the resultant refugee crisis; and, perhaps, a reshaping EU.

In the UK, we had the Brexit referendum and two general elections – all of which produced unexpected results. After both elections we had a change of Pensions Minister, and one concern we should have is of a return to the revolving door of Caxton House and disjointed, inconsistent policymaking.

After Guy Opperman spent several hours at this year’s Annual Conference & Exhibition, meeting the PLSA team and a number of our members, I’m hopeful that won’t be the case.

We’ve had a lot to cope with. Stubbornly low gilt yields and stubbornly high funding de cits, pension scamming, ongoing auto- enrolment and its polar opposite Freedom and Choice, new regulations on the governance and running of master trusts, and, in local authority schemes, new governance structures, pooling and the involvement of TPR.

A CHANGING CONCEPT

We’ve also had to respond to the status and role of a pension itself changing in people’s lives. In the past a pension (by which I mean a nal salary pension) was a unique form of nancial product. You didn’t really join them – often you were just included. You didn’t noticeably save into them – your contributions, if you paid any, were deducted from your pay at source.

 And you didn’t have to do any planning. All you had to do was wait until your normal retirement date and then you were given an income for life. Pensions then were a siloed, standalone concept.

But today, pensions are perceived as just one component part of a person’s later life, health, wealth and work. They exist in the context of short-term, medium-term and long-term nancial demands – educational debt, saving for a deposit for a house, paying a mortgage or rent, consumer spending, holiday savings, rainy day savings, insuring the house, car and dog, ISAs, LISAs – and just paying the bills and living.

Our changing world and the changing nature of pensions has had a huge impact both directly and indirectly on all of our day jobs and the world we do it in.

So, over the last few years the team has taken the time to look inwards. We’ve asked ourselves “is this association still relevant?”, because an organisation that isn’t relevant is, of course, irrelevant. The result is that your Association has changed and is changing.

The change in our name two years ago was not a cosmetic one. The inclusion of the words “lifetime savings” re ected a long-debated, much-considered change in the way we think the PLSA should look at and be seen by this new world.

The change in our outlook allows us to produce policy that looks out at the new nancial ecosystem, policy that’s aligned with modern life – modern, future-proofed policy.

Take our ‘Hitting the Target’ consultation, for example. It sets out a bold package of ideas for the future of pensions and lifetime savings. Among its proposals we suggest more people should be auto-enrolled and that their contributions should increase. We’ve looked at how property can be more easily used to fund retirement. We’ve suggested how working longer can be made easier and how governance and member engagement can be improved. And we’ve proposed the creation of National Retirement Income Targets. This is output aligned with modern life and will help us get better retirement incomes for all.

EXPERT OPTIMISTS

That’s what PLSA members want, but to achieve it we need good policy and good regulation. And to get that we, the PLSA, need to produce expert, optimistic policy argument, which we can only do if we harness the power of our members’ collective intellect and imagination. We’re only as good as what our members give us.

So we want to open up the PLSA to make it easier for members to get involved, and we want to hear from all of our members. We’re calling it #openPLSA.

We want to hear from the members who don’t come to our events or sit on our councils or committees. We want to hear from big members and small members, well-established members and new members.

As usual, we also want to hear from the legislators, the regulators and the media.

But we also want to broaden the debate and talk to other organisations and associations relevant to a member’s later life health, wealth and work. That means building societies, banks, ISA and LISA providers, ntech start-ups, investment houses, equity release companies, advisors, consumer groups and other relevant trade bodies.

All of this will deepen our insight and help us to produce that expert, optimistic policy argument.

How are we going to open up the PLSA? Well, here are three examples:

  1. To start with, whenever we produce an item of policy output, such as a report or a consultation response, we’ll ask at least ve PLSA members who aren’t usually involved in policy work to give us their view.
  2. We’ll come to see you, with more of the roadshows we’ve held around the UK recently – so we can listen to what you have to say about policy, or anything else for that matter.
  3. We’ll take more policy work online: a series of interactive policy webinars we’re calling PensionsLab.

BE A PART OF IT

If you want to be part of these things, or if you have other ideas for things we could do to get views from members, email us at openPLSA@plsa.co.uk.

And as we develop more ways to get involved and stay in touch, we’ll let you know.

Collectively we represent the interests of 20 million pension scheme members, and that’s a massive responsibility. The policy work we do makes a difference to all of them. I’m hugely proud, honoured and humbled to have been elected as chair of your association, and I’m really looking forward to working with you.

I believe that we have a unique and vital role to play and I want all PLSA members to be a part of it. We want a modern, future- proofed association that can keep doing what its members need and can keep producing good quality policy output – and that can keep asking itself if it’s still relevant, and answering “yes”.