I know Christmas is coming when my desk starts to creak under the mass of government papers scattered over it. Civil servants are clearly incentivised to clear their desks before the year end, and they do that by covering mine.
Key A-Day proposals regularly arrived just before Christmas, the Pre-Budget Report surfaces in early December and in the last couple of years we’ve had the Pensions Commission report and the Government follow-ups – the Pensions Bill and the White Paper – appearing in the month before Christmas. I can just about cope with these.
What overwhelms me is the mass of other official publications that come along at this time of year. To take just a selection of those currently gathering dust, I have The Gender Impact of Pensions Reform (62 pages), Financial Incentives to save for Retirement (89 pages), Estimating Economic and Social Welfare Impacts of Pension Reform (64 pages) and two Regulatory Impact Assessments (119 pages and 182 pages). That’s over 500 pages of solid analysis and explanation, on subjects that are very relevant to my job, but I’ve only skimmed through them and a fair number of other publications that have also appeared. Even anoraks have a limit to how much of a soaking they can take.
I feel guilty that I’m not up-to-speed with documents that have presumably taken many weeks of hard graft to write and then disappear without trace, but it highlights an increasing problem in our industry: information overload. We’re all being bombarded with information on legislation, regulation, market developments and a host of other things, and it’s almost impossible to keep up.
This hit me recently when I ran a session on pensions reform for some high-quality advisers. My presentation seemed decent enough, and I then tried to generate discussion on the effect personal accounts will have on the market, with limited success. After the session, a highly-regarded IFA suggested to me, very politely, that the subject was of relatively little interest to the group. Essentially, they couldn’t afford to get excited about something happening in 2012 when there are so many immediate issues to occupy their attention.
He was right, but it reminds me of the situation a few years back when insurers took their eye off Europe and found themselves fighting a rearguard action against some very dangerous legislation. This time the providers are on top of things, and had some notable successes in the White Paper, but we could do with more IFA involvement in case we miss any exocets. More importantly, IFA firms should be factoring the effects of pensions reform into their long-term business plans.
There’s no easy answer to this one, but larger adviser firms should at least recognise the issue. Meanwhile, I’ve some advice for Government researchers: keep it short, hire a good PR agency to ensure you get decent publicity and try not to publish just before Christmas.
Ian Naismith is head of pensions market development at Scottish Widows.
The views expressed are those of the author and not those of the company he represents.IFAonline
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