News Archive

Property vs pension

November 2019

When it comes to saving money for retirement, the number of people who prefer property to pensions is on the rise.

Property has had some massive growth over the years, and UK house prices have far outstripped inflation, by some 3% a year since 1955.

But the UK stock market has grown faster still, gaining investors on average over 6% above inflation, over the same time period.*

Property can be time consuming and requires a lot of effort and buying and selling can be costly and drawn out.

Investing in a pension can be more relaxed. When you put money in, you get a boost from the Government of up to 45%. A generous tax perk, and one of the main reasons why so many people put money in a pension in the first place.

Like the stock market, the value of property can fluctuate, and property with a mortgage, is at risk of falling into negative equity if house prices fall. With tax benefits on property not as generous or rewarding as they once were.

Pension or property

One is not necessarily better than the other. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and what’s right for you depends on how comfortable you are with the risks of each.

Investing is all about distributing money in order to benefit from a decent return, and there’s no reason property and pensions can’t complement each other as part of a investment portfolio.

*Numis and London Business School.


Customer retention is a growing challenge for Life and Pension providers

November 2019

It’s difficult to provide the best customer experience if you can’t get in touch with your lost customers.

With 11% of the UK population moving house every year and an average of 2% to 5% of all mail returned to sender*, this is a growing challenge for life insurance and pension providers. Also, some customers pass away, leaving unclaimed funds that need to be delivered to their next of kin.

The benefits of being in touch with every customer

The ability to reunite loyal customers and their families with funds owed to them is a positive outcome which creates brand affinity. Organisations that do it right can create and receive significant brand value in the eyes of the customer.

Life insurance and pension providers who fall short on this requirement could be disciplined by the FCA with the risk of financial penalties and damage to brand and reputation.

Overcoming current challenges

In the quest to find and contact customers, manual customer tracking and tracing processes are creating a challenge for many organisations. The current manual approaches to finding typically thousands of lost customers can be slow, time-consuming and expensive.

As an additional challenge, many life insurance and pension providers need more data and insight to identify and reconnect with their lost customers effectively. If limited information is available about customers, organisations can’t be sure that they are reaching the right customer at the right address.

Accurate, relevant data is required to validate a customer’s latest available contact details, to ensure that communications always reach their intended recipients.

*Research conducted by Office of National Statistics


Over 60s miss out on thousands of pounds of pension savings

November 2019

Savers over the age of 60 are throwing away up to £1.75bn in pension contributions by opting out of their workplace schemes, according to figures from Royal London. (The UK’s largest mutual life, pensions and investment company).

They analysed their own figures, which indicated a 23 per cent opt-out rate among the over 60s compared with 10 per cent across all other age groups.

According to Royal London’s calculations, an individual in their 60s on the average wage, paying the minimum pension contribution of 8 per cent would have a retirement pot of just under £14,000 by the time they reach age 65.

Given that pension contributions are made up of contributions from workers and their employer, to which tax relief from the government is added, individuals would only need to contribute about £6,600 of their own money to achieve this outcome.

This means by opting out of their pension each member could be missing out on £7,000 each, the mutual insurer stated.

Royal London looked at the six-week window when a member is first auto-enrolled in a workplace pension scheme and has the choice to leave and get all their contributions back.

According to data from the Labour Force Survey, there are approximately 1.1m people aged 60 or over who are in full-time employment, which means more than 250,000 people could be affected.

If each saver stands to lose up to £7,000, then collectively this group could be missing out on as much as £1.75bn in retirement savings by opting out, Royal London added.

According to Helen Morrissey, pension specialist at Royal London, it is understandable that someone aged 60 might think it is too late to save enough to make a difference to their retirement income, but she stressed “they are wrong”.

She said: “Our figures show older workers are throwing away thousands of pounds on retirement income by opting out of their scheme. We would urge anyone thinking of opting out of their auto-enrolment scheme to think twice before doing so.”

“If the decision to opt out is solely down to budgetary pressure and not being able to afford pension contributions - then it might be understandable. I am more concerned that people opt out because 'it's not worth doing'. The problem with that is they will lose employer contributions and tax relief.”

"I have long been surprised at the small, but significant, number of people saying “no” to what is effectively free money. More thought and effort should, in my opinion, be put into educating the over 60s as to the very real benefits they’re giving up."


Encouraging loyalty and retention within Financial Services

October 2019

The emergence of online comparison sites over the past 15 years has given customers a wider choice when buying financial products online (insurance being a classic example). For brands this means it’s increasingly difficult to connect with customers to provide a positive brand experience. The customer experience is one of the biggest factors for encouraging loyalty and retention.

How can brands improve loyalty and retention?

Developing a predictive customer journey, data-driven model will clearly show how customers really behave and reveal patterns and trends that can highlight who customers are, and when then leave – providing the opportunity to interact with them before they do so.

Acting positively in response to customer needs will improve the customer’s experience. Key triggers for financial decisions such as moving home and retiring, and insight into financial holdings and attitudes, can help brands engage customers with the most relevant offers and information.

Happy and loyal customers

Customer experience is crucial and brands that can ensure their communications are relevant, personal and well-timed will be more successful at keeping customers happy and increasing customer loyalty.

However, it’s not all about discounting and price. Financial services businesses should consider defining those seeking a higher level of service and whether they would be willing to pay more for it. It could well be that in today’s instant online world certain customer segments want reassurance, guidance and increased security and don’t mind paying a little more for it.


Customer experience is king – but marketers still struggle to understand the needs and wants of their audience

October 2019

In an increasingly connected world, customers expect real and authentic interactions with brands.

To meet these demands, brands are shifting the way they think about “customers” and are starting to think of them as people; people who have real lives, relationships and desires rather than numbers that consist simply of views, clicks or transactions.

Brands that can deliver on these customer expectations know the people who buy and use their products at a deeper, more intimate level. This knowledge goes beyond standard demographics like gender, age or income to include their attitudes, wants and needs.

How do these people spend their time? How do they engage with your brand and with other brands? How do they behave as individuals; not just members of a specific demographic?

A more complete picture of customers

Of course, there is still a place for traditional segmentation techniques – marketers just have to use other data sources alongside them to get a more complete picture of their customers. A more thorough understanding of customers is needed more than ever before. Fortunately, with the number of devices and the connected nature of modern people there is much more data available for analysis.

The future of marketing is driven by sophisticated connected, consumers who expect exceptional experiences every time. Given the choice available to consumers it’s the customer experience that’s become the differentiator. Brands have to work that much harder to win customer loyalty, purchase-by-purchase and engagement-by-engagement.

Customise the customer experience

To stand out, today’s marketers must take a ‘deep dive’ into their customers’ individual preferences and purchase paths to customise the experience around their unique and evolving needs.

You’re only as good as your last interaction, so it’s incredibly important to always get it right. If you don’t give your customer an exceptional experience, other companies will.

Consumers will continue to change. New purchase channels will emerge, existing customers will have new needs and life moments that will change their preferences and new generations of consumers will emerge introducing new trends and opportunities for engagement.

To keep up – and stay one step ahead – we need to adapt and build our businesses to support the customer experience.


New additions to Concert’s client family

September 2019

We’re delighted to announce the two most recent additions to our growing family of lovely clients.

Last year, the Pearson Pension Plan produced paper communications about the Annual Allowance. This year, they’ve asked Concert help design, develop and deliver a more cost-effective and contemporary online solution to this complex member communication challenge.

We’ve also partnered with the Northumbrian Water Pension Scheme who were looking for a creative agency that could understand their desire for a refreshed and reinvigorated brand identity, and deliver it swiftly.

In both cases, what impressed our new clients most wasn’t just our ability, but also our attitude! We feel relationships are best built face to face and we always go the extra mile to make sure we really understand what our clients want, and why!

We look forward to working with both the Pearson Pension Plan and the Northumbrian Water Pension Scheme, and helping them take member engagement to the next level.


Concert Consulting appoints Mel Burton as copywriter

September 2019

A photograph of Mel Burton

Mel is an experienced copy and content writer, specialising in financial services. With a solid marketing background and client, agency and consultancy experience, across all media. He has a proven track record of writing, developing and delivering insight driven, targeted marketing communications that bring the subject matter to life.

He joins Concert with the responsibility for ensuring that copy and content are creative, engaging, and appropriate for the client’s needs and corporate branding.

Mel writes copy and content with clarity, focusing on the member or employee experience and improving readability. With a hands on approach to delivering complex information in a fluent, jargon free, consistent tone of voice, whilst still meeting legal and compliance conditions.

A team player with drive, leadership and motivational qualities.

Prior to joining Concert, Mel has been working as a specialist financial services copy and content writer, working across a varied, diverse client base.

Mel Burton said: “This is an exciting time to be joining Concert, and I am looking forward to helping them deliver communication strategies that change how people think and act, by refining complexity, whilst linking messages directly to identified audiences.”


Quiz – Could you spot a pensions scam?

August 2019

The law recently changed to help crack down on pension scams but would you spot a pension scam if you saw or heard one? Take this quiz to find out….

https://www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart/pensions-scam-quiz


The importance of accessibility in web applications

August 2019

What is accessibility?

Accessibility is an approach to designing and building things that considers and accounts for people of all levels of ability. Out in the real-world evidence of accessibility can been seen in most public spaces. Public buildings are designed with ramps for people who can’t manage stairs. Elevator controls are marked with braille and a recorded voice announces the current floor for those who can’t see well enough. Signs use icons and symbols to help people that don’t or can’t read English. The common theme with all these examples is that we don’t assume everyone is the same, with the same abilities, and we make provisions to include as many people as reasonably possible.

So how do we apply principles of accessibility to the development of web applications? The same principles of inclusivity and consideration apply to the design of web applications as with their real-world counterparts. And as with their real-world counterparts the most effective application of accessibility begins at the start of the project at the design stage. While it is possible to retrofit some features of accessibility to an existing development, the same way you can add a ramp to a staircase in a real-world example, considering accessibility from the beginning results in more optimal outcomes. By considering the needs of people with a wide range of abilities, early design decisions can be made where access isn’t limited arbitrarily. Returning to our real-world example, a building could be designed without steps at the entrance, removing the need to add a ramp in later.

The assistive technology that supports the use of web applications has come on a long way in recent years. A significant proportion of computers and web-browsing software support numerous control interfaces out of the box. These include mouse, trackpad, keyboard, touchscreen and trackball. Also in common use is screen reading technology that converts onscreen text to synthesized speech or braille. For all these technologies to work properly the content and user interfaces of the web application must be built to support them. This means writing standards compliant mark-up (HTML) and using WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes appropriately to describe the content semantically. This assists the reading technology in understanding the content presenting it to the user in the most useful and appropriate way.

Use of colour is another important part of accessible design. There are two common misuses of colour in web applications. The first is relying only on colour to convey information. Nearly 5% of all people have some degree of colour-blindness. They might struggle to understand the difference between a successful interaction and a failed interaction if the only indication of success is a change in colour. The second is using colours with insufficient contrast, particularly where text is displayed over a background colour or image. Even people without visual impairments struggle to read low contrast text and may miss an important interface feature or call-to-action.

Why is accessibility important?

If you have a message you need to communicate to as many people as possible then it doesn’t make sense to exclude people from your chosen medium of communication. Building a web application in accordance with principles of accessibility reduces the number of people who are excluded because of their ability. Furthermore, techniques that improve accessibility often improve general usability as well, which is of benefit to everyone. This is particularly true when it comes to building responsive applications designed to work on small touch screens like mobile phones. Another technical benefit is that Google assigns higher search results rank to websites that score well in accessibility tests.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for considering accessibility is that it is the law. The 2010 Equalities Act, and the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act that preceded it, makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled people when providing services. Discrimination is defined as not making reasonable adjustments to support everyone, regardless of (dis)ability. What constitutes reasonable adjustments is open to interpretation and will depend on the size of the organisation and the degree to which people will be affected by any failure to provide for them. There is an internationally recognised accessibility framework, the WCAG, that sets out three broad levels of accessibility provision (A, AA and AAA). For the majority of organisations meeting the requirements set out in level AA is usually sufficient.


Every picture tells a story

August 2019

Choosing the right images for your Scheme/Plan

Often businesses find it very difficult to choose the right images for their website, social media and other marketing communications. This is particularly the case in service-based industries, but there are still many ways to tell your story visually and capture the members’ attention.

Here are our top 5 tips for choosing images:

  1. Quality not quantity – Use good quality images, if possible use real-life examples (the Committee or your members), if that’s not possible use stock photography which is approved for editorial use.

  2. Avoid clichés – When stock images are the only option available, choose wisely and use pictures which tell a story.
  3. Be creative – Try not to be too literal, instead, suggest the experience or choose a theme.
  4. Show people – Use images of people your audience will identify with ie. images which represent the demographic of your pension.
  5. Always stay true to your brand – Only choose images which fit your core brand values and character (what your business stands for and how you want it to come across to members).

Visual storytelling is a great tool for providing members with a window into your Scheme/Plan. Use it wisely and creatively to build a picture that sparks interest and invites engagement and it will lead to your communications being more successful.

And of course, we’re here to help! At Concert we follow these tips when selecting photography for our own clients projects.

Need some inspiration?

If you need some further inspiration here’s a great post by DIYGenius about visual storytelling with 15 examples, although this is specifically for Instagram, lots of the advice applies to choosing photography in general: www.diygenius.com/brilliant-examples-of-visual-storytelling-on-instagram/


Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd remains in post

July 2019

Wednesday 24 July heralded a new era for British politics with Boris Johnson’s taking the reigns as Britain’s latest Prime Minister. His first job, to appoint his Cabinet colleagues saw the biggest ministerial shake up in living history.

Whilst Mr Johnson’s appointments will see a number of Government Departments with a new ministerial lead, The Department of Work and Pensions is one of the few where the status quo remains, with Amber Rudd remaining as Minister for Work and Pensions.

In a time of uncertainty, with Brexit still unresolved and Mr Johnson announcing his plans for sweeping changes, the fact that pensions appear to remain stable is welcome news.


Working in Concert

July 2019

Five people in the Concert Consulting office working on a creative project

We talk a lot about our ‘creative process’ for designing, developing and delivering first-class communications for our lovely clients.

Ever wondered what our creative process looks like? It looks a lot like us in this picture!

Simply put, we get together members of each of our core business areas – consulting, design, digital and production – then lock them in a room and don’t let them out until they have great ideas!

Well, okay, not really – but everything we do starts and ends with great communication. From the moment we take a brief from a client, to campaign and project planning, to delivering to our ‘end users’: your employees and members – it’s all about great conversations and effective communications.

It’s what we do and who we are.

 


Gamification: is it winning?

July 2019

It’s almost the fifth anniversary of the launch of the first high profile ‘gamified retirement saving app’.

This featured a family of cartoon nuts and bolts and was designed to educate staff about saving levels, and to encourage younger staff to engage with pensions and long-term saving by playing something like a cross between Pac-Man and Jungle Run.

The launch was part of a five-year ‘saving for your future’ campaign and was based on the power of games to engage people.

There’s no debating this power. The global turnover of the gaming industry back then was estimated at around $70bn. Now it’s almost doubled to $134.9bn.

But surely claiming that playing a video game that involves collecting coins can help encourage people to save more for retirement is like saying playing Space Invaders can help to increase the likelihood of people joining the Inter-Planetary Diplomatic Corps…

The serious point here though is that creating this kind of game, just isn’t gamification.

Gamification is about finding ways to generate the sense of achievement, reward and progress that people feel as they carry out a task or process that they need to do anyway (or that you want them to do) by adding ‘gamified elements’ such as points, perks or prizes, linked to how the task or process is completed.

Inside Amazon’s cavernous warehouse near Manchester, as many employees race to fill customer orders, their progress is reflected in a video game format. It’s part of an initiative by the e-commerce giant to help both reduce the tedium of its physically demanding jobs and improve the efficiency of work like plucking items from or stowing products on shelves.

The games are displayed on small screens at employees’ workstations and, with names such as MissionRacer, Dragon Duel and CastleCrafter, look a lot like old-school video games e.g. Donkey Kong and SuperMario. The games can register the completion of the task, which is tracked by scanning devices, and can pit individuals, teams or entire floors in a race to pick or stow products. Game-playing employees (it’s optional, not compulsory) are rewarded with points, virtual badges and other goodies throughout a shift.

There may be debates about whether it’s appropriate to reward improved performance with badges rather than bonuses, but there’s no debating that this is true gamification.

By extension, gamifying saving for retirement would look more like rewarding members who increase their AVCs with a t-shirt, or those who login to their member account every month for a year with a hat or some vouchers.

The pension industry may see that as trivialising what is obviously an important and serious issue, but it will be interesting to see what, if any, results are publicised at the end of the five-year campaign.


How to spill coffee and influence people

June 2019

You may be aware of the role of ‘influencers’ in modern marketing strategy.

According to digitalmarketinginstitute.com, influencers are people who have established credibility in a specific industry, have access to a huge audience and can persuade others to act based on their recommendations.

You may not be aware of Omar the construction guy.

Omar is a regular guy who was frankly unimpressed with his daughter’s strong affiliation with various social media influencers, claiming that ‘anyone could do that’. He then went on to prove his point by creating his own Instagram influencer account (justaconstructionguy) and posting pictures of himself going about his daily business in the visual style of typical social media influencers. In around a month he racked up over 333,000 followers, all avidly awaiting the next image of Omar drinking coffee on his break on the building site, or dramatically splashing his coffee over a construction sign…

The internet was delighted. Sadly, it turned out Omar was actually not a spoof influencer but an actual influencer in an ad campaign for… a coffee shop…

The internet is still debating whether to laugh at itself or be outraged but the story got us thinking about whether or not there is a role for social media influencers in the context of saving for retirement.

Engaging people – especially across the younger age range – around saving for retirement has been an ongoing challenge but as the media and technology landscape evolves, it throws up new ways to tackle this challenge. Maybe influencers could be the next big thing.

The idea of somehow getting YouTube and Instagram influencers to take a break from extolling the virtues of the latest fashion, beauty, food and beverage trends to comment meaningfully on the advantages of starting to save for the future – certainly has some appeal.

According to Kamiu Lee, CEO of Activate, writing for Entrepreneur Europe, influencers can humanise financial brands and highlight philanthropic efforts in a way that more traditional and other digital marketing struggles to deliver.

Let's face it – pretty much all finance topics can be complicated, boring and even a bit scary. And on top of that, financial institutions have long had a reputation that doesn't put them on the list of consumers' favourite brands, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis.

Here, Kamiu believes, influencers are uniquely positioned to connect a brand to a personal story in a way that's superior to what a traditional print or digital ad could do. Connecting a brand and its products to a personal life journey - whether that be paying for a wedding, financing a renovation or saving for retirement -- is all about bringing a friendly brand connotation, relatability and authenticity to these financial brands and the concepts they service.

As communications people, this makes a lot of sense to us but we’re also conscious of the challenges that are specific to the financial services sector. Indeed, Kamiu also highlights the requirements of various financial regulatory bodies across the world and the need for no clear product placement or recommendations occurring in a post about a financial brand as well as clear disclosure around an influencer's paid posts.

But even setting these regulatory framework considerations aside, is that even possible to ride of the coattails of social media influencers with message of saving for your future anyway?

According to Antonio Grasso (a self-proclaimed B2B Influencer in the area of digital transformation), an influencer is someone with the ability to change behaviours or affect purchase decisions in a given context, having already earned an engaged audience by producing content on specific topics. And influencer marketing aims to harness the influence of key individuals on the social web to meet a business goal by building mutually beneficial relationships.

In other words, influencers are typically more about preaching to the converted and creating a place for them to congregate, than they are about converting those whose ear they don’t already have.

As behavioural psychology tells us that people tend to ‘filter out’ messages that they aren’t already aligned around or on board with, the idea of influencing young people about saving for their future when they’re engaging with content about the latest trainers feels a little remoter.

Maybe if Omar had posted a few shots of himself increasing his monthly pension contribution instead of splashing all that coffee around…


5g and You

June 2019

The much anticipated fifth generation standard for cellular network communications, 5g, looks set to revolutionise the way we use the internet.

Vastly improved performance in three key areas will enable intensive tasks traditionally confined to a WiFi or cabled environment to be completed on the move, in addition to brand new workflows, products and services like the ‘Internet of Things’ that could not have existed under previous network architectures.

However, there are also technological drawbacks to 5g compared to the 3g and 4g (LTE) that we are used to, and more than one company involved in the rollout of 5g infrastructure across the world has been implicated in controversy. What do all of these factors mean for the way we conduct business, and live our lives?

The specification
The new 5g network specification is primarily concerned with achieving the following improvements over prior implementations:

  1. Greater speed

    The much higher bandwidth of 5g connections is expected to provide worst-case bitrates in excess of 100 megabits per second to all users, and a theoretical maximum of up to 20 gigabits (20,000 megabits) per second in ideal conditions. For comparison, current 4g LTE networks provide an average of between 5 and 10 megabits per second, with peak performance approaching 50 megabits per second in perfect conditions. Google Fiber, the superfast fibre optic network operated by the global search giant, operates at 1 gigabit per second over a cable or high performance WiFi router.

    In other words, the ‘worst case’ 5g speed will be 2 to 4 times faster than the current average speed, with a ‘top speed’ around 400 times faster than the current 4g top speed.

  2. Reduced latency

    Connection latency is a measure of the delay between a device sending a signal and receiving a response from the network, and is unrelated to connection bandwidth.

    A good demonstration of this is watching a Youtube video over your cellular network, followed by conducting a video call. Both videos will likely run at lower resolution than they would over WiFi due to bandwidth constraints, but you may also notice that your video conversation feels ‘laggy’ or desynchronised in a way that Youtube doesn’t. Your contact might take half a second longer to reply to you than you are expecting, and you find yourselves speaking over one another more than you would in person. This is the effect of latency; a fractional delay between you speaking words and your contact hearing them, compounded by the same delay in the other direction when they respond.

    5g network technology is expected to reduce latency to between 1 and 4 milliseconds, comparable to a good WiFi connection. 3g and 4g have average latency greater than 50 milliseconds. The benefit of this will extend to every real-time interaction performed on the network, from video and voice calls to online gaming and general web application responsiveness.

  3. Many more simultaneous connections

    All wireless networks, from 3g and 4g cellular to WiFi and Bluetooth, suffer reduced performance in both bandwidth and latency in busy environments. This is due in part to increased congestion causing interference on whichever frequency band the network uses, and in part to the upper limit on simultaneous data transfers from a given antenna being reached. Interference reduces download speed as more pieces of whatever is being downloaded will arrive corrupted and must be reacquired, and reaching the simultaneous connection limit puts surplus connections in a queue for service, adding greatly to latency.

    5g network broadcasts are directional, allowing many more transmitters to be used in the same location without interfering with one another. This significantly raises the number of connections that can be maintained in a given area using 5g compared to the same area using 4g, alleviating the issues mentioned above.

So what does this all mean for the world of saving for retirement?
As with previous generations of mobile communication technology, we can expect 5g to drive up demand for faster and slicker ways to consume content – even about pensions. Online content about pension benefits has to be accurate and up-to-date but unless it’s also accessible in a way that’s in line with wider communication trends, then it’s at risk of looking old-fashioned and irrelevant.

Saving for retirement already has a bit of a ‘street-cred issue’ – especially for younger people – so failing to keep up with technology is a mistake our industry cannot afford to make.


How Brexit delay is affecting pensions

June 2019

The Brexit process now seems likely to run until October 2019.

One of the effects of this is that a new pensions bill, planned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to be written into law during 2019, is now unlikely to be passed before 2020.

This means that five major pensions initiatives could face a delay of unknown duration:

  • Pensions scams: the cold-calling ban introduced in January was a welcome step, but measures to make it easier for schemes to block suspect transfers and harder for scammers to establish fake schemes
  • Mid-life MOT: an obligation on all employers to support a financial health-check for employees
  • Pensions dashboards: set to become a reality later this year (on a voluntary basis), the real value for rests on making it compulsory that all schemes provide information
  • Collective defined contribution (CDC) schemes: these plans are designed to offer a halfway house between defined benefit and defined contribution and Royal Mail is keen to adopt CDC for its 140,000 UK staff
  • Defined benefit (DB) consolidation: although DB consolidation is already possible, the DWP wants to allow DB “superfunds” to drive consolidation of smaller schemes to maximise potential cost savings as long as members have equal protections to those of other DB schemes.

All of above initiatives could bring tangible benefits, but all require new legislation and it’s currently unclear when a new pensions bill will be at the top of the Parliamentary agenda.


Don’t forget your pension

May 2019

When people move to a new job, they often move to a new pension plan. The problem is that they also ‘leave’ their old pension and can forget about it.

Although almost all pension plans send scheme members annual information, one of the most common reasons why people lose track of pensions not updating their contact details when they move house.

The Association of British Insurers estimates that more than 1.6 million pensions worth over £19.4bn are “lost”.

With 10 million people now auto-enrolled in workplace pensions, the issue is going to get worse.

If you move house, you should write to all your pension providers to tell them your new contact details. If the providers can’t be tracked down, you can get help from the government-backed Pension Tracing Service or by calling 0800 731 0193.


GMP equalisation delayed by HMRC

May 2019

Earlier this month, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) announced that data needed to enable pension schemes to confirm the guaranteed minimum pension (GMP) benefits payable to members won’t be available as planned. The detailed GMP information won’t now be available until November 2019 at the earliest.

The delay is in response to pension industry concerns about the complexity and cost of resolving GMP data issues. As a result, HMRC will run additional automated GMP reconciliation exercises on top of the checks and calculations from its original plan.

Given the size of the issue, industry experts warned that further delays might be likely – especially for those schemes undergoing transactions, such as buy-ins, or member option exercises.


Making plans with Nationwide

May 2019

It was great to see Ness, Amanda and Helen at our offices this week for a planning meeting. As always, there is much to be done for the Nationwide Pension Fund and keeping things on track is key. Thank you for your input and looking forward to the next one.


Pensions – Are You Saving Enough?

May 2019

ITV’s “Tonight” aired a program last week questioning whether the general public are saving enough for a comfortable retirement. “Pensions – Are you saving enough?” challenged three working volunteers to live on their future predicted pension pots for a week to investigate.

It is estimated that 60% of people don’t know how much is in their pension pots and the program highlighted concerns and fears from members of the public regarding the future of their finances. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people are not saving enough for a comfortable retirement and some say this can be attributed to the way pensions information is being communicated. The pensions industry is now working towards simplifying communications so that they resonate more with the general public to encourage people to pay more into their pension pots.

After following the three volunteers, the program demonstrated the difficulty that many people would face if trying to live on the amount per week that they would receive from their predicted pension pot. Despite the introduction of Auto-enrolment in 2012, 1 in 4 people are still not paying into a workplace pension scheme, meaning that they will be relying solely on the state pension once they reach retirement. Retirement planning is important and getting advice from a financial adviser can be extremely beneficial if you have concerns over whether you’ll have saved enough for retirement.

“Pensions – Are You Saving Enough?” is available to watch on ITV Player until the end of May.


Auto-enrolment contributions to increase

April 2019

The contribution you make to your pension is set to increase on the 6th of April of this year. Both you and your employer will pay an increased amount of 8% through auto-enrolment rather than 5% as in recent years. This increase in contribution equates to an increased amount of 5% of your salary being paid in to your workplace pension, up from 3%.

Date Employer Minimum Contribution Employee Contribution Total Minimum Contribution
New rate: 6 April 2019 onwards 3% 5% 8%
Current rate: 6 April 2018 to 5 April 2019 2% 3% 5%

Someone earning the average wage in the UK of £28,759 will be paying £75.41 from the 6th April, which is £29.96 more than the current rate. Opting out of auto-enrolment may sound a tempting option for some, however, by doing so, you are essentially turning down both your employer’s contribution and tax relief from the government, which is free money and could help to grow your pension pot. Another useful benefit of saving through enrolment, is that you could be earning investment returns on your money, which will help your pension pot to grow.

With the State Pension ages set to increase these small increased contributions through Auto Enrolment could pay dividends to your future.


Pensions Lifetime Allowance is set to rise

April 2019

From the 6th of April 2019, the Lifetime Allowance is set to increase. The Lifetime Allowance is the amount of money that you can put in to your pension savings, before tax charges apply. The amount is rising from £1,030,000 to £1,055,000 for the 2019/2020 tax year. This increase is a product of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure of inflation, which determines the change in pension Lifetime Allowance year on year. The CPI measure of inflation this year was calculated at 2.4%.

This change will offer the chance for workers to save more money in their pension pots before they get hit with a large tax sum. Although this is positive news for some savers, there is also the annual allowance to consider, which limits the contribution that workers can pay in to their pension on a yearly basis.


Pensioner income from occupational schemes

March 2019

Government statistics have revealed that the proportion of pensioner income from occupational schemes has fallen for the first time since 2005.

A study from the Government across all pensioners’ households, showed that the income from occupational pensions provided 27.8% of gross income in the last full tax year, having reduced from 29.9%, which was recorded the year before.

It was recorded by the Department for Work and Pensions (in its publication of its Pensioners’ Income Series) that the fall equated to a drop of £160 to £148 in average weekly income.

Single pensioners faced the biggest cut, with the proportion of gross income declining from 27.6% to 25.1%. Comparatively, pensioners living in couples saw a smaller reduction in the proportion of gross income, dropping from 31% to 29.2%.

Additionally, in 2017/2018, couples saw a rise in gross income by £15 per week, compared with pensioner households who were recorded as experiencing a £3 fall. Single households were hit the hardest with £20 less per week.

Pensioners in receipt of occupational pensions have also declined compared with previous years. Pensioner households receiving funds from a workplace scheme fell from 62% to 59% in 2017/2018, coinciding with a drop in weekly income from £259 to £254. When looking only at recently-retired households, the decline is more significant and those in receipt of occupational pensions dropped from 61% to 55%.

Nathan Long, Senior Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown describes, “There's yet more evidence that pensioners are being punished as a result of quantitative easing, with income from savings and investments on the slide, the data so far shows that semi-retirement is gathering pace fairly slowly as defined benefit pensions are still supporting more traditional retirements.”

Source


Concert’s crystal ball

February 2019

With the start of the new tax year on the horizon, many organisations are looking ahead to 2019/20.

The Pensions Management Institute is no exception and this month’s edition of their in-house magazine, Pension Aspects, takes a look at upcoming trends in communication – including an article co-written by our very own Jerry Edmondson.


When communciation doesn’t help

February 2019

Despite being published on a Sunday, this BBC article about the April increase to auto-enrolment contribution rates didn’t escape our attention.

As communication consultants, you’d be forgiven for thinking our perspective would be ‘all publicity is good publicity’ but there are times when that’s not necessarily the case. This is one of them.

The headline is actually pretty alarmist and negative. You can argue it’s doing its bit to raise awareness but it’s not so easy to say that its raising understanding in equal measure…

If you read the article in full (and many won’t), it’s hard to see why the imminent 2% increase in employee contributions should trigger a significantly higher spike in opt-out rates than the last 2% increase in April 2018.

In the first three months after last year’s increase, the opt out rate was 0.7%. This was only very marginally higher than the previous 4 year average rate of 0.6%.

Since that increase, those who didn’t opt-out (that’s the other 99.3%) will have become used to seeing that 3% deduction. Yes, the incremental step-up to 5% will be noticed but the question is will it be noticed enough to signicicanlty increase the number of existing members opting-out? We’re not so sure.

People being auto-enrolled for the first time could certainly feel that 5% is a bit steep, but a 2% increase when you’re already paying 3% is arguably going to feel less significant than a 2% increase when you’re only paying 1%. You could argue that the opt-out rate in this group may even be lower.

This was always one of the key points of the auto-enrolment design – action though inertia.

Headlines that focus on the ‘hit to pay packets’ and using the soundbites like ‘auto-enrolmageddon’ might be good for page views but by focussing on the negative they do little to help people understand why they need to save for retirement – which is the real story.


Should Trustees take professional communications help?

February 2019

By Jerry Edmondson

Last week, Professional Pensions publicised the results of its ‘Pensions Buzz’ that asked the question ‘do trustees need professional help with communications’?

I’m not sure whether copyright restrictions allow me to reveal the results (although you can take a look for yourself right here) but I’ll admit to a few pangs of anxiety before the ‘big reveal’.

I mean, what if the consensus was ‘no’?

Could this usher in a new age of ‘homemade’ or ‘DIY’ member communications in which trustees cranked out member benefit statements by hand using an old-style print press like the Croxford Reliant?

Happily, I needn’t have worried.

And that’s good news because, having been involved with the communication of pensions (and other employee benefits) for, ahem, almost 30 years, the question whether or not trustees need professional help with communications simply hasn’t come up. Not once…

Naturally, that’s largely due to the disclosure-driven requirement to communicate. It’s not as if it’s a matter of choice for trustees.

But equally it’s been a matter of access to appropriate and expert resources.

Even if trustees have to send printed matter to some or all members every year, buying and running their own print press isn’t really a viable option. Similarly, if they want to make information available on the new-fangled interweb, Trustees probably don’t want to create and populate their own ‘web-development and maintenance sub-committee’.

So getting help to do what needs to be done makes a lot of sense and, in this context, trustees have ALWAYS needed professional help to communicate with members.

The real question being asked by Pensions Buzz is probably more around the nature of the communications advice given to, and agreed by, trustees.

I've mostly spent those 30 years offering advice to trustees not about whether to communicate with members, or even about what to communicate to them, but rather how to communicate with members.

There was a big shift with the rise of DC, and the recognition that members had to make decisions that could and often would materially affect the quality of their life in retirement. Eventually, DC communication became more about inspiration and less about information as the challenges of helping ‘normal people’ (and that excludes just about everyone reading this article) get their heads around ‘pensions stuff’ became clearer and more acute.

Since the introduction of Pensions Freedoms four years ago, the same challenges have been becoming increasing clear in the DB context too and how trustees view DB communication is evolving as a result.

No self-respecting trustee would dream of failing to seek appropriate professional advice in matters of investment or actuarial valuation. A few may challenge that advice, but I suspect that number is microscopic in comparison to the challenges received in respect of communications advice.

It’s understandable. We live in the communication technology age and we all communicate all the time; so it’d be crazy to think that anyone has no opinion on what is good, or bad, communication.

But, as with actuarial and investment advice, the key to success in terms of ‘doing the right thing’ is listening to appropriately expert advice.

For example, over the years, I’ve lobbied trustee groups to carry out detailed member research many, many times. More often than not, that advice has not been accepted. Sometimes, but not always, for good reasons. But in every instance where member research has been done well, the results have been unexpected and hugely helpful in terms of making member communications more effective. Every instance.

Do trustees need professional help to communicate with members? Yes, absolutely.

But, if trustees really want to help members try and get their heads in the complicated, boring and slightly scary pensions game, then those trustees need professional communications advice at least as much, if not more.


Concert Consulting appoints Lee Bacon as Head of Production

February 2019

Lee joins Concert with a specific focus on managing our digital, design and production hub in Bristol. Lee’s appointment is Concert’s second major appointment in the last quarter, following the recent recruitment of Jerry Edmondson as Consulting Director, as the business continues to expand.

Prior to joining Concert, Lee held communication roles at major insurer and pensions provider Legal & General and at communications agency Ferrier Pearce.

Most recently, he was Lead Communication Projects Consultant at Sparks, the communication and engagement business of Capita Employee Solutions.

Lee Bacon said:
"It’s an exciting time to be joining Concert. We have an enviable track record of providing creative ideas and innovative solutions for both employers and trustees and I’m really looking forward to helping take Concert to the next level.”

Peter Walsh, Managing Director of Concert Consulting, said:
"We’re delighted that Lee’s joined us. He brings detailed design and production experience as well as communications expertise and industry knowledge. Lee will help us evolve and refine our existing processes, as well as develop new ways of delivering for our clients, so we can continue to delight them."


Five fold increase in people seeking information about pension scams

December 2018

Following an awareness campaign in the summer by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Pensions Regulator (TPR) there has been a huge increase in people visiting the FCA’s ScamSmart website, www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart.

The ScamSmart website allows you to find out more about avoiding scams, as well as check pension opportunities you may have been offered.

Before the awareness campaign, the average number of visits to ScamSmart website per day was 562, however after the campaign this increased to an average of 3,145 visits per day.

Research from the FCA shows that in just one year over 10 million UK adults received an unsolicited pension offer, and victims of pension scams last year lost an average of £91,000 each to scammers. In addition, new research suggests that 52% of 45-65 year olds with a pension do not think they are likely to be targeted by a pension scam. 21% thought they are too smart to be scammed and 18% thought they didn’t have enough money saved into their pension to be a target.

Nicola Parish, TPR’s executive director of frontline regulation, said: “The dramatic increase in the number of people visiting ScamSmart for information is very encouraging. Every pension holder is a potential scam victim so it’s vital that we continue spreading the word about scammers and how they operate to prevent more people handing over their funds to criminals.”

Head to www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart and see if you can spot an investment scam from a smart investment.


Ben & Jerry join Concert

November 2018

We promise that there will be zero ice cream puns in this piece!

We are thrilled to welcome Ben Havery and Jerry Edmondson to Concert. Ben is joining us as a Digital Developer and Jerry as Consulting Director.

Jerry brings over 20 years of communications experience and will be responsible for shaping our offering to the market going forward, with an emphasis on new technology and wider benefit communications. Jerry is a Sunderland fan and Ben isn’t quite sure what football is as it can’t be played on a laptop. Both are great guys and we can’t wait to introduce them to our clients and get to work.

These appointments are a response to our continued growth and desire to expand what we can offer our clients.

Peter Walsh, MD of Concert commented ‘We could not be more excited to welcome Ben and Jerry to the team and continue on our 'rocky road' to success.’ [sorry!]


Three pension updates to come out of the Budget 2018

November 2018

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, delivered his Budget speech on 29 October. Outlined below are some important pension updates included in the Budget.

The Pension Dashboard

Philip Hammond committed to a consultation later in the year on the implementation of the Pension Dashboard and the inclusion of State Pension information. The expected launch date of March 2019 is fast approaching, however a spokesperson for AJ Bell commented, “the fact a commitment has finally been made by the DWP to provide State Pension information is a positive step in the right direction.”

An additional £5 million a year for the DWP in 2019/20 is a symbol of commitment from the Government that it is taking this agenda forward.

‘Patient capital’ funding

Patient capital, another name for long term capital, is the capital an investor is willing to invest with no expectation of returning a quick profit, but with the anticipation of more substantial returns in the future.

Philip Hammond said actions were in place to get around £1trn of defined contribution (DC) assets to be invested in so-called ‘patient capital’. This is considered the most impactful announcement to come out of the Budget in respect of pensions.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will soon launch a consultation to allow unit-linked pension funds to invest in this type of asset class.

Cold-calling ban

This ban has been continually delayed for some time now, but it is now expected to take effect later this year.

The Treasury has published draft regulations to enable and enforce a ban on pensions cold-calling where consumers don’t already have an existing client relationship with the caller.


The Pensions Dashboard – an update on progress

October 2018

Background

In the 2016 Budget, the Government announced its intention to launch a Pensions Dashboard. The aim of the Dashboard is to allow individuals to view all their pension savings in one place, allowing them to consider all their retirement savings when planning. The original expectation was for this to be available from 2019.

The latest position

Earlier this year, it was reported that Esther McVey, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was considering scrapping the development of the Pensions Dashboard, despite hopes that it would encourage people to be more engaged with their retirement pot.

Subsequently, a petition, of over 100,000 signatures was delivered to the Government, calling on it to continue the development of the Dashboard. It argued that pension pots are at risk of being forgotten if the Dashboard is scrapped. Many individuals have multiple employers throughout their working life and there’s a need for a simpler way for individuals to keep track of their different pension pots.

At the recent Conservative Party conference, Guy Opperman, the Pensions Minister, confirmed the Government still supports the idea of the Pensions Dashboard, however it wasn’t in a position at this time to formally announce a policy, or changes to legislation, to compel pension providers to provide the information required to make the Dashboard a success.

The Financial Conduct Authority (the regulator for the financial services industry) has expressed its desire for the industry to take the lead on providing the Pensions Dashboard. Therefore, we may find that the project continues to progress, but as an industry-led project rather than one driven by the Government.


Pension transfers decrease in the second quarter of this year

October 2018

For the first time since the beginning of 2017, the funds transferred out of occupational pension schemes has decreased.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows individuals transferred out £8.2bn between April and June, which is down from £10.6bn in the previous quarter.

It is thought the majority of the transfers are from defined benefit (DB) pension schemes, and that people may have been transferring their DB pensions into defined contribution (DC) schemes in order to benefit from the pensions freedoms introduced in April 2015.

Product technical manager at Nucleus, Rachel Vahey, suggested the decrease in transfers could be a result of a number of reasons. Namely:

  • Increased public awareness around the issues associated with transferring DB pensions;
  • The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) focus on DB pension savings; and
  • Change in financial advisers approach to DB pension transfers.

Alan Chan, director and chartered financial planner at IFS Wealth & Pensions, said: “The increase in the base rate in August may have caused a further drop in transfer values from the heights we’ve seen over the past year or so.” He suggested this would make a transfer appear less attractive and so fewer people would be looking to transfer out of their existing DB pension scheme.


Over 55s are spending more time planning for a new car than preparing for retirement

October 2018

In a recent study conducted by Legal & General of more than 2,000 members over age 55, around one third spend less than a week making decisions regarding their pension income arrangements. Whereas, 40% claimed to spend more than a week deciding on a new car.

The study also found that 58% of over 55s, who are yet to retire, haven’t started to research the options available to them when accessing their pension pots. Emma Byron, Managing Director at L&G retail retirement said, “The flipside of the flexibility offered by pension reform, is that we are all now responsible for making sure our pension pots will last through our retirement. But, as a nation, we are not spending enough time thinking about this, and about how we want to use our pension.”

It’s never too late, nor too early, to start preparing for retirement. Could you be doing more to plan for your retirement?


An evening at the Savoy with TV personality and culinary expert Gregg Wallace

September 2018

We were recently delighted to host a culinary evening for our clients at the Savoy.

Under the watchful eye of Gregg Wallace many tried their hand at a little cooking in the Savoy kitchen, whilst others soaked up the atmosphere wining and dining the night away on fabulous food.

In true competition fashion, our guests were judged by Gregg and the Savoy Grill head chef. Sara Pinkstone took top prize, with Michael Chatterton and Stuart Walters close runners up. The Savoy does not usually allow anyone to cook in their kitchen but, thanks to Gregg, our guests were treated to a real once in a lifetime experience.

Enjoy swiping through the highlights of the evening. View all the photos on flikr.com


FCA director Jo Hill to join the Pensions Regulator

September 2018

There has been a newly created position at the Pensions Regulator (tPR) of Executive Director of Strategy & Risk.

Jo Hill will take on this new role at tPR in November, leaving her current position at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as Director of Market Intelligence, Data & Analysis.

Jo has a strong background in supervision, enforcement, insight and analysis. Mark Boyle, tPR’s chairman said: “The effective use of data in the early detection and mitigation of risks is crucial and through her wealth of experience and knowledge in this area, Jo will help maximise our effectiveness as we strive to make workplace pensions work for savers.”

In her new role, Jo will be responsible for ensuring tPR’s tougher and more proactive regulatory approach continues to influence how it works with the pensions industry. Mark Boyle also said: “I’m confident Jo will ensure our clearer, quicker and tougher strategy continues to have an impact.”


Petition to save Pensions Dashboard reaches over 100,000 signatures

September 2018

It was announced in the 2016 Budget that a Pensions Dashboard would be developed, with the expectation of being launched in 2019. It is hoped that this will allow individuals to view all their pension savings together in a single place.

However, earlier this year, it was reported that MP Esther McVey moved to scrap the Pensions Dashboard, despite hopes that it would encourage people to be more engaged with their retirement pot.

In response to Esther McVey’s comments, a petition, which has reached over 100,000 signatures, was launched calling on the government to continue to roll out the Pensions Dashboard. The petition argues that pension pots are at risk of being forgotten if the Dashboard is scrapped. As many individuals could potentially have more than 10 employers throughout their working life, there is a need for a simple way for individuals to keep track of their pension pots in one place.

Shaun Gomm, commercial director at design agency Sigma (who produced a prototype for the Pensions Dashboard) said: “The pension system in the UK remains one of the most complex to navigate in the world. Despite paying into our retirement fund for decades, millions of us have no idea how to track or properly manage our pensions; and we’re potentially losing out on thousands in misplaced pension pots.

“It has never been more timely for the government to take action on pensions – so to scrap it at this crucial stage would be ill-advised and hugely detrimental, which is to say nothing of the substantial investment in time and money that many organisations have already committed to this project in good faith.”


Funding improvement for FTSE 100 pension schemes

August 2018

After a decade of deficits, pension schemes for FTSE 100 companies have seen a shift to a surplus position of £3 billion in July, which is up from a £34 billion shortfall when compared to the same time last year (31 July 2017).

Charles Cowling, chief actuary at JLT Employee Benefits said, “After 10 years of deficits, finance directors may be celebrating as FTSE 100 pension schemes finally move into surplus.” He also said, “Despite an unsettled political backdrop, with Brexit looming, markets have continued to be favourable for pension schemes. Moreover, the improvements in life expectancy, which have added so much to pension scheme liabilities over the last 10 or 20 years, do indeed seem to be slowing. Of course, this is the overall picture and individual companies and their pension schemes may show different positions. That said, the latest move is still good news for all UK pension schemes”.

The low interest rates over the last 10 years have also been a considerable factor in producing large pension scheme deficits. As anticipated by experts, the interest rate announced by the Bank of England on 2 August increased from 0.5% to 0.75%. This may further impact the health of UK pension schemes.


Pension scammers falsely claim to be calling on behalf of the Pensions Regulator

July 2018

The Pensions Regulator (tPR) have received two reports of fraudsters calling individuals and falsely claiming to work for the watchdog. The callers offered a “free pension review” in an attempt to obtain details from the individuals about their pension savings.

TPR has confirmed that it never cold-calls individuals about their pensions, a common warning sign of a scam. Head of intelligence for the tPR, Mike Broomfield confirmed "Like all reputable organisations, we never cold-call people about their pensions. If anyone cold-calls you about your pension, it is an attempt to steal your savings - just hang up."

In May, the bill including provisions for a ban on pensions cold-calling received Royal Assent. However, the implementation of the ban has been delayed while the Treasury consults further on "technicalities" in relation to the ban.


The chief executive of the Pensions Regulator resigns

June 2018

It has recently been announced that Lesley Titcomb, the chief executive of the Pensions Regulator (tPR), will leave her role after her current contract ends in February 2019. Ms Titcomb’s decision to step down comes after she recently received heavy criticism from MPs over tPR’s handling of the collapse of Carillion (a construction and civil engineering company) earlier this year.

Until Ms Titcomb leaves, she will continue to lead the executive team that is currently focusing on a programme of change designed to make tPR clearer, quicker and tougher. Mark Boyle, chairman of tPR announced that subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the search for her replacement will begin immediately.


Increasing numbers of over 65’s continuing to work.

May 2018

The number of individuals choosing to work beyond age 65 continues to steadily increase.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently reported that for the period December 2017 to February 2018 there were approximately 1.2 million people over the age of 65 remaining in employment, out of a total UK workforce of 32.3 million. This compares to only 478,000 over 65’s working in 1992.

The ONS report also showed that 742,000 were men and 454,000 were women and that 57.3% were employed on a part-time basis and 42.7% were employed on a full-time basis.

These figures show that the number of people choosing to continue to work beyond age 65 has been steadily increasing in recent years. Although a sharp increase in numbers might have been expected in 2011 when the default retirement age was removed (which previously enabled employers to impose a compulsory retirement age) the results published did not show this.


Wincanton sign Concert

April 2018

We are delighted to confirm that Wincanton have appointed Concert to take their pension communications to the next level. Strategic advice will be supported with the provision of materials in both the digital and more traditional communication channels.

Matt Jones, a Director at Concert, confirmed "we are looking forward to working closely with the Wincanton team to develop new and exciting solutions."


The Pensions Dashboard

April 2018

The government announced in the 2016 Budget that a Pensions Dashboard would be developed in order to allow individuals to view details of all their pension savings together in a single place. The government has also given a strong indication that all pension providers will eventually agree to sharing benefit information via the ‘Pensions Dashboard’.

It is hoped that enabling members to have a holistic view of their pension savings in this way, will help individuals to stay in control of their savings and allow them to make the right choices about their overall finances as they approach retirement.

The Pensions Dashboard Prototype Project was launched by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and it is reported that good progress is being made with input into the design and capabilities of the Dashboard, being provided from across the pensions industry.

Currently, the Pensions Dashboard Prototype is being reviewed by the government and it is expected that a fully operational Pensions Dashboard will be launched in 2019.


Royal Mail make some changes

April 2018

We are delighted to report that one of these is for the Plan Trustee to appoint Concert to oversee a change exercise for members of their DC Plan. Our challenge has been to create a package to address changes in contributions levels, default positions for members and the introduction of a Cash Balance Plan. We have responded with a suite of digital, animation and paper communications to help members make ‘an important decision’.


New phone number for TPAS

April 2018

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) provide free independent and impartial guidance to the public. Anyone can use this service and speak with a pension specialist without the need to book a prior appointment.

You can phone them on 0800 011 3797 - this call will be free from most UK mobiles and landlines. The new number replaces their existing local rate number which remains available for the time being.

TPAS also offer a live webchat facility which is available weekdays between 9am and 6:20pm (and 7-9pm on Tuesday evenings) at www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk/chat

Alternatively, you can continue to contact TPAS by writing to:

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS)
11 Belgrave Road
London
SW1V 1RB


Pension schemes offer a tax efficient form of investment

April 2018

Understanding the benefits of saving for a pension is important because your State Pension (whilst it will provide a regular steady income) it is unlikely to be sufficient for you to live on during retirement.

It is reported that more than half of the people in the UK are not saving enough to give them the standard of living they are hoping for when they retire. Consequently, individuals are often having to make a choice to either:

  • Adjust their financial expectations for when they retire;
  • Defer their retirement to a later date; or
  • Simply save more whilst they are working.

Any contributions paid into a pension scheme will benefit from tax relief and are not subject to tax while they are invested. Consequently, for those who choose to save more whilst they are working, pensions are often seen as a tax-efficient form of investment.

Even when you retire there are further tax advantages of being invested in a pension scheme. Whether you are invested in a defined benefit or defined contribution scheme any Pension Commencement Lump Sum you elect to receive will generally be free of tax. Also, any pension or annuity income you receive (whilst it will be subject to tax at your marginal rate) it will not be subject to National Insurance contributions.

Could you therefore be saving more into your pension and take advantage of this tax efficient form of investment?


Changes to the pension transfer advice process

April 2018

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) recently announced changes to the pension transfer advice process. The changes are designed to improve the quality of the advice provided and help individuals to make informed decisions based on their own personal circumstances.

The changes include:

  • Transfer advice to be provided as a personal recommendation that takes account of the member’s individual circumstances.
  • To replace the current transfer value analysis with a requirement to undertake a personalised analysis of the member’s options; and
  • A requirement to provide a comparison which shows the value of the benefits being given up.

In addition, the FCA is also considering further changes in relation to the fee structures currently used by advisers as well as the need for advisers who provide pension transfer advice to have the same qualifications as investment advisers.

The FCA has further agreed to currently maintain its view that an adviser should start from the assumption that a transfer from a defined benefit (DB) scheme is likely to be unsuitable. However, this should not stop an adviser from recommending a transfer from a DB scheme where it is deemed the transfer would be suitable.

The FCA's Executive Director of Strategy and Competition, Christopher Woolard, said “defined benefit pensions are valuable so most people will be best advised to keep them. However, where people are considering a transfer, it is vital that they get good advice to enable them to make an informed decision”.


Experts express concern that savers are not taking tax advice

March 2018

Financial experts are concerned that since the introduction of pension flexibility as part of the freedom and choice reforms in April 2015, Defined Contribution (DC) members (which includes Defined Benefit members who have transferred their benefits into DC arrangements to access the new rules) have failed to take appropriate tax advice before utilising their pension pot in this way.

Under the new rules, savers are no longer obligated to purchase an annuity. Instead, savers are seeking to withdraw cash lump sums in favour of the annuity option through drawdown arrangements, for example.

However, the experts are concerned that savers do not understand that only the first 25 per cent of any cash taken out of a pension fund is tax free and as soon as they drawdown on any pension savings above this threshold, they are liable for tax.

Consequently, as a result of savers not being aware of the tax implications of withdrawing cash lump sums, it is reported that the Treasury has received a windfall of up to £5billion since the freedom and choice reforms were introduced in 2015.

Keith Richards, chief executive of the Personal Finance Society, said: “Our research suggests up to two-thirds of consumers are not seeking professional advice before entering into a drawdown arrangement. This is a genuine worry, pension pots were designed to carry one through the long retirement years, buying an income for life. Now it appears that barely 10 per cent of all people accessing their pension pots are opting for the safety net of an annuity. We fear many will run out of cash.”


FCA and TPR working together on developing a pensions regulatory strategy

March 2018

Last month the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Pensions Regulator (tPR) announced that they would be working on a pensions regulatory strategy to set out how they’ll work together to tackle the risks faced by the pensions sector in the next 5-10 years.

The two regulators are planning to hold several engagement events with stakeholders in London, Edinburgh and Manchester in the Spring, in order to establish the following two key areas:

  • Their collective view of the current landscape of the sector and their respective regulatory remits.
  • The likely key areas of focus in the coming years.

It’s expected that the FCA will focus on ensuring its regulation provides the right consumer protection and competition whilst tPR will target a drive to improve standards of governance. To achieve this, the tPR will be looking to make sure sponsoring employers treat schemes fairly and that workers are enrolled into the schemes they’re entitled to as part of automatic enrolment.


The crack down on cold-calling intensifies

February 2018

The crack down on cold-calling continues to intensify. The Pensions Regulator (tPR) in collaboration with the police, recently carried out a number of investigations into pension schemes that it suspects are linked to cold-calling firms.

A press release from tPR, announced it has concerns that members have been cold-called in a bid to ‘transfer their funds into poorly-run schemes with the promise of higher returns and cash incentives upfront’.

Mike Birch, director of case management at tPR, said “cold-calling pension holders isn’t illegal yet, but no reputable business does it. We would urge anyone to contact Action Fraud if they are phoned and offered the chance to transfer their pension. Our message is simple – a cold-call about your pension is an attempt to steal your savings.”

The collaboration to undertake joint investigations between tPR and the police comes ahead of the Governments intended changes to legislation to ban cold-calling which is unlikely to take effect until 2020.

If you think you may have been a victim of pension fraud you can contact Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk or call them on 0300 123 2040.


TPAS transfers all pension disputes to TPO

February 2018

It has been confirmed that the Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) will be moving its dispute resolution function to the Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) with effect from 1 April 2018.

Under the current system TPAS usually deal with complaints before the pension scheme’s internal dispute resolution procedure (IDRP) has been completed, whilst TPO is usually involved after the IDRP has been concluded.

It is envisaged that after the transfer, the complaints resolution process will become more efficient and provide an improved level of service as a result of more than 350 TPAS volunteer advisers joining TPO.

Anthony Arter from TPO said: “We have been working with TPAS to create one centre for the resolution of pension disputes helping to ensure a simpler and quicker customer journey. I am delighted to welcome the dispute resolution team and its network of volunteers to The Pensions Ombudsman. We have worked with the team for many years and recognise the excellent customer service which they deliver.”


Recognising the value of your pension

February 2018

According to a recent report from the Office for National Statistics the number of millionaires in Britain has increased by a third as a result of increasing pension wealth. It is reported that since July 2016 3.5m households in the country now have total assets in excess of £1 million.

This highlights just how important an investment an individual’s pension has become. In many cases it may prove to be the biggest single investment an individual will make except for maybe their home.


New Pension Minister announced following the latest cabinet reshuffle

January 2018

Esther McVey, MP for Tatton in Cheshire becomes the fifth Work and Pensions Secretary to be appointed in less than three years. Esther replaces David Gauke, who after only a short term in office, now moves to the Justice Department.

Ms McVey became parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2012, and later became the Minister of State. She therefore takes on her new role with some experience and understanding gained from her time at the DWP.

Ms McVey’s appointment was announced earlier this week after Justine Greening turned down the role in the Prime Minister’s latest cabinet reshuffle. Commentators have highlighted concerns around the apparent difficulty in finding an appropriate long-term candidate to fill this important position within the cabinet, which has a huge bearing on people’s financial wellbeing.


Rising inflation helps pensioners

January 2018

In September last year, the 12-month rate for CPI inflation reached 3% for the first time since April 2012. Pensioners will therefore see their State Pension and possibly other pension entitlements increase significantly this year.

Increases to the State Pension are currently governed by what is more commonly referred to as the ‘triple lock’. This effectively means that the State Pension will rise by the greater of inflation (as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) in the previous September), the increase in average earnings, or 2.5%. The Government has considered removing the ‘triple lock’ however this decision has been deferred to at least 2020.

Consequently, anyone receiving the full, flat-rate state pension will see this rise from £159.55 per week to £164.30 per week (an increase equivalent to almost £250 a year). Anyone who retired before April 2016 and is receiving a State Pension under the old system (i.e. the basic State Pension plus an earnings-related pension) will see their basic State Pension element rise from £122.30 to £125.95 per week.


Scottish Income Tax – New rates

January 2018

The Scottish Government has confirmed that with effect from 6 April 2018 it will be introducing two new income tax bands whilst also increasing the top rate of income tax for high earners.

The table below shows how the income tax rates will be changing for Scottish residents in the 2018/19 tax year.

2017/18 Income tax bands Income tax rate 2018/19 Income tax bands Income tax rate
Under £11,500 0% Under £11,850 0%
£11,501 - £43,000 20% £11,850 - £13,850 19%
£13,851 - £24,000 20%
£24,001 - £44,273 21%
£43,001 - £150,000 40% £44,274 - £150,000 41%
Over £150,000 45% Over £150,000 46%

Derek Mackay, the Scottish finance secretary said "despite introducing some higher bands, nobody earning less than £33,000 a year will pay more in income tax. This will cover about 70% of taxpayers in Scotland."


Calls for the ban on pension cold-calling to be implemented sooner

December 2017

The Work and Pensions Select Committee says the Government needs to introduce new legislation as soon as next year to help prevent pensioners losing their life savings. Although the Government has already confirmed it would look to introduce a ban on pension cold-calling, legislation was not expected to be passed until 2020.

The Select Committee is therefore now putting pressure on the Government to introduce legislation much sooner than it had previously planned to prevent more individuals being scammed out of their pension savings.

In addition to introducing legislation banning cold-calling the Select Committee has also called for savers to be automatically offered guidance when considering accessing their pension pots using the pension freedoms rules that were introduced in April 2015. These rules allow anyone over the age of 55 to take some or their entire pension as a lump sum with up to 25% being paid tax-free.

The chair of the Select Committee Labour MP Frank Field said “Every day that passes without a ban, people are being avoidably conned out of their life savings.” The Committee also warned that the scale of the problem was likely to be grossly underestimated by official reports and may not be apparent for many years. In the meantime, if you suspect you have been contacted by a pension scammer please contact TPAS for help. You can call them on 0300 123 1047 or visit the TPAS website at www.thepensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk for free pensions advice and information.


TPAS and MAS announce web chat facility

December 2017

Ahead of the Government’s planned merger in 2018 to combine the Money Advice Service (MAS), The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) and Pension Wise into a single consumer facing body, TPAS and MAS have launched an integrated webchat service. A key objective of this new initiative will be to re-direct individuals with queries to the right support more effectively.

Individuals with pension queries will be directed to TPAS while those with money matters will be supported by MAS. Pension Wise will continue to provide a free ‘at retirement’ guidance service.

Chief executive of MAS, Charles Counsell, said: “It's important for customers to get the specialist guidance they need and we’re really delighted that we are now able to directly transfer our web based customers to TPAS when those customers have questions related to pensions”.


Autumn Budget 2017

November 2017

In the autumn budget last week the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, had very little to say about pensions. There was speculation prior to the budget announcement that the Chancellor may look again at both the Lifetime Allowance (LTA) and the Annual Allowance (AA). Commentators had suggested that the planned increase to the LTA in April 2018 could be postponed and the Chancellor could also consider a further reduction to the AA. In his statement, the Chancellor confirmed that the planned increase to the LTA would happen in April. The increase, which would be in line with the increase in the Consumer Prices Index, will see the LTA increase from £1m to £1.03m with effect from April 2018. The AA will remain unchanged at £40,000 for the tax year 2018/19. Even though the majority of people are unlikely to be affected by the LTA, if you suspect that the value of all your pension benefits might be close to the LTA limit, you should take action and seek independent financial advice. If you do not have an adviser you can find details of financial advisers in your area by visiting www.unbiased.co.uk.


Make sure your pension withdrawals are not being over-taxed

November 2017

Many savers who have accessed their pensions early under the new pension flexibility rules may have been over taxed.

It is reported that hundreds of thousands of tax-payers have been overcharged as a result of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) treating the lump sum they have withdrawn from their pension savings as the first of a series of regular income payments, rather than as a single payment.

In total HMRC have refunded £262 million in overpaid tax collected as a result of this issue.

If you believe you may have been over-taxed on any pension withdrawals you have made, you will need to contact HMRC and fill in the appropriate tax reclaim form. Help and support is available free from the Pensions Wise website www.pensionwise.gov.uk/en. If you are aged 55 or over you can also book a phone interview with the Pensions Advisory Service or with Citizens Advice. Alternatively, you may wish to see an Independent Financial Adviser.


Legislation against pension cold-calling delayed

October 2017

Last week the House of Lords demanded that unsolicited calls in relation to pensioner cold-calling are outlawed, sooner than the Government’s current plans.

The Government had originally suggested it would ban pensioner cold-calling in September last year but has since warned it was now unlikely to legislate on this matter before 2020. Without legislation, there is continued fear that many people will carry on receiving such calls and consequently placing them at a higher risk of being scammed.

Ros Altmann, a Tory peer and former pension’s minister, said: "People need protection from this nuisance now, they shouldn't have to wait still more years for a ban. Direct approaches to people on their mobiles or home phones should have no place in the modern world of business."

Millions of pensioners are being targeted annually by cold callers with one source estimating 2.6 million cold-calls are made each month.

If you suspect you have been contacted by a pension scammer please contact TPAS for help. You can call them on 0300 123 1047 or visit the TPAS website at www.thepensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk for free pensions advice and information.


2018 increase to State Pension confirmed

October 2017

The State Pension will increase in 2018 to £8,545.50 p.a. This increase of circa £250 a year is the biggest annual increase in the last five years. State Pensions increase each year by the greater of inflation, earnings growth or 2.5%. This is often referred to as the “triple lock”. Inflation is measured by the increase in a number of general household expenses for the 12 months to September. Inflation for the 12 months to September 2017 was 3%. As this is higher than both the increase in earnings for the same period and a fixed 2.5% increase, it is the inflation figure that will be used by the Department of Work and Pensions to calculate the State Pension increase in April 2018.  


Latest warning from tPR about pension transfer scams

October 2017

The Pensions Regulator (tPR) has recently issued further warnings with regard to “Pension Scams” as the methods adopted by fraudsters are becoming ever more sophisticated.

One of the more recent changes of tact being used by criminals is to place anti-scam messages on their websites with the aim of misleading individuals into believing them to be legitimate pension arrangements. These websites imply they are regulated by carrying warning messages such as cautioning about the tax implications of accessing pensions before age 55 and the danger of responding to cold callers.

Where tPR finds such websites it will demand they immediately cease using material owned by tPR and will investigate with other government and regulatory agencies whether further action, such as legal proceedings, should be launched.


Auto-enrolment eligibility to be expanded

October 2017

The Government’s review of auto-enrolment (AE) is anticipated to reduce the minimum qualifying age for eligible workers from age 22 to age 16.

Since the introduction of AE in 2012 the number of people contributing into a company pension scheme has almost doubled to approximately 13.5 million (as at 2016). The Government is now considering reducing the qualifying age to include employees between 16 and 22 years old in a further drive to increase the number of individuals who automatically qualify for inclusion in company sponsored arrangements.

The upper age limit, which is currently set at an individual’s State Pension Age, is also being considered in response to the continued trend for UK workers to stay employed past this date.

The review concludes later this year.


The Pensions Regulator looks to streamline the transfer process

October 2017

The pension industry has for some time been calling on the Pensions Regulator (tPR) to provide a set of standard rules that are to be followed by Scheme administrators when providing defined benefit (DB) transfer information to members and/or financial advisers.

Consequently, the tPR recently announced that it is working closely with the Financial Conduct Authority to produce an information template which they hope to publish in 2018.

With the number of transfer requests being received from DB members on the increase, it is intended that this information template should reduce the amount of secondary requests received from advisers for additional information.

Generally, most transfer value quotations are guaranteed for three months. Therefore, if the transfer process can be streamlined and sped up, there will be fewer requests for additional transfer quotations to be provided if the guarantee expires on the original transfer quotation.


Average pensioner income trebled since 1977

September 2017

The ONS recently reported that the average annual income for retired households had almost trebled between 1977 and 2016 but had only doubled for working households for the same period. The results showed that the average retired income had increased from £10,500 p.a.to £29,000 p.a. and that for working households the average income only increased from £20,200 p.a. to £41,900 p.a.

However, retired workers relying only on State pension benefits have not experienced the same level of increases as those receiving additional retirement incomes from employer or private pension arrangements.

The ONS said "disposable income of pensioners has on average risen by 2.8% a year in real terms since 1977, compared with 2.1% for non-retired households".


Young savers willing to pay more into their pension

September 2017

Recent research undertaken by a leading insurance company revealed that the majority of millennials appear to be happy to contribute more to their pension following pay reviews or promotions.

The research revealed that:

  • After automatic enrolment, 71% remained opted in to their pension scheme.
  • 8% of those who chose to opt out, later re-joined the pension scheme.
  • 75% of people aged 25-34 were happy to increase their pension contributions automatically in line with future pay rises.
 

Clearly, automatic enrolment has led to an increase in pension savings over the past few years particularly for young people despite financial pressures from rising housing costs and student loans.


Getting the right advice will safeguard your financial future

September 2017

The increase in families investing their pension pots without taking the appropriate financial advice could see savers running out of money in retirement.

Since pension freedom reforms were introduced in 2015 there has been as significant shift from people using their retirement savings to purchase an income in retirement (an annuity) to the more flexible drawdown option, where income can be drawn as required in the form of lump sums. The record-low interest rates have also made annuities more expensive, adding to the migration away from this fixed income in retirement solution.

Using the greater flexibility now available with regard to defined contribution pension savings may be the right decision to make, however it is critical you get the appropriate advice and understand all aspects of the decision you are making.

Pensionwise, a free service provided by the Government, is available to help you understand your options. You can visit their website at www.pensionwise.gov.uk

You may also wish to talk to an independent financial adviser. If you do not have one you can find details of financial advisers in your area by visiting www.unbiased.co.uk


FCA warns about accessing benefits without taking financial advice

August 2017

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned that an increasing number of members are accessing their pension benefits early without taking financial advice. They have identified that three quarters of all pension pots accessed were done so by members under the age of 65.

It has been recognised that this issue has been developing since "pension freedoms" were introduced in 2015 which allowed members with defined contribution benefits to access them from age 55.

The FCA also identified that over 50% of the money being withdrawn is then re-invested into other savings and investment funds, consequently resulting in members paying additional tax, unnecessarily.

The FCA has announced that it is considering additional protection for those who access their benefits early.


Further changes to the State Pension Age

July 2017

On 19 July 2017, the Government accepted the recommendation made by John Cridland (ex-Confederation of British Industry boss) in his report to bring forward the rise in the State Pension Age (SPA) for men and women to age 68.

Under current plans, the SPA for women will increase to age 65 (the same as the current SPA for men) by November 2018. The SPA for both men and women will then increase to age 66 by 2020, 67 by 2028 and finally 68 by 2044.

However, in this latest move announced by the Government, the rise in the SPA to 68 will now be phased in between 2037 and 2039, rather than from 2044 as was originally proposed. It is estimated this decision will affect approximately six million men and women who are currently between the ages of 39 and 47.

The announcement was made by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke who said "As life expectancy continues to rise and the number of people in receipt of State pension increases, we need to ensure that we have a fair and sustainable system that is reflective of modern life and is protected for future generations."


Government goes ahead with the reduction to the MPAA

July 2017

The Government has now confirmed it will retrospectively implement with effect from April 2017 the reduction to the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA), which it had subsequently delayed due to the snap general election.

As Chancellor, Philip Hammond’s intention behind reducing the MPAA from £10,000 to £4,000 a year is to prevent individuals from "recycling" their pensions by withdrawing cash from their pension pots and then claiming tax relief on new pension contributions.

The reduction to the MPAA will only apply to those who have already taken advantage of the new flexibilities introduced by the pension freedoms in April 2015. Those people who have not used the freedoms or are under 55, will continue to be able to receive tax relief on contributions they make as long as they do not exceed the current annual allowance of £40,000 a year.


How can I locate lost pension pots?

July 2017

In May 2016, the Government launched a free Pension Tracing Service enabling you to track down lost or forgotten pension pots. The service allows you to trace either the name of your previous employer or the name of the pension provider at that time.

Armed with the contact details necessary for you approach your previous employer or pension provider, you will then be able to contact them directly to request a valuation once it has been established that you hold a pension pot with them.

Experts believe there are approximately £400m of UK pension savings that are currently unclaimed and that this amount is only expected to rise as the number of jobs an average worker has over their lifetime is also steadily on the increase. For more information or to use this service, visit the government’s website “Find pension contact details” at www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details or call the Pension Tracing Service on 0345 6002 537, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.


Changes to the data protection legislation

July 2017

The law relating to data protection is changing with effect from 25 May 2018, being replaced by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The new regulations will provide a framework with much tougher punishments for those who fail to comply with new rules around the storage and handling of personal data.

Despite Brexit, the UK government has already indicated that these laws will be converted into British law.

These changes are being introduced in an attempt to combat cybercrime. In 2016 major data breaches enabled cybercriminals to take advantage of these situations leading to Companies in the UK losing more than £1 billion to cybercrime.


Could pensions be affected as a result of a parliamentary minority?

July 2017

Following the result of the general election where the Conservative Party failed to obtain a parliamentary majority, it is likely this will now lead to a period of confusion and uncertainty. This will be particularly evident with regard to the pension related topics that were set out in Conservative Election manifesto. This view is further supported as the recent Queen’s Speech also failed to address any of the following pledges that were set out in the Tory manifesto.

  • Remove the 2.5% guarantee element of the State pension ‘triple lock’ and introduce a ‘double lock’ that would ensure State pensions increase only by the greater of the rise in average earnings or inflation from 2020.
  • Provide greater powers to the Pensions Regulator and Trustees to block mergers and acquisitions of participating employers.
  • Increase penalties for company directors who intentionally put pension schemes at risk of not being able to meet the scheme’s ongoing obligations.

Interestingly and in light of the agreement between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the DUP manifesto had a number of conflicting views to the Conservatives particularly in regard to the State pension ‘triple lock’.


2017 General election result

June 2017

The consequences of a hung parliament are likely to bring a great deal of uncertainty for pensioners and those saving for retirement as each of the leading political parties had very different views on their individual policies.

Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, said "A hung parliament is the worst possible outcome for pensioners and people saving for their retirement. It means that key decisions around the State Pension Age, the State Pension ‘triple lock’, social care funding and pension tax relief are all going to take a back seat while the wheels of Westminster slowly turn."

In particular, the Government announced in April that it would defer the reduction in the Money Purchase Annual Allowance from £10,000 to £4,000 until after the election. However, given the uncertainty that a hung parliament will bring and their intention to apply this change retrospectively (back to 6 April 2017), it is feared that clarity on all these issues will not be provided any time soon.


New pensions minster announced following cabinet reshuffle

June 2017

Following the government’s latest cabinet reshuffle, Guy Opperman has been appointed as the new pensions minister or the parliamentary under secretary of state for pensions and financial inclusion to give him his full title. He replaces Richard Harrington who was previously in the role for less than a year.

Mr Opperman has been tasked with creating a new single financial guidance body that will see Pension Wise, the Money Advice Service and the Pensions Advisory Service combine. It is also expected that the new minister will also be accountable for overseeing the government’s response to the State Pension age independent review that was undertaken by John Cridland which outlined the possibility of raising the State Pension Age.


Annuity market reforms announced

June 2017

New reforms recently announced will require annuity providers to inform individuals (when purchasing an annuity) if a higher annuity income can be obtained elsewhere from another insurer. For individuals in poor health i.e. those suffering with high cholesterol, blood pressure, or may have a life limiting condition “enhanced annuities” are often available. It is estimated that this type of annuity can increase the level of income provided by up to 40 per cent. The new reforms will require providers to compare standard annuities for those in good health, despite expectations that a large proportion of individuals looking to purchase an annuity may be eligible for an “enhanced annuity”.

It is currently estimated that each year around two-thirds of all annuities sold are issued by insurers with whom the individual invests their pension pot. Consequently, as a result of individuals not searching the “open market” for the best deal, it is feared that the majority of annuities could have provided a higher level of income, if they had purchased the annuity with another insurer.


Pension Wise – Free and impartial guidance

May 2017

There have been a number of changes to Pension Wise since it was first established in 2015 and therefore we would like to take this opportunity to remind you about the service they currently provide.

Pension Wise is a free government service for those aged 50 or over and have a Defined Contribution (DC) pension pot. The service is also particularly helpful to Defined Benefit members who are currently paying or have paid DC Additional Voluntary Contributions or have DC pension savings elsewhere.

Pension Wise is there to help you:

  • understand the different options available to you when accessing your pension pot(s);
  • assess the potential advantages and disadvantages of any decisions you are planning to make;
  • understand any tax implications that might occur;
  • make the right choices, for example
    • if you are planning to continue working and draw your pension benefits at the same time.
    • taking into account your current personal and financial circumstances.
    • in the event that you should die.

Pension Wise is delivered by Citizens Advice if you require a face to face meeting or the Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) if you are happy to discuss your query over the phone. Their website www.pensionwise.gov.uk also provides a lot of useful information that may be of interest to you.

To book either a telephone or face to face appointment, you can call 0300 330 1001.


Beware!! Pension fraud continues to rise

May 2017

Since the introduction of pension freedoms in April 2015, fraud related crime generated through pension scams has steadily been on the increase. The City of London Police recently reported that the amount of fraud for March 2017 was £8.6m making this the highest recorded month and bringing the total amount of recorded fraud to £13m for the first quarter of 2017. This compares to a total of £19m for the whole of 2016. It is feared the true level of fraud could be considerably higher.

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) recently launched an online tool specifically designed to provide support and guidance to pension savers and the Pensions Regulator (tPR) has also released a series of videos which can be viewed on their website http://www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/individuals/dangers-of-pension-scams.aspx

If you suspect you have been contacted by a pension scammer please contact TPAS for help. You can call them on 0300 123 1047 or visit the TPAS website at www.thepensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk for free pensions advice and information.


Will you get the full amount of the new State Pension?

May 2017

Pension reforms in April 2016 introduced the new State Pension. The maximum entitlement is currently £159.55 a week.

Government rules state that to qualify for the full amount of the new flat rate State Pension (applicable to those reaching their State Pension Age after 6 April 2016) you must have built up 35 years’ worth of National Insurance credits.

How do I find out what my State Pension will be?

You can contact the Future Pension Centre on 0345 3000 168, or write to the address below and they will let you know how many qualifying years you have and what your State Pension entitlement will be.

Future Pension Centre
The Pension Service 9 
Mail Handling Site A 
Wolverhampton 
WV98 1LU

You can also register for the personal tax account at www.gov.uk/personal-tax-account where you can view your National Insurance record and see all your qualifying years.


Why the general election might affect State Pension increases

May 2017

As we approach the general election, State Pension provision and in particular how it increases each year, is a topic for political debate, especially as the leading parties have already declared different pledges in this regard.

Currently, annual rises in the State Pension are decided by whatever is the highest of:

  • Price inflation;
  • Average earnings growth; or
  • 2.5 per cent.

This policy is what is more commonly referred to as the ‘triple lock’ policy. Official forecasts predict this policy will add at least £15bn to the long-term cost of State Pension provision by 2050.

Labour has already confirmed that if they are elected they will retain the ‘triple lock’ policy until 2025. The Conservatives however, despite promises to keep the guarantee until the next election (presumed at the time to be in 2020), have refused so far to renew their commitment to the ‘triple lock’ policy beyond the snap general election next month (June 2017).

It is widely anticipated that if the Tories are re-elected they will seek to downgrade the ‘triple lock’ policy to a ‘double lock’ policy, which would effectively remove the 2.5% minimum increase from the ‘triple lock’ policy.

Sir Steve Webb, (former pensions minister) who introduced the ‘triple lock’ policy, has suggested it could be adapted to apply only to those receiving the basic state pension and not those receiving the new state pension.


The snap general election halts the decision to reduce the MPAA

April 2017

Following the recent announcement by the Government to call a snap general election in June, the Government have proposed a number of changes in order to expedite the passing of the Finance (No 2) Bill, before Parliament is dissolved on 3 May 2017.

One of the clauses being scrapped from the Bill is the proposal to reduce the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA), from £10,000 to £4,000 with effect from 6 April 2017. However, it is believed this clause may be passed at a later date if the current government is returned to office.

The MPAA was originally introduced in order to restrict the amount of contributions that individuals can pay and consequently receive tax relief on once they have already begun to withdraw funds from their pension pot, under the new pension flexibility rules.

As a result of the General Election the MPAA will remain at £10,000 for the time being.


Pension flexibility leads to an increase in defined benefit transfers

April 2017

A study conducted by Willis Towers Watson has identified that over half of defined benefit (DB) members who received independent financial advice chose to transfer their benefits out of their DB Scheme. The increase was credited to members wanting to access greater flexibility following the freedom and choice reforms in 2015. The study also found that this was a significant increase on the previous year where just over one-third of members who received financial advice, chose to transfer their DB pension to another arrangement.

Stewart Patterson, head of liability management at Willis Towers Watson said “Increasingly, many members of DB schemes are recognising that by transferring out of their scheme they may be able to achieve a pattern of retirement income that better suits their needs than the more traditional DB pension.”

He also added "The results of our survey clearly demonstrate that members value flexibility over their retirement savings and we predict that over the next few years pension flexibility for members of DB schemes will become the new norm."

However, Patterson indicated that DB transfers may not be the appropriate solution for all members.


Senior Consultant Zoë Prescott joins Concert

April 2017

Concert are pleased to announce the appointment of Zoë Prescott who joins as a Senior Consultant. Zoë has worked in the pension industry for over 16 years and now joins Concert after leaving BT (formerly EE and Orange) as their Pensions and Reward Manager.

Matt Jones (Director) said “We are excited to have Zoe on board and welcome the depth of knowledge she brings to the team. Zoe not only adds to our already extensive expertise in both pension and flexible benefits but also brings insight from the client’s perspective having been BT’s Pension and Reward Manager for the last 11 years.


TPAS goes digital in the fight against pension scams

April 2017

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) launched an online tool earlier this year that provides support and guidance to pension savers who may be concerned about the risk of pension scams. The tool asks savers a number of questions before offering them advice. These questions include asking whether the user believes they have been scammed or have previously been approached by a scammer and if so, how they were contacted.

TPAS chief executive Michelle Cracknell said "We are seeing positive signs that consumers are now more aware of pension scams, which is great news, but we must continue to offer consumers opportunities to learn about scams; how they work, the consequences and understand how they can best protect their pension savings".

You can obtain more information about pension scams or access the online tool on the TPAS website at www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk


Treasury rules out changes to UK pension taxation process any time soon

March 2017

After much speculation, the pensions industry welcomed the news that the Treasury would not be looking to implement ‘significant changes’ to the UK’s pension taxation system. The proposals being considered included a possible move to a flat-rate pensions tax relief or an ISA-style form of pensions tax relief.

Recently the chief executive of investment service company AJ Bell (Andy Bell) wrote to the government’s Pensions Minister requesting that they consider a “more measured, long-term approach to pensions tax policy”. Mr Bell received a response from Jane Ellison (HM Treasury financial secretary) that provided assurance that in light of the extensive consultation conducted only last year “now is not the right time to undertake significant reform. Given this, the government does not think it is necessary to convene an independent pensions commission at this time”.

With the government’s focus firmly fixed on the Brexit process and the assurances provided by the Treasury recently any future changes to the pensions taxation system is not expected for some time.


Scottish Rate of Income Tax (SRIT) – no change for 2017/18

March 2017

The Scottish Government has confirmed formally that all income tax rates and thresholds will remain at the 2016/17 levels for the 2017/18 tax year. Consequently, top rate taxpayers in Scotland will pay more than their British counterparts south of the border.

For the rest of the UK, the threshold after which income tax is levied at 40% will increase from £43,000 to £45,000. As the equivalent threshold in Scotland will remain at £43,000, some Scottish taxpayers will pay more than their British counterparts. It is understood that approximately 370,000 people in Scotland will be affected.

Derek MacKay, Scottish finance secretary, said: ‘Having considered the proposals put to me, I confirm that I will lodge a Scottish Rate Resolution that sets the same tax rates as originally proposed but which applies a cash freeze on the higher rate threshold. This change protects basic rate taxpayers while generating an additional £29m of revenues in 2017/18. And it ensures that 99% of taxpayers on the same income this financial year will not be paying any more income tax in the next financial year. These proposals balance the need to raise additional revenues, whilst asking the highest earners to forego a significant tax cut at a time of UK government austerity. For the 10% of people covered by this higher rate the income foregone amounts to around £7.70 a week.’


The deadline for Individual Protection 2014 approaches

March 2017

If you are considering applying for Individual Protection 2014 (IP 2014), the deadline to submit your application is midnight on 5 April 2017. Please take action sooner rather than later as there will be no extension to the deadline for late applications.

This may apply to you if you had pension savings on 5 April 2014 which have a value of more than £1.25 million. IP 2014 allows you to protect those savings (up to a value of £1.5 million), as long as you don’t already have valid primary protection on 5 April 2014.

Applications for IP 2014 can be made using HMRC online service. To apply you will require details relating to the value of your pensions as at 5 April 2014.

Further information relating to this matter can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/pension-schemes-protect-your-lifetime-allowance#individual-protection-2014

If you are unsure with regards to this matter you should consult your independent financial adviser. If you do not have a financial adviser, details of those near to you can be found at www.unbiased.co.uk


Applications for the government’s State Pension top up scheme closes on 5 April 2017.

March 2017

If you reached your State Pension age before 6 April 2016 then you only have until midnight on 5 April 2017 to take advantage of the State Pension top up scheme.

The top up scheme is a government scheme that allows you to boost your retirement income by between £1 and £25 a week in exchange for a lump sum payment. The size of the payment is based on how much extra pension you wish to purchase, and your age. 

The additional state pension purchased is:

  • Guaranteed for life
  • In most cases inheritable at a reduced rate by a spouse or civil partner
  • Protected against inflation with increases in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI)
  • You can apply online at www.gov.uk/statepensiontopup.


Treasury raises pension advice allowance to £1,500

February 2017

The Treasury recently announced it will triple the amount it will allow people to withdraw from their pensions, before they retire in order to pay for appropriate advice.

The new pension advice allowance will allow individuals the option to withdraw £500 up to three times from their pension pots tax-free in order to pay for the pensions and retirement advice from April 2017.

However, following the consultation, HM Treasury confirmed that the £500 allowance can only be used once in any single tax year but be used on three separate occasions. The allowance must then be used towards the cost of "regulated financial advice, including ‘robo advice' (online digital advice) as well as traditional face-to-face advice".

The Treasury also confirmed that the allowance will only be available to individuals with defined contribution (DC) pensions or hybrid pensions with a DC element. The allowance will not be available to individuals with defined benefit / final salary schemes.


HMRC warn about GMP reconciliation deadlines

February 2017

HMRC has recently announced a couple of reminders to Trustees with regard to completing Guaranteed Minimum Pension (GMP) reconciliations. The key message was:

  • Reconciling non-active members

    The facility to raise queries through the Scheme Reconciliation service will close with effect from October 2018.

    Consequently, all queries should therefore be completed by December 2018.

    Failing to reconcile and agree any queries with HMRC before this date, could result in Trustees being liable for the payment of GMPs they didn’t know existed within the Scheme.

  • Reconciling active members

    Again all active member queries will need to be reconciled before October 2018.

    As part of the “closure scan” carried out in December 2016, schemes are now able to apply to HMRC for details of all members who had their contracted-out membership records closed. To allow HMRC time to share the closure scan data with schemes, requests for re-runs of Scheme Reconciliation Service data will not be accepted until June 2017.

Reconciling GMP queries is a slow process and consequently should not be left to the last minute. It is important therefore that Trustees take action sooner than later to resolve any queries they might have well in advance of any deadlines.


New developer joins concert

February 2017

Following a number of recent appointments Concert are pleased to announce the further appointment of Jamie Cook, who joins the Website Development Team headed up by Dylan Hughes.

Dylan commented “I’m confident that Jamie’s appointment will create opportunities for us to undertake new and exciting initiatives. Jamie brings a wealth of specialist knowledge, a whole new dynamic and depth of skill to the Web Development team. I’m looking forward to working with him to create new and innovative digital products for our clients.”

Concert are also continuing to expand their Consultancy team and look forward to making further announcements in the near future.


Abolition of Defined Benefit contracting out – Trustees, do you need to act?

January 2017

Contracting-out of the state pension scheme was abolished with the introduction of the new single-tier state pension on the 6 April 2016.

Even though contracted-out employment will have ended for active members at this date, their pensionable service is likely to have continued beyond this date. However, as a result of far-reaching legislative changes, any “open” contracted-out schemes at 6 April 2016, where Trustees are seeking to continue to use fixed rate GMP revaluation rather than adopt the default option of using section 148 orders beyond this date, are likely to need a rule amendment in order to maintain the use of fixed rate GMP revaluation.

If this is the case, Trustees need to ensure they pass a resolution to this effect before 5 April 2017. The resolution would apply to any member who was in contracted-out employment on 5 April 2016.


Further growth in the design team

January 2017

Following the appointment of Mike Chalmers at the end of last year, Concert have added another member to their Design team. Charlotte Frost joined the team at the beginning of January as a Designer. Both Charlotte and Mike’s appointments are in anticipation of further success in winning new clients following a very successful 2016.

Peter Walsh, Managing Director of Concert commented “2016 was one of our most successful years and we anticipate 2017 to follow suit. With this in mind we are strengthening all of our teams in preparation for this additional workload.”

Charlotte will work from Concert’s Bristol office.

Concert are also looking to strengthen both their Digital and Consulting teams and expect to make further announcements to this effect in the very near future.


Employer-arranged pensions advice

January 2017

As part of the Finance Bill 2017, it’s been proposed that a new exemption for income tax will be introduced with effect from 6 April 2017 to replace the existing restrictive provisions. The new tax exemption will apply to Employers who make pension advice available to their employees who would otherwise have to pay for this advice from their net income. The new proposal seeks to increase the current tax and National Insurance Contribution relief that is available to an employee for any employer-arranged pension advice from £150 to £500 per tax year.

The advice that could be provided and would qualify for the exemption, includes information or advice relating to:

  • an employee’s existing pension arrangements.
  • Any other pension savings employees may have.
  • Any pension related tax issues.


Exciting times as Concert continues to build

December 2016

Concert have made a further appointment to strengthen it’s already highly talented Design team. Mike Chalmers joined the team this month as a Senior Designer, having performed similar roles for a number of design agencies in the Bristol Area.

Matt Jones, a Director at Concert commented “Mike is a welcome and valuable addition to our Design team. We have been very successful recently, winning a number of new appointments with some of the largest Pension Schemes in the UK. Our approach is always to build the team ahead of winning new clients and Mike’s arrival is in preparation for anticipated further growth in 2017”.

Mike will be based in Concert’s Bristol office.


Autumn Budget 2016 - Consultation to reduce the Money Purchase Annual Allowance

November 2016

In Phillip Hammond’s first Budget as Chancellor, he announced that the Government is planning to consult on reducing the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) in order to close a loophole, which currently allows individuals to access “double tax relief”.

The reduction will affect those over the age of 55 who have already accessed their pension pots in the form of a cash sum under the new “pension freedom” rules that were effective from April 2015. It is believed that in the first year alone from April 2015, over 300,000 people took advantage of the new “pension freedom” rules.

Currently it is possible to contribute £10,000 a year into a pension and obtain tax relief on these contributions at the individual’s highest income tax rate. However, in order to close the loophole, the Chancellor is planning to cut the amount that can be paid into pensions in these circumstances from £10,000 to £4,000 from April 2017. This will consequently restrict the amount of pension savings that could otherwise be recycled to take advantage of tax relief.

The Chancellor confirmed however, there would be no change to the current “Annual Allowance” of £40,000 or the current “Lifetime Allowance” of £1m.


Market turmoil as Trump wins the 2016 US Presidential Election.

November 2016

The world’s financial markets initially reacted quite negatively to the news that Republican Donald Trump wins the race to the Whitehouse. As was widely predicted, the value of the dollar fell against major currencies (including the pound and euro), as did the value of the world’s financial markets also fall. However, after initial falls, the markets have recover somewhat. What is clear though is that the financial markets at this time remain volatile and are very susceptible to significant changes in value in a very short period of time. It is believed that growing concerns over Trump’s future trade and foreign policies brought about the latest market volatility.

If you are invested in a Defined Contribution Scheme any volatility in the market, will almost certainty result in significant variations in the value of your investments. It is for this reason that members need to be reminded and reassured that Pension Scheme investment is usually considered to be a long-term investment and knee jerk reactions to change investment strategies should be avoided.

Although to a lesser extent (due to the benefit guarantees provided by Defined Benefit (DB) Schemes) members of these Schemes also become concerned in times of market volatility.

If you are therefore looking to provide reassurance to your members around these or similar issues, Concert Consulting can help you prepare communications in a clear and concise manner that can be easily understood by all members of your Scheme.

For more information about the support we can provide to you, please contact Matt jones on 0117 927 2759 or email him at matt.jones@concertconsult.co.uk.


2016 Autumn Budget – Pensions key points

November 2016

On 24 November 2016, Chancellor Philip Hammond has presented his first Autumn Budget Statement. The key points announced in relation to pensions are:

  • A reduction to the Money Purchase Annual Allowance from £10,000 to £4,000 per annum.

    The Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) would be cut to £4,000 from £10,000 per annum. The Money Purchase Annual Allowance is the maximum annual amount individuals can contribute to a defined contribution pensions after having previously accessed a pension flexibly. The measure will be effective from April 2017 and the Government said it would consult on the detail.

    For more information, please see our news article ‘Consultation to reduce the Money Purchase Annual Allowance’.

  • ‘Scaling back’ on salary sacrifice benefits

    Chancellor Philip Hammond is proposing to restrict the tax-free benefits offered by salary sacrifice schemes. The restrictions to the salary sacrifice regime being proposed are due to take effect from April 2017. This would mean most salary sacrifice schemes will be subject to the same tax as cash income according to HM Treasury.

    However, childcare vouchers, cycle to work schemes and ultra-low emission cars (those with CO2 emissions of up to 75g/km) would be exempt from these changes.

    He also announced that certain long-term arrangements would be protected until April 2021.

  • A clamp down on pensions ‘cold calling’

    The Government reconfirmed its commitment to crack down on pensions cold calling. This is a move to give firms greater power to block suspicious transfers and make it harder for scammers.

    This follows an announcement from the Treasury on 19 November proposing a new regime under which all calls where a business has no existing relationship with the individual will be forbidden.

    The Government has revealed it will shortly publish its consultation paper to tackle pension scams.

  • State Pension triple lock to remain

    In the Autumn Statement, it was confirmed that there will be no change to the State Pension triple lock but warned it could be cut in future due to rising longevity.

    Philip Hammond said the Government would keep its pledge by maintaining triple lock until 2020 ensuring that state pensions would continue to go up every year by inflation, earnings growth or 2.5 per cent which ever is the highest.


Knowing your members

October 2016

Do you know your members? Their Views? Their Needs?

It is important that you understand your members and what they need. Good member communications, provided at the right time and in the right format, are vital if members are to engage and make decisions that lead better outcomes.

Obtaining feedback from your members can help you shape your ongoing communications making sure it hits the spot. There are a number of ways you can find out about your members views. This could be simply looking at the feedback your members provide. However a more proactive method is to approach your members and ask for their views on specific communications they have received.

If you are interested in discussing how we can help you connect with your members, please email Matt Jones at m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk or call him on (0)117 927 2759.


Concern continues to rise about the performance of workplace pension scheme – is there a simple solution?

October 2016

A recent survey conducted by Portus Consulting identified that “more than a fifth of respondents were concerned about how their workplace pension scheme has performed over the past two years”.

The survey undertaken by 1,043 UK employees found that 27% of respondents would welcome guidance on retirement planning from their employer.

Even though pension scheme membership is higher than ever before, the research also found:

  • Around a quarter (26%) of respondents have access to guidance or advice on retirement planning at work.
  • 15% of respondents can access online retirement planning support through their employer.
  • 11% of respondents have one-to-one meetings with advisers on a regular basis.
  • A third (33%) of respondents would be willing to source and pay for independent financial advice.

The survey concluded that “the missing link is that employees are being left to their own devices and significant numbers are disappointed with pension savings, while others are being deterred from even starting to save”.

At Concert Consulting we regularly come across similar situations to those identified in the survey and although many employees have access to guidance and sometimes advice, they are often surprised by the performance results of their pension scheme. Unfortunately, for those who do not take up the offer of guidance early enough, often remain blissfully unaware until it is too late.

One of Concert’s main objectives is to work with Employers and Trustees to develop clear and effective communication strategies necessary to specifically target this problem whilst simultaneously educating members to face up to this issue before it is too late.

If you are concerned that your communication strategy is not as effective as you would like please email Matt Jones at Concert Consulting using m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk who would be pleased to help. Alternatively please call him on (0)117 927 2759.


Further growth at Concert Consulting

October 2016

The summer has been a busy time here at Concert and we are delighted to have started three new client relationships with the BT Pension Scheme, Nationwide Pension Fund and Welplan, our first Mastertrust client.

Whilst we have been planning for this growth with new hires in both our Web and Design teams (see our ‘Two exceptional hires’ article published in August) we have again been hiring. Matt Jonat joins us to further strengthen our Web team. Matt brings a wealth of experience in front end web development and has already proved to be a valuable addition to an already strong team.

Our plans are to continue to grow, so watch this space for further recruitment news.


Pension Liberation and Scams complaints still a cause for concern

September 2016

Following a report recently published by the Pensions Ombudsman it was identified that Freedom and Choice has contributed to a significant increase to the number of complaints received by the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman confirmed it had completed over 1300 investigations, of which 20% were related to pension liberation complaints. Although the growth over the last year is less than the previous year, the report confirmed that since the introduction of pension freedoms the increased risk from pension liberation and scams was still a real cause for concern.

To help combat this, it is clear to this you need strong solid communications. To discuss your communications strategy, please contact Matt Jones on 0117 9272759 or e-mail m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk.


Government launches online application process to apply for Individual Protection

September 2016

At the end of July 2016, the HMRC released an online application process allowing members to apply for Individual Protection 2014 (IP14), Individual Protection 2016 (IP16) or Fixed Protection 2016 (FP16). Members who are considering applying for protection can now do so using the following Government’s website: www.gov.uk/guidance/pension-schemes-protect-your-lifetime-allowance

The new online service allows members to access applications made and print out any protection details necessary, which may be required by their Fund Administrator.

This is a further example of how a digital communications solution is preferred to the traditional paper approach. We are seeing clients increasingly favour digital communications as their primary communication medium, what’s more, in our experience this is welcomed as well overdue by scheme members of all ages. To talk to us about moving your communications into the digital world call Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk


Pensions freedom – one year on

September 2016

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries recently undertook a survey of over 55s regarding their views on the pension freedoms. The results showed that, although the majority of individuals were aware of the changes and felt confident in deciding what to do at retirement, many may not be saving enough (only 21% of respondents felt that their DC pot and State Pension would be enough to live on in retirement).

It is important to ensure individual understand how much they need to pay into their DC pension pot to ensure they have a comfortable income when they decide to retire. If you would like to discuss a communications strategy around promoting this to your members, please contact Matt Jones on 0117 9272759 or e-mail m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk


Will Brexit affect my pension?

August 2016

Following the recent announcement that the UK will leave the EU, many pension scheme members will be asking themselves “How will this affect me?”

In all honesty, it is probably far too early to predict with any certainty what impact this will have if any in the longer term particularly in the immediate aftermath of one of the UK’s largest political decisions. What is known though, is that Scheme members will rightly be concerned as to whether this could significantly impact any pension scheme investment or other retirement savings they may have. 

In the short term, whether this is the coming weeks, months or even the next twelve to twenty four months, we are all entering a period of ‘uncertainty’ both politically and financially whilst Britain prepares to withdraw from the EU.    

Economists are already expressing concern about the impact this decision might have on us in terms of the economy but again the true outcome at this time is not certain. Members may have a number of worries about how they could affect the economy. For example: 

  • Increased volatility in the markets and the impact this could have on investment returns;
  • The impact of possible changes to interest and inflation rates;
  • Could the Bank of England be considering a further programme of quantitive easing (QE);
  • Possible increases in taxation being imposed.

Trustees will no doubt be looking to reassure and remind members that pension scheme investment, is an investment for the longer term, particularly whilst they navigate a pathway through any short-term volatility generated by the decision to leave the EU. At the same time, Trustees will want to acknowledge member concerns but also want to advocate that members exercise caution and do not over react at this time. 

Please contact Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk if you would like more information about designing a communication strategy specific to meet your requirements.


A Nationwide challenge

August 2016

Concert Consulting is delighted to announce that they have been selected by the Nationwide Pension Fund to provide digital and communication consultancy services to 2021.

The Nationwide Pension Fund has around 30,000 members. The Fund merged with the pension scheme of the Portman Building Society in 2009 followed by the schemes for employees of both the Cheshire and Derbyshire Building Societies in 2010.  Currently there are approximately 6,000 active members accruing benefits on a CARE basis.

Peter Walsh, founder and Director at Concert has stated “We could not be more proud to be awarded this opportunity to help set a new communications agenda for a Fund of this stature. I like to think that we understand and reflect the objectives of the Trustee and that means creating thoughtful campaigns that engage with their members at every level.”

Vanessa Roberts, the Pension Fund Secretary commented “Concerts’ ability to demonstrate how and why a creative process can lead to improved member engagement was a key feature.”

“Communications needs to have a purpose” noted the Communications Manager at Nationwide, Amanda Innes, “and Concert demonstrated an eagerness to provide benchmarking wherever possible.”


Two exceptional hires for Concert

August 2016

We are delighted to announce two new hires to refresh our creative and digital offerings. Debra Porritt joins as a Senior Designer and Dylan Hughes as a Senior Web Developer. Both join with huge experience in their respective fields and crucially bring expertise gained from the wider commercial marketplace. That’s right folks they don’t know one end of a Transfer Value from the other! Our policy is to augment the pensions technical side of our business with a creative and development balance that does not spring from any preconceived pensions bias. Debra brings a creative expertise honed in the legal space and Dylan specialises in ensuring that websites are compliant with the latest accessibility rulings.

Both are West Country types who share a love of cider, cheese and working late….they should fit in well! Welcome to you both.


Communicating with Members regarding Non Statutory CETVs

July 2016

The one size fits all approach, traditionally associated with Defined Benefit Pension Schemes is being questioned more and more by its members, as a result of changes in lifestyles and income requirements. It is for this reason that many trustees and sponsors have begun considering Flexible Retirement Option ("FRO") exercises as a way of allowing their members to access the new flexibilities that apply largely to Defined Contribution arrangements.

An FRO exercise usually involves writing to all members of retirement age (typically all members over the age of 55) with a quotation of the scheme benefits they could currently receive. Increasingly Trustees are keen for FRO’s to also be included as part of the usual retirement quotation process, as members approach their normal pension age ("NPA"). This could be as simple as the inclusion of a Cash Equivalent Transfer Value ("CETV") quotation as part of the retirement pack. The purpose however, of these exercises is to allow members to transfer their benefits to a suitable arrangement that would then allow them to purchase benefits in a form that is suitable to their requirements on the open market.

The impact for DB arrangements though, is that it is anticipated that more members will want to transfer their existing DB out of the scheme in order to take advantage of the new flexibilities, but instead could possibly be prevented from doing so.

A key point that needs to be considered for members of DB arrangements, is that their statutory right to request a CETV will continue to remain as any time up until 12 months before their NPA. The fear here is that DB members may mistakenly believe that they can transfer their pension benefits at any time before retirement (i.e. after age 64 if their NPA is 65), particularly as their confidence and level of knowledge and understanding of the DC flexible options grows. Consequently many members may fail to understand the DB implications or restrictions that may prevent them from doing so once they are within 12 months of their NPA.

Therefore at Concert Consulting we are working with Trustees, once they have agreed their approach with regard to dealing with non-statutory CETV requests, to ensure this complex topic is communicated to all members in an easily understandable way.

You may already be considering the content of your next Newsletter and this topic may be one you might choose to include. Please contact Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk if you would like more information about how Concert can support you in designing Newsletters specifically tailored for your members.


DC Governance Guides

July 2016

In April 2016, the Pensions Regulator launched for consultation a series of six draft guides aimed at assisting trustees to demonstrate, implement and comply with the revised Code of Practice 13 - the governance and administration of occupational defined contribution (DC) trust-based schemes. This consultation process ended on 11 May 2016.

The guides produced by the Pension Regulator (tPR) and listed below, set out what they regard as "basic hygiene duties" for a scheme to remain compliant. They are:

  • The trustee board
  • Scheme management skills
  • Administration
  • Investment governance Value for members
  • Value for members
  • Communicating and reporting

Focusing on "Communicating and Reporting" in particular, we would like to draw your attention to the key topics covered in this guide:

Knowing your members and seeking their views

TPR strongly recommends that obtaining the views and needs of Scheme members is paramount to maintaining good scheme governance and effective ways to achieve this can be through:

  • accessing existing knowledge and data (tapping into trustees’ and the employer’s existing knowledge, as might union representatives or staff forums);
  • conducting sample-based member surveys; or
  • Other member engagement methods.

Communicating with members

TPR’s recommendation is that communications must be:

  • provided at the right time in the right format, if members are to engage as planned;
  • They need to be accurate, clear, relevant and in plain English.
  • Avoid jargon and all technical terms to be explained clearly and the language used throughout is consistent.

The guidance also highlighted the important role that technology can play in educating and communicating with members. It is also proven that having well illustrated and interactive planning tools are more effective in achieving this.

Having these core principles embedded into the way we prepare all communications at Concert Consulting, we are confident that we could help support you to meet the tPR’s recommendations and deliver the innovative, high quality communications your members expect.

Please contact Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk if you would like more information about designing a communication strategy specific to meet your requirements.


Creating creative websites

July 2016

There are so many different factors to think about when designing a website, as each of clients have different needs depending upon their specific communication strategy, budget and the level of understanding of the audience they are being designed to target.

In developing website’s, it is our aim to ensure the website are seen as an enhancement of your business, which you can be proud to use to promote your business. In order to achieve this objective, at the core of our design and development process are the following fundamentals:

  • Identifying and engaging with the Target audience

The production of a successful website is not possible unless the development process is driven by what you know about the audience, to which the website is aimed. This is achieved by good preparation, quality planning and thorough research before attempting the development stage of the process. Common question we would ask ourselves are:

Who are we targeting?

How might the audience think?

What level of knowledge and understanding do they already have?

What would they like and what do they expect?

What would they like to know?

  • Making the most of the available budget

The temptation is often to over load the site with as much information as possible which consequently leads to the site being uninteresting and users not retaining any of the information intended for them.

We believe that when it comes to creating a successful website, less is more. It is for this reason where ever possible our professionally designed websites utilise the latest interactive web applications and components. This allows us to offer bespoke web development solutions ranging from powerful content management systems to standalone web applications.

Leading busy lives as so many of us do now a days, its essential that all web sites are fully mobile responsive and can be accessed using all types of devices with high quality user interfaces.

  • Ensure simplicity and creativity

Just using loud colors and flamboyant images are not the answers to creating an attractive web design. Keeping things simple and using fresh ideas is more likely to deliver the website you are looking to create.

  • Think visually appealing

It’s proven that online visitors will stay longer on a site if the imagery is meaningful and attractive. Creating an attractive website will encourage all users to spend more time on the site, regardless of the topic.

  • Incorporate smart choice of colors

Having the right color scheme must not be underestimated. This will only enhance your brand image and identity. Whether you choose a simple color scheme or a more complex suite of colors, it is paramount that the text on your website is easily readable. The text and colors used must complement each other.

  • Use the best technology available

HTML (the Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are two of the core technologies for building creative Web pages. HTML provides the structure of the page, and CSS delivers the visual and audio layout for a variety of devices, that allows the right graphics and scripting to be incorporated.

  • Only use graphics to enhance the impact not overcrowd

Graphics can massively enhance your site but can also ruin your web design. Finding the right balance is essential. The use of too many graphics can easily lead to the website looking confused.

At Concert we have a team of consultants, designers and web developers who collectively have many years of professional experience, where the above principles are at the heart of our design process.

This enables us to generate innovative ideas and combine them into a strategy that is individually designed to meet your needs. The solutions we deliver are tailor made, creative and designed to provide a first rate member or employee experience.

Please contact Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk if you would like more information about designing the right website for you.


Design trends for 2016

June 2016

As with fashion design, website design goes through trends. Here’s our view of what’s new (or not so new) and exciting for 2016:

"Modern" Retro Style - As opposed to vintage or “old” retro—styles that draw from the early 1900s through the 60s, “modern” retro takes its stylistic influences from more recent decades, the late 1970s through the 90s. Think early PCs, video games and pixel art.

Material Design - Google made quite a splash in the design world when it introduced its material design guidelines. This visual language is characterised by “deliberate color choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space” for a bold, graphic look.

Bright, Bold Colours - Fitting in with both 80s/90s styles and material design, vibrant hues should continue to prove popular this year as we see increasingly a move away from the more muted, 1960s-inspired palettes to favor bright pastels, neon, and richer, more saturated colours.

Geometric Shapes - Geometric shapes and patterns are a motif that aligns with some of the 80s-era trends we’ve already looked at. This one can be applied in all sorts of ways—as individual graphic elements, as backgrounds, as an illustrative technique.

Also keep an eye out for a style known as "low poly," which got its start as a 3D modeling technique for video games. This angular, faceted look will continue to show up outside the gaming world, in web and print projects.

Negative Space - Negative and/or white space is an essential part of any good design. But used strategically, negative space can be a clever way to add deeper or double meaning to your designs, particularly for logo and branding projects. Or it can simply help give your composition a more minimal look.

Modular Layouts - Modular or card-based layouts have been adopted by some of the biggest brands for their websites and mobile apps. But organising designs (of all mediums) according to a grid is nothing new. It is the self-contained modules or cards used as the primary organisational principle that has created the twist of a new trend.

Dramatic Typography - According to this trend, typography isn’t just for reading—it’s for making a statement. Look out for big, bold type that’s the center of attention. You can create drama through size, but also through color, texture, or arrangement.

Abstract, Minimalistic Style - In contrast to the more flamboyant, 1980s-inspired design styles we’ve seen so far, this trend relies on minimalism and deconstructing or distorting recognizable forms.

So, if you are looking for a fresh new look for your Scheme, or just want to update your current look, come and have a chat with one of Concerts Consultants. For more information call 0117 927 2759.


Going paperless – it’s not just about saving trees

June 2016

Increasingly we are helping Trustee boards implement a paperless communication strategy, but they are not doing this just because it’s better for the environment. So what is motivating this change?

Cost is always going to be a key consideration. The average communication costs around £2 per member to distribute; this excludes producing the actual communication but does include postage costs, envelopes and the labour requirements of the fulfilment process. A digital distribution strategy removes the need to package and post the communication, so a 10,000 member scheme can save around £20,000 for each communication.

Often as a result of the costs, Trustees look to reduce the number of communications they send, sometimes saving up information to issue all at one time either in a single document or a number of documents in the same envelope. Our experience shows however, that to improve engagement with members, Trustees are better adopting the ‘little and often’ approach, providing a stream of bitesize communications. With the cost barrier removed, this can be adopted more easily. It also means information can be sent to members on a timelier basis.

Security is another factor considered. Sending confidential or sensitive information digitally is far securer than using the traditional post route. You can also track the distribution more easily, so you know when the communication has arrived. In addition, members do not have to consider how best to store and ultimately dispose of the communication.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just deciding to go paperless and away you go. Under current legislation, certain information must be sent to members in a paper format unless you have undertaken a specific process to inform your members of your intentions to move to digital communications and enable them to request to continue to receive paper communications. This process does not however, need to be onerous or significantly increase your short term communications costs.

So why not talk to use about going paperless, there are many benefits and you may also save the odd tree along the way. Please contact your Concert Consultant or Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 (m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk) for more information.


Pension freedoms - £4.35bn in cash sums paid out in first 12 months

June 2016

Professional Pensions reported last month that the figures for the 12 months to March 2016 showed that around a quarter of a million pensions have received £4.35bn in cash payments following the reforms last April.

This is clearly good news from the standpoint of giving members greater choice and flexibility. But still leads to the questions:

  • "Are we doing enough to ensure pension scheme members fully understand the options?"
  • "Are we educating them early enough? Do they have the information to properly plan their retirement savings and maximise the opportunities pension freedoms offer?"

Clearly the numbers show that taking your pension savings as a cash sum is very attractive for a lot of people, but many may also get caught in the trap where Scheme rules (specifically defined benefit schemes) prevent members from taking advantage of pension flexibilities as the right to transfer their benefits is automatically removed as they approach normal retirement age.

At Concert, we are delighted to see a number of our clients looking at how best to communicate to those approaching retirement and what options are available to them in addition to those offered directly from their scheme. We’d be happy to share with you further some of the strategies we have developed with our clients and help produce a communication plan tailored to your needs. Please contact your Concert Consultant or Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 (m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk) for more information.


More communication can only be a good thing!

May 2016

Reading this week's copy of Professional Pensions, it was great to see communications being the focus of Helen's "editor's view". Whilst Helen goes on to concentrate on providers, we believe the same principles apply to members (and potential members) of occupational schemes. The savings landscape is far more complex now with ISAs, LISAs (the new Lifetime ISA) and alike. When we then add in the Annual Allowance, Tapered Annual Allowance and Lifetime Allowance restricting what someone can pay into their pension, it is no wonder many people consign pensions to the "too-hard pile" never really understanding or maximising the tax efficient saving potential of their pension scheme.

So now is the time to spend a little time (and money) ensuring pensions is clearer to all, in the long term this has to be good for the pension schemes and more importantly the pension scheme members.


Concert hire Lee Davies

May 2016

Concert are delighted to announce that Lee has joined us as a Senior Consultant. Having spent over ten years at Capita, as a Client Relationship Manager, and will bring great experience and extensive technical knowledge. Matt Jones, a Concert Director noted "We could not be more excited about Lee’s appointment – he is so well respected in our industry and we know that he will hit the ground running at a time of real growth for our business".

Lee will be based in our Bristol office where we continue to build a formidable consultancy presence.


Budget 2016

March 2016

On 16 March 2016 the Chancellor George Osborne, delivered his 2016 budget. Whilst the speculation of changes to pensions tax relief did not transpire, George Osborne did announce a boost to how people save for retirement or their first home by the introduction of a new 'Lifetime ISA'.

The new 'Lifetime ISA' will take effect from 6 April 2017 and will be available to any adult up to the age of 40. It will allow savers to put away up to £4,000 each year and for every £4 saved, the Government will give an extra £1 up to the age of 50. Therefore, if you save £4,000 each year, the Government will pay an additional £1,000 each year into your funds.

These funds, including the Government bonus, can be withdrawn tax-free from age 60 for general retirement purposes. In addition, the funds can be used to buy a first time home (the value must be less than £450,000 and must be for personal residence and not buy-to-let). Access before age 60, other than for a first time home will result in the loss of the Government bonus (and any interest or growth) plus the levy of a 5% tax charge.

If you already have a Help to Buy ISA, you will be able to transfer those savings into the new 'Lifetime ISA' when it is available, or continue saving into both. You will however, only be able to use the bonus from one to buy a house.

At the same time, the total amount you can save each year into all ISAs will be increased from £15,240 to £20,000.

The good news for active members taking advantage of Pensions plus is that the Government have decided they will not change salary sacrifice schemes designed to benefit pension savings. It was also announced that the government will restructure the public-service financial guidance providers (the Money Advice Service, The Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise), to ensure that customers can access the help they need to make effective financial decisions.

The new structure will direct more funding to the front line and focus more support in areas where it is needed. This will include:

  • A new pensions guidance body, to make sure that customers can get all their pensions questions answered in one place, at all stages of their lives; and
  • A new, slimmed down money guidance body responsible for identifying gaps in the financial guidance market and commissioning providers to fill these gaps to ensure that customers can access the debt advice and money guidance they need.

In addition, the Government has announced that it promises that the industry will design, fund and launch a pensions dashboard by 2019. The dashboard will be a digital interface where an individual can view all their retirement savings in one place.


GMP reconciliations. Now the hard work really starts!

February 2016

We are all aware that the date for schemes to complete their reconciliations is fast approaching, and for many months now our administrators have been feverously working to identify any issues, fill in the gaps and report on whose pension needs correcting. But now the hard work starts, it’s one thing working out someone is being paid the wrong pension, it's something completely different explaining that to them in a way that they can understand and will accept. A carefully constructed communication plan, providing the right amount of information, in an engaging and understandable format can pay dividends in reducing the administrative and legal workload which can be the result of a pension correction exercise. Whilst not all schemes are ready to start the communication process, now is the time to start thinking about how you are going to do it.


Has the world gone completely digital?

February 2016

Recent studies suggest that 70% of the UK population now own a smart phone, and on average they look at it 57 times a day. So the answer is yes, right? Well partially it is. We are definitely more wedded, as a society, to technology than we ever have been. The simple telephone has been transformed into a multi-tasking hand held companion that will organise our lives; telling us where we should be, when we should be there, with who, and what all our other friends are doing if they are not going to be there. But is this true when it comes to pensions? The answer is no. Most pension schemes are clearly still behind the times when it comes to pensions communications, using paper as the primary communication medium, supported in some cases by a scheme website. So now’s the time to make the most of our scheme websites, let’s start putting them at the centre of our scheme communications strategy. In most cases it will be more cost effective than the more traditional paper approach, and if the statistics are to be believed it’s how most of us would prefer to receive the information as well.


DC Digital

February 2016

Its not only clothes, celebrities and food that are subject to the whims of what is ‘fashionable’ …. what ‘works' in a digital format is also subject to change.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking these trends are of no relevance or credibility because often they are the result of a kind of mass user access testing that occurs naturally in most marketplaces. Indeed this is even more noteworthy when considering applications in niche markets – take DC digital comms – there has been a distinct movement away from the general to topic specific immediate impact. Pages are not to be wasted on general blurb, rather direct, relevant challenges are all the rage.

Another development that we include on our client sites is less text(with options to choose levels of complexity) and more graphics. Fewer pictures too.

So sites will be shorter, brighter, more immediate, relevant and boast a cleaner, more uncluttered feel. Happy designing.


United Biscuits appoint Concert

September 2015

It's always a proud moment for us when we are appointed to work with a client of the standing of United Biscuits. This is a Company appointment to provide communication services for a number of pension projects .... Projects that require strategic and technical input at the planning phase and the logistical management of our internal delivery services once the projects are underway. We are looking forward to working with a great team at UB.


Concert strengthen design and digital services

September 2015

For the last ten years the provision of top notch design services to our clients has always been a core activity for us. Over the past five or six years the demand for our digital and web expertise has grown at such a rate that we are having to extend that team too. Enter Cliff Newman and Daniel Bevan. Cliff joins as a Senior Designer and will oversee our creative output at a strategic level. Daniel is the newest of our Website Developers. Both are at the top of their respective games and we look forward to introducing them to our clients.


Concert get their man

August 2015

It wasn't easy but we are delighted to announce the arrival of Matthew Jones who has joined us as a Director. Apart from managing key clients Matt will be responsible for developing new products to bring to market and helping to set the direction of our business. He brings with him a wealth of experience in administration and communication services as well as a strong background in research and client management ... a real pensions professional.


Google ranks 'mobile friendly' pages higher

June 2015

On April 21st 2015, search engine and software giants Google released a brand new algorithm that ranks mobile friendly sites higher than those that lack mobile compatiblility. As we move further into the technological advances of the internet and mobile browsing, more websites are moving over to responsive web design. Being able to access a website on multiple formats, platforms and browsers is now a necessity rather than purely aesthetic.

The new ranking will take largest effect when submitting search queries on a mobile device such as phone or tablet. Although, Google are planning on spreading the algorithm to desktop searches in the near future in a push to convert more websites to responsive design.

The algorithm is in 'real time', which means if a site switched to 'mobile friendly' today, this would be picked up by Google almost instantaneously, rather than delayed like its Google Ad-word or Analytics algorithms. This has a big impact on sites that have yet/have not planned to go mobile, as pages that have made the switch will have been ranked longer, therefor earned a larger rating.

Though your site will not be delisted from Google for being 'non mobile friendly' the effects could affect up to 25% of catalogued Google sites.

If you wish to discuss how you can make your website responsive or about building a responsive website, please contact Concert on 0117 927 2759 or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.


Take the risk out of de-risking

June 2015

When it comes to liability management you must already know that communications are key…..but not for the usual reasons. Whilst creative input can have a role to play, our experience tells us that the ability to convert technical information into clear, well ordered wording, whilst also striking the right ‘tone of voice’ are the all important factors.

Here at Concert our experience in such projects from scheme closure to trivial commutation, Pensions Increase Exchange and Pensions Restructuring can prove the difference when conducting such exercises. We can advise you as to best practice and produce a project communications plan to compliment your wider strategy in this area and take care of all production headaches. That includes designing, writing and printing, collating and mailing all communication materials all from our Bristol offices.

We have also found that the construction of micro-sites (either linked to client intranets or not) can provide members with near real time updates and answer their questions in a media that diverts work-flow from your administrators.

And, as everything takes place under one roof and using our secure data room we have taken every precaution so that you can be sure your member data is secure. Our ISO 27001 accreditation in data management is testament to that.


A 'new man’ at the creative helm

June 2015

Welcome Cliff Newman. Cliff has been appointed as our new creative supremo. Based in our Bristol office, Cliff will be responsible for the creative direction of our clients as well as managing our general output for both digital and print. Cliff comes to us from the wonderful world of publishing having had stints at Immediate Media and Future Publishing where he has built up a wealth of knowledge around how top quality design and layout can assist in communicating complicated messages.

With apologies for the lazy, clichéd headline... Welcome to Cliff (yet another Gooner!)


Equiniti & Concert Partnership

April 2015

We are pleased to announce that Concert have teamed with Equiniti to help Equiniti enhance their communications within their Pensions Administration business.

Communicating effectively with pension scheme members is increasingly important to trustees and scheme sponsors, and is a key service component within any leading pension services organisation. With the April 2015 changes to the pension’s landscape, this will again raise the bar in terms of the need to communicate effectively, and to educate scheme members.

This is an exciting time for us and look forward to working with Equiniti.


Direct Mail is still a great way to connect with members

April 2015

Concert produces a number of paper-based items for our clients. These come in the shape of scheme newsletters and Trustee Reports; postcards that advertise the launch of a new website; flyers that let members know that their annual Statement is available online; and web enrolment cards for supplying members with their personal login details. More recently, it has been in the form of video books, where members can watch bite-size pension videos just by turning a page.

There are several reasons why direct mail is just as effective now as it ever has been. It continues to sit nicely alongside the newer digital marketing solutions, and here’s why…

A clever piece of direct mail engages people

How many emails are you receiving each day? If your inbox is anything like mine then 50% of it will be filled with junk mail, spam or e-newsletters - which means that more important messages will either be ignored, missed or deleted by accident. You may have also noticed that the amount of post you’re getting through your letterbox has greatly reduced over the past few years. As a result, an envelope or postcard carrying a clear message is more likely than ever to grab the attention of members when it lands on their doormat. What’s great about direct mail is that it can be sent out in a range of formats, shapes and sizes. This allows our designers to get their creative juices flowing and come up with something that really engages members and ultimately gets your message read.

Direct mail can be more personalised

Direct mail allows administration teams and Trustees an opportunity to speak directly to a pension scheme member on a personal level - something that email struggles to do. This will help promote trust between a company and it’s members, and that’s very important in the pensions industry.

Whatever you send to a member, addressing them by their name is not enough in some cases. Sometimes there is the need to give them personalised and tailored information that’s specific only to them. This can be done very successfully in print by using certain techniques that allow us to mix generic information with personal information, and it’s these little touches that go a long way to engaging members.

Even in this age of digital communication, direct mail marketing campaigns are as effective as they ever were. Highly targeted, personalised and tangible, marketing messages sent by post speak directly to consumers in a way that email communications never can. With some careful planning and execution - along with the right materials - direct mail marketing can play an important role in modern business for many years to come.

So, while accepting that email and digital content are becoming ever more popular because of the specific advantages they bring, the traditional method of direct mail should not be ignored. Contrary to popular belief, printed direct marketing is not dead. It's actually just as effective now as it ever was, and continues to sit nicely alongside the newer digital marketing solutions.

If you wish to discuss ways of connecting with your members using direct mail, please contact Concert on 0117 927 2759 or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.


Responsive Websites: A modern era must!

April 2015

There is an average of 5,700 tweets per second, the estimated amount of Facebook likes a second is a staggering 100,000 plus and most of this is done via a tiny device that sits with us through most of the waking day. People check the news, the weather and latest sports scores, all from the comfort of their mobile devices. Whether it is an iPhone, iPad or Kindle, these devices are becoming an integral part of our day-to-day lives.

Responsive design or responsive websites are web pages that are designed to work across a multitude of platforms. Whether it is a tablet, phone or PC, it should work accordingly. Ever since digital technology became accessible to the general public, there have been people working on making the users 'end goal' more achievable in the most comfortable and painless way. Responsive design works in the same way, it takes the sites you use every day and makes them accessible, reliable and structurally solid.

Our design and development team, here at Concert, have welcomed the used of responsive design with open arms, whilst also having a bubble of excitement at the endless possibilities in scope. It can transform a painful document repository, into a smooth, accessible file sharing tool. Sometimes everyday luxuries are taken for granted. Our phones are just our phones and websites are, at the end of the day, just websites. It is the thought process behind each design, which allows us to develop these luxuries.

To someone who is not familiar on the technical aspects of web development, it may be hard to feel the same excitement towards responsive website. However, by today’s digital standard, it is something that is expected.

If you wish to discuss how you can make your website responsive or about building a responsive website, please contact Concert on 0117 927 2759 or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.


Radical pension changes – your opportunity to engage with your staff and members

February 2015

Recent research suggests that only 5% of people expect to use Pension Wise, the free guidance offered by the Pensions Advisory Service and the Citizens Advice Bureau from April 2015. Over half of people surveyed anticipate approaching their employer and pension provider, asking family and friends, or searching online to help them understand the forthcoming changes to pensions.

Whether you operate a trust-based or contract-based pension scheme, your staff and members will be looking to you to understand how they are likely to be affected by the April 2015 changes and what action they need to take to ensure they are able to maximise their retirement outcomes. It is incredibly important to use this window of opportunity to improve pension engagement levels.

Marketing research suggests that online videos are 600% more effective than print and direct mail combined. At Concert, we know that short, engaging videos with embedded animation are one of the most effective ways to educate people in subjects that they have little familiarity with.

Shortly we will be filming an initial set of videos which explain the 2015 pension changes. We have chosen what we consider to be the most fundamental topics for defined contribution and defined benefit members. These are:

  • Understanding your new options
  • Transferring your defined benefit pension
  • Annuities and Income Drawdown

The videos will be scripted so that they can stand alone on your scheme or company website or, equally, sit together as a library of resources. We would also be delighted to discuss additional April 2015 topics to add to this library.

This year we will experience some of the most radical changes to the pensions industry in decades. Concert is here to help you grab this opportunity to maximise pension engagement levels.

For further information about filming, please call us on 0117 927 2759 or email b.mockridge@concertconsult.co.uk or s.powell@concertconsult.co.uk.

Please click here to watch a short montage of videos that we have produced for various clients.


Does a pension scheme need an identity?

February 2015

I think we all recognise the importance of a good logo, particularly where company brands are concerned. But are logos and corporate identities really necessary for pension schemes? Concert believes they are. In fact, not only are they necessary but they are also absolutely essential in order to communicate effectively to members of pension schemes.

A good logo will create an impact. It will instill confidence and align a company with its members – giving them a symbol to support and get behind. It can also define standards, add credibility and personality to a company’s image.

From a design perspective, a logo should be clear, easily interpreted and visually engaging to its audience. However, a logo on its own is not enough – it needs to be part of the scheme’s overall corporate identity. So things like ‘company values’ have to be considered alongside that of typefaces, colours and photographic styles.

Tone of voice is also hugely important when communicating to your members. For example, should a member booklet be written in a friendly or formal way? Or, perhaps somewhere inbetween? Get it wrong and your reader could miss your message altogether.

Concert are experts at getting it right. We create bespoke logos for pension schemes and co-branded versions for schemes that have to sit alongside the larger corporate brand. Our experienced designers can either follow your existing brand guidelines to the letter or create new ones for you.

If your pension scheme is in need of a re-brand or a new identity, please contact Rebecca Mockridge on 0117 927 2759 or email her at b.mockridge@concertconsult.co.uk.


Web Design Trends for 2015

February 2015

Not every design trend has to be followed, or indeed, is applicable to the pensions industry and pension websites in particular. However, Concert is always monitoring the web for new ideas and developments, so that if we see something that could really work for our clients, then we are there at the beginning of the ‘trend’ and not at the end of it. Longevity, after all, is a key component of web design. Separating the trends that last from the fads that don’t, is the responsibility of our web team and they are very good at it - only applying what’s good for the design and right for the client.

Large Images

Looking back at 2014 we saw a huge increase of good quality, large photography being used on websites and webpages across all sectors. This was partly due to better images being made available on library stock image sites, but also the increase in broadband speed meant that people were no longer sitting around waiting for them to load when viewing a website. Large images are not regarded as an issue anymore and subsequently they are becoming very popular. A picture paints a thousand words after all.

Semi-Flat Design

Semi-Flat Design has been around for a couple of years now but it is thought that it will continue to be used in 2015. What is semi-flat design? Well, it’s the use of flat graphics, bold colours, icons, and drop shadows etc. Have you noticed why a lot of sites have become more aesthetically pleasing – it’s because of their semi-flat design elements.

Video Backgrounds

Again, due to broadband speeds increasing and online video popularity in general, video is now being used everywhere on the web. It’s becoming a great way of creating mood and ambience on a website, and by placing it in the background of pages, it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t get in the way of information in the foreground. It makes an immediate impact and can get the viewer emotionally involved and give them a better experience.

Rich Content

Websites are now starting to contain a lot more information than they use to and Google loves it. That doesn’t mean we’re all seeing longer and longer pages of text though! These days, webpages are containing everything they need to but they are displaying it in the form of graphics, buttons, links, banners and video etc – creating lots of little jump-off points for viewers to go and explorer. It’s about creating a content rich environment for users to absorb key messages and information without really trying.

Better Typography

Google Fonts have been a big influence in web design and no doubt they will introduce more fonts in 2015. They are free to use and allow designers and developers the opportunity to introduce them to websites in order to give them a more unique look and feel. The use of system fonts are really a thing of the past as we can all access Google’s library.

Hand Draw Illustrations

Hand drawn illustrations have made their mark before, and other styles of illustration are also successfully used today. But there is something more unique and visually pleasing to a hand drawn illustration that requires a lot more effort but will help set one website apart from another. Having a rougher, sketchier feel seems more raw and different – and it is thought that people will enjoy that more. So, expect to see more of this type of illustration in 2015.

If you wish to discuss ways of introducing some of the trends mentioned here or maybe you require a new website, please contact us on 0117 927 2759 or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.


What is responsive web design?

January 2015

Responsive web design is a process of designing and building a website that adapts to the size of the screen upon which it is viewed. So, whether you visit a website on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop, the site will automatically adjust and reflow to fit that particular device. This additional functionality forces designers and web developers to focus more on building sites with limited screen space than they may have done in the past.

The dawn of mobile browsing

The introduction of the iPad, iPhone and highspeed mobile internet access revolutionised the way people consumed online content. As a result, developers needed to consider how sites looked and functioned on mobile devices with smaller screens.

Their initial solution was to build separate ‘mobile-lite’ versions of websites, while the main site was built to a standard size that fitted the majority of desktop and laptop screens. As the market for mobiles and tablets grew, developers were continually rebuilding and adjusting sites to accommodate new technology and viewing sizes. Companies had to budget for keeping a number of versions of their website maintained or accept that some versions may look disjointed or too small to navigate properly.

A ‘one size fits all’ solution was required and responsive web design was born.

The future of the internet

Recent research by the Internet Advertising Bureau predicts that the number of people accessing the internet via a mobile device will reach 1 billion in 2015 (13% of the world’s population or 28% of all internet users). It is also anticipated that this figure will increase to 3.6 billion (half the world’s population) over the next four years.

As a result, when creating a new website or improving an existing one, it has never been more important to consider what device users will access the site from. A site that is not optimised for mobile access, across a range of devices, will not retain users and maximise engagement as successfully as a fully responsive site will.

What are the benefits of a responsive website?

The three main benefits of a responsive website are:

  • Consistency - Responsive sites that are consistent across devices can improve user experiences. This means they are more likely to help users access the information they require and improve ongoing audience engagement, regardless of what devices are used to view the site.
  • Longevity - Responsive websites are future proofed against developments in technology. This means there will be less requirement to redesign and rebuild sites to cope with new ways of viewing online content.
  • Value - Responsive websites reduce ongoing maintenance requirements as changes only need to be made once rather than across a number of different versions.

Responsive or not?

Responsive Web Design is the industry standard for new build sites. If your website is not responsive then it is unlikely to maximise its potential to engage new and existing users. Building and maintaining member engagement is incredibly important for pension schemes, so we advise all our clients to have a responsive scheme website. Our developers are highly skilled at creating sites that adapt to all platforms and devices.

To discuss your online requirements drop us a line at info@concertconsult.co.uk or call 0117 927 2759.


A brave new world of pensions

January 2015

Radical pension reforms are only months away. Whilst many occupational pension schemes are reluctant to take action before April 2015, members of the public have been bombarded with information on the changes since March 2014. As a result, most people understand something is happening, but few will have a good idea of how they will be affected next year. A recent study suggests a very small number of individuals will rely on the Guidance Guarantee, so it will fall to pension schemes and employers to give people enough information and education to enable them to make the right decisions about their retirement.

Pensions is a ‘sticky’ industry, major changes are infrequent, largely because of the administrative upheaval they can cause. So when reform occurs, it’s often significant. Just as the industry was getting to grips with the 2006 tax ‘simplifications’ and automatic enrolment, George Osborne surprised everyone with his 2014 Budget reforms. Some of Osborne’s changes are so significant that they could be described as revolutionary.

Pensions Minister Steve Webb’s promise of Lamborghinis instead of annuities may have been optimistic, but the opportunity to cash in a pension pot at retirement is likely to be an appealing alternative to many people who have lost faith in ‘conventional’ pension provision.

In the area of occupational pension schemes, especially those offering defined benefits, the changes are not automatic and not necessarily relevant. Which means that decisions need to be made about how schemes deal with the changes and how best to communicate with members. Many schemes are reluctant to take the lead and are delaying detailed communications with members.

Guiding members to the Guidance Guarantee

Research by retirement provider Partnership concluded that just over half of individuals over 40 don’t know if they’re entitled to free pension guidance next year. Only a third know that they can use the Guidance Guarantee from 6 April 2015. The reality is that anyone over age 55 can use the service provided by the Pension Advisory Service and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Knowing about the service offered is just the first step. The research suggested that only 5% of people expect to use the Guidance Guarantee. Over half of people surveyed anticipate approaching their provider, asking family and friends, or searching online, for the answer to their pension problems.

The anticipation of poor uptake for the Guidance Guarantee means that there is an inherent duty falling to employers and pension schemes to:

  • Make staff and members aware of the changing pensions landscape
  • Provide a base level of education with regard to pension options
  • Run a Guidance Guarantee campaign

The purpose of the Guidance Guarantee is to offer individuals a short generic consultation so that they can understand the benefits of seeking independent financial advice to understand how they can achieve the best retirement outcome. Someone attending a Guidance Guarantee session will need to do a good amount of preparation themselves in order to make the most of their session. This further highlights the need for schemes and employers to improve pension based engagement and understanding.

Annuities – the jury’s still out

One of the key aspects of the Guidance Guarantee, and the ongoing need to improve engagement with employees and scheme members on pension related issues, is to help people understand that the breadth of options they have at retirement has expanded.

In the past, a majority of members in a defined contribution pension scheme would expect to convert their personal account into a retirement income via an annuity purchased from an insurance company such as Aviva, L&G or Standard Life. Some individuals with defined benefit pensions may have also considered annuity purchase as a retirement option if the benefits they could achieve were higher than their scheme benefits (as a result of impaired health or the absence of a spouse to provide for, for instance).

Since the 2014 Budget, annuity providers have experienced a decline of around 40% in annuity business, whilst sales of income drawdown products soared in the third quarter of 2014, more than doubling compared to the same period in 2013 (according to the Association of British Insurers).

That said, the total value of drawdown products sold is still only around half of the value of annuities. It is possible that initial changes in behaviour reflect the uncertainty in the market rather than a long term change in retiree trends. Insurers are expected to review and revise their annuity offerings to make them more attractive, and to develop new retirement products to cater for a far wider range of individuals seeking to find the best option for them.

Make sure you’re prepared

Whether you operate a trust-based or contract-based pension scheme your staff or members will be interested in how they are likely to be affected by the April 2015 changes and what action they need to take to ensure they are able to maximise their retirement outcomes.

Even if you haven’t made a decision as to how your pension provision is going to be affected, it is incredibly important to use the window of opportunity to improve pension engagement levels. At Concert we have a number of methods that you can utilise to maximise engagement across the board. These include:

  • Issuing news updates to reassure members
  • Sending mail-outs to explain changes and considerations
  • Running a joint awareness campaign between trustees and sponsoring employers
  • Ongoing education pieces on decisions at retirement (videos, guides etc.)
  • Reviewing and updating member literature
  • Implementing a new approach to retirement
  • Improving education throughout lifecycle of a member
  • Running seminars to explain changes and answer Q&As
  • Creating Microsites and helplines

If you would like any information on how we can help you with communicating the April 2015 pension changes to your staff or members please email us at info@concertconsult.co.uk or call 0117 927 2759 to speak to your usual contact.


Happy New Year!

January 2015

Concert Consulting would like to wish you all a happy and prosperous 2015!


Magnox Ltd appoint Concert to deliver videos

August 2014

We are delighted to announce that Magnox Limited have appointed Concert to produce a suite of videos to inform and educate staff about their particular section of the Magnox Electric Group Trustees Pension Scheme and the Combined Nuclear Pension Plan.

The videos will help reduce the travel demands on Magnox pension staff who currently have to spend a significant amount of time touring between UK sites to deliver pension information workshops. It is a great example of how communication challenges are being solved by developing technology and new ways to engage staff.

Concert were successfully appointed following a tender process involving a number of other high profile communications firms. Joyce Corbett, Head of Pensions at Magnox, was pleased to say that “Concert’s back catalogue of pension video production is impressive and they have highlighted what was crucial for us, the ability to combine technically accurate content with an appreciation for the overall creative direction.”

The videos will be publically available on the Magnox YouTube channel from the end of October.


Tarmac & Anglo American appoint Concert

August 2014

We are proud to report that Concert has started work on the creation of communication materials for both of these new clients. This is certainly a busy time for our design team as they are briefed with the production of new pensions’ brands for these new clients to Concert.


The Pensions Regulator steps up its fraud awareness campaign

August 2014

Pension Scams

The Pensions Regulator has increased its focus on improving awareness of Pension Liberation with a re-launch of its campaign and a re-brand as ‘Pension Scams’. With new flexibilities for Defined Contribution Scheme members available from April 2015 the Regulator is concerned that this could drive up Pension Scams.

Since the campaign began, tactics used by scammers have evolved and now include in-home visits from 'introducers', claims about 'legal loopholes' and the use of unusual investments like overseas property, storage units or biofuels. These are all used to make targets believe they are being offered a legitimate pension transfer.

The Regulator has asked trustees to help promote awareness of ‘Pension Scams’ to their members. A new leaflet and booklet are now available to help members understand the risks they face when considering a transfer of their pension savings.

Communications

Communicating financial risks to members is challenging because, without the appropriate education, it is hard for people to understand the size of the risks they face. This is evidenced by the fact that a large number of pension liberation complaints made to the Ombudsman have been against trustees who have put up barriers to transferring to protect members. Because members don’t appreciate the risks, they don’t appreciate any protection they are given. This is why the Regulator has chosen to take a higher impact approach to communicating the dangers of Pension Scams by highlighting real life extreme cases.

We can help you communicate this important message to your members by considering the most appropriate channels and helping individuals quantify the risks they face by improving their financial understanding. Speak to your regular contact or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk. for more details.


Are your communications hitting the mark?

May 2014

The Pensions Regulator has issued regulatory guidance to help Trustees meet the standards of practice (best practice) believed to form a good basis of quality governance and administration for Defined Contributions trust-based schemes (DC Schemes). This also includes Money Purchase Additional Voluntary Contributions and Money Purchase underpins so is also relevant to Defined Benefit Schemes. The guidance sets out what the Regulator considers trustees should do to meet those standards.

The code and guidance shows what quality features are expected to be present in all DC schemes to reflect the regulators view as ‘best practice’. However, some are features that must be followed as they are bound by legislation.

In reality many Scheme’s already follow at least some of the code and guidance. However, it is a good exercise to reassess that the code is being adhered to and whether there are any gaps, room for improvement or any further development required in certain areas.

In main the code and guidance focuses strongly on communications to members to promote and encourage ‘good member outcomes’. In particular around:

  • Investment decisions;
  • How the amount the member pays in affects the outcome;
  • Retirement and education; and
  • The decisions members need to make.

Communications play a large part in the members ‘pension life cycle’ as this can be key to how comfortably a member can live in retirement.

What is interesting is that in a recent study as many as 55% of people say pensions jargon has prevented them from doing more to effectively plan for retirement. The survey of 3,000 workers showed 28% of defined contribution (DC) savers were unaware of how much was in their pot and a further quarter could only make a rough estimate.

More than 34% were unable to say where their contributions were invested, with almost half of those admitting they had been told but the information was too confusing to understand.

Some 54% of respondents had no idea how much they should be saving for later life. Another 48% of DC savers agreed they would be more willing to put money into a pension if they understood how they worked.

Should you like to discuss this in more detail and what Concert can do to help please contact us.


The Budget and Defined Benefit Pensions

May 2014

George Osborne's announcement that the Government will abolish compulsory annuitisation from April 2015 is, perhaps, one of the most significant changes to the pensions industry in recent years. The ramifications for defined contribution arrangements are clear to see and annuity providers are already feeling the effects - the provider Just Retirement recently announced that annuity sales are "at around half of pre-Budget levels".

But what does this mean for individuals with defined benefit pensions? On the face of it, not a great deal. Annuity purchase hasn’t generally been a decision that those lucky enough to have DB benefits have had to make. But of course, the opportunity to access all of your benefits as cash at retirement will be an enticing one, even for those with the security of a DB pension and a strong sponsoring employer.

What might this mean for defined benefit members?

The Government is acutely aware that the change in pension tax legislation will prompt a number of individuals to transfer the value of their DB pension to a DC arrangement in order to take advantage of the cashing-in option. The Government is concerned about the effect this might have on markets, saying in section 5.13 of the "Freedom of choice in pensions" consultation document:

"Whilst the government would in principle welcome the opportunity to extend greater choice to members of private sector defined benefit pension schemes, it will not do so at the expense of significant damage to the wider economy – for instance, if doing so were to make it materially harder or more expensive for UK companies to finance long-term investment."

Most commentators believe that an outright ban on transferring from DB to DC is the most likely outcome. This means that, in making the pensions system more flexible for DC members, the Government have inadvertently tightened it up for DB members, who will:

  • No longer have the flexibility to shape their benefit at retirement if, for instance, they are single or are in poor health
  • Be tied to their former employees even if the employer has a poor covenant in place and transferring away could be a safer option for their benefits
  • Lack the control to consolidate their benefits into one arrangement or make their own investment decisions

What are the short term effects likely to be?

The most obvious and immediate effect of proposals to ban DB to DC transfers will be a rush to take up the option before legislation is in place. There will be a clear onus on Trustees to make sure members have all the information they need to make an informed decision and aren't just rushing through a transfer to take advantage of the window of opportunity. Trustees may want to:

  • Emphasise the value of defined benefits to members and their dependants
  • Make clear the risks of transferring from DB to DC
  • Focus on retirement education and understanding post retirement income needs

Member communications will need to be sensitively written and extol the virtues of seeking independent financial advice. Trustees will need to decide whether they make a point of communicating the anticipated changes independently, and potentially encouraging transfers, or just including an update in a regular communication, such as a periodical newsletter. Either way, it is likely to raise a spike in activity, both in requests to transfer and in members asking for more detail and an explanation of why the changes are occurring.

Some companies and schemes may be in the process of undertaking liability management exercises such as flexible retirement (offering the option to shape benefits by transferring to a bespoke annuity) and enhanced transfer value exercises (promoting transfers by offering improved values). Clearly in the longer term, these exercises are in serious jeopardy. But in the shorter term, communications released as part of the exercises should reflect the changing environment and explain the full picture to members.

The pensions' landscape is rapidly changing and all pension schemes should be thinking about how they communicate to members. If you would like to discuss your communication needs for the period running up to April 2015, or just in general, please discuss with your usual Concert contact or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.


Planet Hollywood

May 2014

If your business isn't creating online videos in the employee benefits and pensions arena, you might be missing out on one of the fastest growing segments of digital advertising. Seventy-six percent of marketers at small and large companies plan to produce more videos in 2014 making it the top area they will invest in, according to a Social Media Examiner report.

Why are videos often preferable to many other online marketing tools? "Our brains are wired for motion," says John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and author. "Vision trumps all other senses." Indeed, 65 percent of executives say they visit vendors' websites after watching their online videos, according to a Forbes Insights white paper.

So here are Concert's top tips for making videos.

1. Tell a creative story and include a call to action.

To engage viewers and motivate them to share your video, tell a story that is both informative and clever. Show what makes your offering different, and link the benefits to visual beacons. Always include a call to action as in this format they will appear very pervasive. Also, why not Invite happy clients to record their testimonials.

2. Produce professional quality videos.

You don't need a Hollywood set to shoot a video, but always engage a professional company with a proven track record and show-reel ….like Concert!

3. Measure results.

Video results can be assessed at a basic level by using Google Analytics to see the traffic sources, dates viewed and keywords searched. A video hosting platform such as BrightCove orOoyala can provide additional information, such as when people stop watching your videos.


Concert re-certified as ISO 27001 compliant

April 2014

ISO 27001 is the international standard relating to the management and protection of data. This is obviously of huge interest to our clients as being to demonstrate that suppliers have taken all possible steps to mitigate data risk is of paramount importance.

To retain our certification we are audited annually and every three years we have to apply for re-certification. We are delighted to report that our application has been successful based on the findings of the latest audit in April 2014.

What are the benefits of ISO/IEC 27001 Information Security Management?

  • Identify risks and put controls in place to manage or reduce them
  • Flexibility to adapt controls to all or selected areas of your business
  • Gain stakeholder and customer trust that their data is protected
  • Demonstrate compliance and gain status as preferred supplier


Pensions in the 2014 Budget

April 2014

Budget Update – July 2014

In our last Budget Update we summarised proposals announced by the Government to make fundamental changes to the way members of defined contribution (DC) pension schemes can take their retirement benefits.

The most significant proposal was to remove the requirement for DC members to purchase an annuity at retirement. The Government’s concern was that annuities no longer represented good value for many future pensioners.

Government Consultation

The results of the Government’s consultation were announced on Monday 21st July and you can read the full Ministerial Statement here. The key announcements were that:

  • From April 2015, everyone over the age of 55 with DC pension savings will be able to access them as they wish. As before, a quarter of their funds (subject to overriding limits) will normally be available to take as a tax-free lump sum. The rest can be drawn at any time from age 55 and will be taxed at the individual’s highest (marginal) rate of tax.
  • Transfers from private sector defined benefit (DB) schemes to DC schemes will still be allowed, providing the DB pension is not yet in payment. The scheme which is transferring the benefits must ensure that the member has taken advice from an independent financial adviser authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. Members must pay for this advice unless the transfer is within the same scheme (to a different section) or is being encouraged by an employer (known as an “incentive exercise”).
  • Transfers from public sector DB schemes to DC schemes will only be allowed if the DB scheme is funded. A funded scheme is one that builds up a reserve of money to pay all its members their pensions.

Right to Guidance

The Government previously pledged that DC members would have the right to face-to-face guidance at the point when they retire so that they can understand the greater flexibility available to them. This will be a Government service, provided by independent organisations rather than pension schemes or insurance providers. The hope is that people will have more trust in organisations that do not have a vested interest in what they do with their pension savings.

The Government will bring together a range of partners to deliver this guidance, including the Pensions Advisory Service and the Money Advice Service, which already provide guidance and support to consumers. The advice will be provided through a broad range of channels (web, phone and face-to-face) and will be free.

Communications

The changes herald a new dawn for defined contribution pensions and, with it, the way members engage with their pension arrangements. Communications will be at the forefront of this engagement drive. The most significant change will be the need to maintain communication routes with people after they retire as they will need to make ongoing decisions about investment and income throughout their retirement.

To discuss how the 2015 budget changes might affect the way you communicate to your members and employees, speak to your regular contact or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.


The Importance of Colour in Web Design

April 2014

Choosing an appropriate colour combination in the website design process is considered one of the most important (yet often overlooked) elements in creating a successful website. Psychologists have revealed that people are susceptible on a subconcious level to color impressions and that over 60% of acceptance or rejection of a website is tied to this very fact. Choice of colour has the ability to generate a positive impact to the visitor and as a result, make the visitor stay longer. We all know – the longer the visitor stays the more the chance of enticing him/her to take action on the end website goal.

Here is our list of colours and their likely effects.

  • Red is attractive and powerful and would go well for websites that are focused on products meant for children and also for inducing a visitor to take action with a "Book now", and/or "Reserve now". Red invokes emotion.
  • Orange is used in websites that promote food products. It is known to promote positive thinking and increase creativity. The color also appeals to the younger generation. Many technical companies use Orange.
  • Yellow signifies cheerfulness and creativity. It appeals to children and is used in sites that promote leisure products. Yellow, however, can tend to strain the eyes and should be used as an accent color in most cases.
  • Green is pleasing to the human eye and is apt for tourism sites and sites that relate to nature. Green symbolizes prosperity and wealth. Green also invokes trust and is one of the most trendy / corporate colors.
  • Blue is a conservative color with incredibly high trust value and is known to relax the nervous system. It is suitable for sites offering high- tech products and also for diet products. Many people mistakenly use blue for text color. This should be avoided as it is not a standard color for the human eye to read with.
  • Black is useful for sites that relate to photography and art.
  • Purple is used in religious sites and vacation sites.


Welcome Rebecca Mockridge!

February 2014

Rebecca is a great addition to our consulting team. Formerly of Aon Hewitt and Mercer, Rebecca brings a wealth of technical pensions know-how, knowledge and great project and relationship management experience with her as well as a sunny disposition that can even make Pete Walsh smile! Rebecca’s hobbies include horse riding, softball and socialising (a lot!).


Severn Trent Water appoint Concert to communicate reward strategy

February 2014

We are delighted to announce that STW have appointed Concert to re-launch their reward communications starting in Q1 2014. Robert Tyrrell (Reward Manager at STW), commented "Concert have demonstrated an in-depth understanding of our reward mechanisms, creative flair and how together this approach can support our wider strategic thinking through effective communications".

Peter Walsh, Managing Director of Concert remarked "We understand the challenges that STW face at this time and we feel sure that our strategically applied communications programme will have a positive and tangible effect going forward".


Re-launch of the Prudential Staff Pension Scheme website

November 2013

We are delighted to announce that on the 7th November 2013, we successfully launched the "new look" website for the Prudential Staff Pension Scheme. The website was re-designed based upon the quantitative and qualitative feedback gathered from our online survey and a series of on-site focus groups held throughout December 2012 and January 2013.

In today's world access to concise, clear and useful information is necessary to make sure people are engaged with their pension savings and that they fully understand the range of benefits that membership brings to their table. In developing a website that allows access to all the important pension scheme documentation, gives clarity on the more confusing areas, allows the user to view a range of education materials via the On-line Learning Modules and keeps you in touch with Scheme and market events we are taking giant leaps forward.

However, we won't rest there. Our next challenge is to keep the content fresh through the addition of more educational materials, the tools by which those important decisions can be made and to make sure that the website acts as a hub of pension communications – where information can be stored and retrieved.


Pension Liberation

November 2013

So, what are the warning signs? There are several things that may happen which should alert you to the fact that you are being approached as part of pension liberation. Some of the key things to watch out for are:

  • Receipt of an unsolicited email, text or phone call;
  • Being informed that you can access your pension fund prior to age ;
  • Being told of a legal loophole or that the transfer must take place to a receiving pension arrangement that is held offshore or overseas.

Whilst unsolicited contact by its very nature may be unavoidable, by being vigilant and making sure you ask the right questions there is no need to get caught out. Anyone accessing pension funds early through pension liberation will face serious tax consequences. Currently you will be liable to a tax charge of 55% even if you are a basic rate tax payer or pay no tax at all. If you didn't realise you were breaking the rules you will still have to pay tax at 55%.

You can access more information on the subject from The Pensions Regulator and HM Revenue and Customs websites. If you are approached by a company that you suspect may be trying to engage you in a pension liberation scam, you should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Please be vigilant at all times.


United Biscuits PensionsNow newsletter

April 2013

In April Concert undertook the design and production of the latest 'PensionsNow' newsletter on behalf of our client United Biscuits.

The design has changed over the years from three separate newsletters for active, deferred and pensioner members, to a more concise and combined version for all audiences. However, we wanted to make sure that the relevant articles and important messages within it were read by the right audience and not lost amongst all the other articles. So to make things more identifiable we introduced a colour scheme and a key for each audience, and each article was colour flagged accordingly.

'PensionsNow' is a full colour, A4 publication that is mailed out to over 19,000 members of the UB Pension Plan.


Property vs pension


November 2019

When it comes to saving money for retirement, the number of people who prefer property to pensions is on the rise.

Property has had some massive growth over the years, and UK house prices have far outstripped inflation, by some 3% a year since 1955.

But the UK stock market has grown faster still, gaining investors on average over 6% above inflation, over the same time period.*

Property can be time consuming and requires a lot of effort and buying and selling can be costly and drawn out.

Investing in a pension can be more relaxed. When you put money in, you get a boost from the Government of up to 45%. A generous tax perk, and one of the main reasons why so many people put money in a pension in the first place.

Like the stock market, the value of property can fluctuate, and property with a mortgage, is at risk of falling into negative equity if house prices fall. With tax benefits on property not as generous or rewarding as they once were.

Pension or property

One is not necessarily better than the other. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and what’s right for you depends on how comfortable you are with the risks of each.

Investing is all about distributing money in order to benefit from a decent return, and there’s no reason property and pensions can’t complement each other as part of a investment portfolio.

*Numis and London Business School.

Customer retention is a growing challenge for Life and Pension providers


November 2019

It’s difficult to provide the best customer experience if you can’t get in touch with your lost customers.

With 11% of the UK population moving house every year and an average of 2% to 5% of all mail returned to sender*, this is a growing challenge for life insurance and pension providers. Also, some customers pass away, leaving unclaimed funds that need to be delivered to their next of kin.

The benefits of being in touch with every customer

The ability to reunite loyal customers and their families with funds owed to them is a positive outcome which creates brand affinity. Organisations that do it right can create and receive significant brand value in the eyes of the customer.

Life insurance and pension providers who fall short on this requirement could be disciplined by the FCA with the risk of financial penalties and damage to brand and reputation.

Overcoming current challenges

In the quest to find and contact customers, manual customer tracking and tracing processes are creating a challenge for many organisations. The current manual approaches to finding typically thousands of lost customers can be slow, time-consuming and expensive.

As an additional challenge, many life insurance and pension providers need more data and insight to identify and reconnect with their lost customers effectively. If limited information is available about customers, organisations can’t be sure that they are reaching the right customer at the right address.

Accurate, relevant data is required to validate a customer’s latest available contact details, to ensure that communications always reach their intended recipients.

*Research conducted by Office of National Statistics

Over 60s miss out on thousands of pounds of pension savings


November 2019

Savers over the age of 60 are throwing away up to £1.75bn in pension contributions by opting out of their workplace schemes, according to figures from Royal London. (The UK’s largest mutual life, pensions and investment company).

They analysed their own figures, which indicated a 23 per cent opt-out rate among the over 60s compared with 10 per cent across all other age groups.

According to Royal London’s calculations, an individual in their 60s on the average wage, paying the minimum pension contribution of 8 per cent would have a retirement pot of just under £14,000 by the time they reach age 65.

Given that pension contributions are made up of contributions from workers and their employer, to which tax relief from the government is added, individuals would only need to contribute about £6,600 of their own money to achieve this outcome.

This means by opting out of their pension each member could be missing out on £7,000 each, the mutual insurer stated.

Royal London looked at the six-week window when a member is first auto-enrolled in a workplace pension scheme and has the choice to leave and get all their contributions back.

According to data from the Labour Force Survey, there are approximately 1.1m people aged 60 or over who are in full-time employment, which means more than 250,000 people could be affected.

If each saver stands to lose up to £7,000, then collectively this group could be missing out on as much as £1.75bn in retirement savings by opting out, Royal London added.

According to Helen Morrissey, pension specialist at Royal London, it is understandable that someone aged 60 might think it is too late to save enough to make a difference to their retirement income, but she stressed “they are wrong”.

She said: “Our figures show older workers are throwing away thousands of pounds on retirement income by opting out of their scheme. We would urge anyone thinking of opting out of their auto-enrolment scheme to think twice before doing so.”

“If the decision to opt out is solely down to budgetary pressure and not being able to afford pension contributions - then it might be understandable. I am more concerned that people opt out because 'it's not worth doing'. The problem with that is they will lose employer contributions and tax relief.”

"I have long been surprised at the small, but significant, number of people saying “no” to what is effectively free money. More thought and effort should, in my opinion, be put into educating the over 60s as to the very real benefits they’re giving up."

Encouraging loyalty and retention within Financial Services


October 2019

The emergence of online comparison sites over the past 15 years has given customers a wider choice when buying financial products online (insurance being a classic example). For brands this means it’s increasingly difficult to connect with customers to provide a positive brand experience. The customer experience is one of the biggest factors for encouraging loyalty and retention.

How can brands improve loyalty and retention?

Developing a predictive customer journey, data-driven model will clearly show how customers really behave and reveal patterns and trends that can highlight who customers are, and when then leave – providing the opportunity to interact with them before they do so.

Acting positively in response to customer needs will improve the customer’s experience. Key triggers for financial decisions such as moving home and retiring, and insight into financial holdings and attitudes, can help brands engage customers with the most relevant offers and information.

Happy and loyal customers

Customer experience is crucial and brands that can ensure their communications are relevant, personal and well-timed will be more successful at keeping customers happy and increasing customer loyalty.

However, it’s not all about discounting and price. Financial services businesses should consider defining those seeking a higher level of service and whether they would be willing to pay more for it. It could well be that in today’s instant online world certain customer segments want reassurance, guidance and increased security and don’t mind paying a little more for it.

Customer experience is king – but marketers still struggle to understand the needs and wants of their audience


October 2019

In an increasingly connected world, customers expect real and authentic interactions with brands.

To meet these demands, brands are shifting the way they think about “customers” and are starting to think of them as people; people who have real lives, relationships and desires rather than numbers that consist simply of views, clicks or transactions.

Brands that can deliver on these customer expectations know the people who buy and use their products at a deeper, more intimate level. This knowledge goes beyond standard demographics like gender, age or income to include their attitudes, wants and needs.

How do these people spend their time? How do they engage with your brand and with other brands? How do they behave as individuals; not just members of a specific demographic?

A more complete picture of customers

Of course, there is still a place for traditional segmentation techniques – marketers just have to use other data sources alongside them to get a more complete picture of their customers. A more thorough understanding of customers is needed more than ever before. Fortunately, with the number of devices and the connected nature of modern people there is much more data available for analysis.

The future of marketing is driven by sophisticated connected, consumers who expect exceptional experiences every time. Given the choice available to consumers it’s the customer experience that’s become the differentiator. Brands have to work that much harder to win customer loyalty, purchase-by-purchase and engagement-by-engagement.

Customise the customer experience

To stand out, today’s marketers must take a ‘deep dive’ into their customers’ individual preferences and purchase paths to customise the experience around their unique and evolving needs.

You’re only as good as your last interaction, so it’s incredibly important to always get it right. If you don’t give your customer an exceptional experience, other companies will.

Consumers will continue to change. New purchase channels will emerge, existing customers will have new needs and life moments that will change their preferences and new generations of consumers will emerge introducing new trends and opportunities for engagement.

To keep up – and stay one step ahead – we need to adapt and build our businesses to support the customer experience.

New additions to Concert’s client family


September 2019

We’re delighted to announce the two most recent additions to our growing family of lovely clients.

Last year, the Pearson Pension Plan produced paper communications about the Annual Allowance. This year, they’ve asked Concert help design, develop and deliver a more cost-effective and contemporary online solution to this complex member communication challenge.

We’ve also partnered with the Northumbrian Water Pension Scheme who were looking for a creative agency that could understand their desire for a refreshed and reinvigorated brand identity, and deliver it swiftly.

In both cases, what impressed our new clients most wasn’t just our ability, but also our attitude! We feel relationships are best built face to face and we always go the extra mile to make sure we really understand what our clients want, and why!

We look forward to working with both the Pearson Pension Plan and the Northumbrian Water Pension Scheme, and helping them take member engagement to the next level.

Concert Consulting appoints Mel Burton as copywriter


September 2019

A photograph of Mel Burton

Mel is an experienced copy and content writer, specialising in financial services. With a solid marketing background and client, agency and consultancy experience, across all media. He has a proven track record of writing, developing and delivering insight driven, targeted marketing communications that bring the subject matter to life.

He joins Concert with the responsibility for ensuring that copy and content are creative, engaging, and appropriate for the client’s needs and corporate branding.

Mel writes copy and content with clarity, focusing on the member or employee experience and improving readability. With a hands on approach to delivering complex information in a fluent, jargon free, consistent tone of voice, whilst still meeting legal and compliance conditions.

A team player with drive, leadership and motivational qualities.

Prior to joining Concert, Mel has been working as a specialist financial services copy and content writer, working across a varied, diverse client base.

Mel Burton said: “This is an exciting time to be joining Concert, and I am looking forward to helping them deliver communication strategies that change how people think and act, by refining complexity, whilst linking messages directly to identified audiences.”

Quiz – Could you spot a pensions scam?


August 2019

The law recently changed to help crack down on pension scams but would you spot a pension scam if you saw or heard one? Take this quiz to find out….

https://www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart/pensions-scam-quiz

The importance of accessibility in web applications


August 2019

What is accessibility?

Accessibility is an approach to designing and building things that considers and accounts for people of all levels of ability. Out in the real-world evidence of accessibility can been seen in most public spaces. Public buildings are designed with ramps for people who can’t manage stairs. Elevator controls are marked with braille and a recorded voice announces the current floor for those who can’t see well enough. Signs use icons and symbols to help people that don’t or can’t read English. The common theme with all these examples is that we don’t assume everyone is the same, with the same abilities, and we make provisions to include as many people as reasonably possible.

So how do we apply principles of accessibility to the development of web applications? The same principles of inclusivity and consideration apply to the design of web applications as with their real-world counterparts. And as with their real-world counterparts the most effective application of accessibility begins at the start of the project at the design stage. While it is possible to retrofit some features of accessibility to an existing development, the same way you can add a ramp to a staircase in a real-world example, considering accessibility from the beginning results in more optimal outcomes. By considering the needs of people with a wide range of abilities, early design decisions can be made where access isn’t limited arbitrarily. Returning to our real-world example, a building could be designed without steps at the entrance, removing the need to add a ramp in later.

The assistive technology that supports the use of web applications has come on a long way in recent years. A significant proportion of computers and web-browsing software support numerous control interfaces out of the box. These include mouse, trackpad, keyboard, touchscreen and trackball. Also in common use is screen reading technology that converts onscreen text to synthesized speech or braille. For all these technologies to work properly the content and user interfaces of the web application must be built to support them. This means writing standards compliant mark-up (HTML) and using WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes appropriately to describe the content semantically. This assists the reading technology in understanding the content presenting it to the user in the most useful and appropriate way.

Use of colour is another important part of accessible design. There are two common misuses of colour in web applications. The first is relying only on colour to convey information. Nearly 5% of all people have some degree of colour-blindness. They might struggle to understand the difference between a successful interaction and a failed interaction if the only indication of success is a change in colour. The second is using colours with insufficient contrast, particularly where text is displayed over a background colour or image. Even people without visual impairments struggle to read low contrast text and may miss an important interface feature or call-to-action.

Why is accessibility important?

If you have a message you need to communicate to as many people as possible then it doesn’t make sense to exclude people from your chosen medium of communication. Building a web application in accordance with principles of accessibility reduces the number of people who are excluded because of their ability. Furthermore, techniques that improve accessibility often improve general usability as well, which is of benefit to everyone. This is particularly true when it comes to building responsive applications designed to work on small touch screens like mobile phones. Another technical benefit is that Google assigns higher search results rank to websites that score well in accessibility tests.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for considering accessibility is that it is the law. The 2010 Equalities Act, and the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act that preceded it, makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled people when providing services. Discrimination is defined as not making reasonable adjustments to support everyone, regardless of (dis)ability. What constitutes reasonable adjustments is open to interpretation and will depend on the size of the organisation and the degree to which people will be affected by any failure to provide for them. There is an internationally recognised accessibility framework, the WCAG, that sets out three broad levels of accessibility provision (A, AA and AAA). For the majority of organisations meeting the requirements set out in level AA is usually sufficient.

Every picture tells a story


August 2019

Choosing the right images for your Scheme/Plan

Often businesses find it very difficult to choose the right images for their website, social media and other marketing communications. This is particularly the case in service-based industries, but there are still many ways to tell your story visually and capture the members’ attention.

Here are our top 5 tips for choosing images:

  1. Quality not quantity – Use good quality images, if possible use real-life examples (the Committee or your members), if that’s not possible use stock photography which is approved for editorial use.

  2. Avoid clichés – When stock images are the only option available, choose wisely and use pictures which tell a story.
  3. Be creative – Try not to be too literal, instead, suggest the experience or choose a theme.
  4. Show people – Use images of people your audience will identify with ie. images which represent the demographic of your pension.
  5. Always stay true to your brand – Only choose images which fit your core brand values and character (what your business stands for and how you want it to come across to members).

Visual storytelling is a great tool for providing members with a window into your Scheme/Plan. Use it wisely and creatively to build a picture that sparks interest and invites engagement and it will lead to your communications being more successful.

And of course, we’re here to help! At Concert we follow these tips when selecting photography for our own clients projects.

Need some inspiration?

If you need some further inspiration here’s a great post by DIYGenius about visual storytelling with 15 examples, although this is specifically for Instagram, lots of the advice applies to choosing photography in general: www.diygenius.com/brilliant-examples-of-visual-storytelling-on-instagram/

Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd remains in post


July 2019

Wednesday 24 July heralded a new era for British politics with Boris Johnson’s taking the reigns as Britain’s latest Prime Minister. His first job, to appoint his Cabinet colleagues saw the biggest ministerial shake up in living history.

Whilst Mr Johnson’s appointments will see a number of Government Departments with a new ministerial lead, The Department of Work and Pensions is one of the few where the status quo remains, with Amber Rudd remaining as Minister for Work and Pensions.

In a time of uncertainty, with Brexit still unresolved and Mr Johnson announcing his plans for sweeping changes, the fact that pensions appear to remain stable is welcome news.

Working in Concert


July 2019

Five people in the Concert Consulting office working on a creative project

We talk a lot about our ‘creative process’ for designing, developing and delivering first-class communications for our lovely clients.

Ever wondered what our creative process looks like? It looks a lot like us in this picture!

Simply put, we get together members of each of our core business areas – consulting, design, digital and production – then lock them in a room and don’t let them out until they have great ideas!

Well, okay, not really – but everything we do starts and ends with great communication. From the moment we take a brief from a client, to campaign and project planning, to delivering to our ‘end users’: your employees and members – it’s all about great conversations and effective communications.

It’s what we do and who we are.

 

Gamification: is it winning?


July 2019

It’s almost the fifth anniversary of the launch of the first high profile ‘gamified retirement saving app’.

This featured a family of cartoon nuts and bolts and was designed to educate staff about saving levels, and to encourage younger staff to engage with pensions and long-term saving by playing something like a cross between Pac-Man and Jungle Run.

The launch was part of a five-year ‘saving for your future’ campaign and was based on the power of games to engage people.

There’s no debating this power. The global turnover of the gaming industry back then was estimated at around $70bn. Now it’s almost doubled to $134.9bn.

But surely claiming that playing a video game that involves collecting coins can help encourage people to save more for retirement is like saying playing Space Invaders can help to increase the likelihood of people joining the Inter-Planetary Diplomatic Corps…

The serious point here though is that creating this kind of game, just isn’t gamification.

Gamification is about finding ways to generate the sense of achievement, reward and progress that people feel as they carry out a task or process that they need to do anyway (or that you want them to do) by adding ‘gamified elements’ such as points, perks or prizes, linked to how the task or process is completed.

Inside Amazon’s cavernous warehouse near Manchester, as many employees race to fill customer orders, their progress is reflected in a video game format. It’s part of an initiative by the e-commerce giant to help both reduce the tedium of its physically demanding jobs and improve the efficiency of work like plucking items from or stowing products on shelves.

The games are displayed on small screens at employees’ workstations and, with names such as MissionRacer, Dragon Duel and CastleCrafter, look a lot like old-school video games e.g. Donkey Kong and SuperMario. The games can register the completion of the task, which is tracked by scanning devices, and can pit individuals, teams or entire floors in a race to pick or stow products. Game-playing employees (it’s optional, not compulsory) are rewarded with points, virtual badges and other goodies throughout a shift.

There may be debates about whether it’s appropriate to reward improved performance with badges rather than bonuses, but there’s no debating that this is true gamification.

By extension, gamifying saving for retirement would look more like rewarding members who increase their AVCs with a t-shirt, or those who login to their member account every month for a year with a hat or some vouchers.

The pension industry may see that as trivialising what is obviously an important and serious issue, but it will be interesting to see what, if any, results are publicised at the end of the five-year campaign.

How to spill coffee and influence people


June 2019

You may be aware of the role of ‘influencers’ in modern marketing strategy.

According to digitalmarketinginstitute.com, influencers are people who have established credibility in a specific industry, have access to a huge audience and can persuade others to act based on their recommendations.

You may not be aware of Omar the construction guy.

Omar is a regular guy who was frankly unimpressed with his daughter’s strong affiliation with various social media influencers, claiming that ‘anyone could do that’. He then went on to prove his point by creating his own Instagram influencer account (justaconstructionguy) and posting pictures of himself going about his daily business in the visual style of typical social media influencers. In around a month he racked up over 333,000 followers, all avidly awaiting the next image of Omar drinking coffee on his break on the building site, or dramatically splashing his coffee over a construction sign…

The internet was delighted. Sadly, it turned out Omar was actually not a spoof influencer but an actual influencer in an ad campaign for… a coffee shop…

The internet is still debating whether to laugh at itself or be outraged but the story got us thinking about whether or not there is a role for social media influencers in the context of saving for retirement.

Engaging people – especially across the younger age range – around saving for retirement has been an ongoing challenge but as the media and technology landscape evolves, it throws up new ways to tackle this challenge. Maybe influencers could be the next big thing.

The idea of somehow getting YouTube and Instagram influencers to take a break from extolling the virtues of the latest fashion, beauty, food and beverage trends to comment meaningfully on the advantages of starting to save for the future – certainly has some appeal.

According to Kamiu Lee, CEO of Activate, writing for Entrepreneur Europe, influencers can humanise financial brands and highlight philanthropic efforts in a way that more traditional and other digital marketing struggles to deliver.

Let's face it – pretty much all finance topics can be complicated, boring and even a bit scary. And on top of that, financial institutions have long had a reputation that doesn't put them on the list of consumers' favourite brands, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis.

Here, Kamiu believes, influencers are uniquely positioned to connect a brand to a personal story in a way that's superior to what a traditional print or digital ad could do. Connecting a brand and its products to a personal life journey - whether that be paying for a wedding, financing a renovation or saving for retirement -- is all about bringing a friendly brand connotation, relatability and authenticity to these financial brands and the concepts they service.

As communications people, this makes a lot of sense to us but we’re also conscious of the challenges that are specific to the financial services sector. Indeed, Kamiu also highlights the requirements of various financial regulatory bodies across the world and the need for no clear product placement or recommendations occurring in a post about a financial brand as well as clear disclosure around an influencer's paid posts.

But even setting these regulatory framework considerations aside, is that even possible to ride of the coattails of social media influencers with message of saving for your future anyway?

According to Antonio Grasso (a self-proclaimed B2B Influencer in the area of digital transformation), an influencer is someone with the ability to change behaviours or affect purchase decisions in a given context, having already earned an engaged audience by producing content on specific topics. And influencer marketing aims to harness the influence of key individuals on the social web to meet a business goal by building mutually beneficial relationships.

In other words, influencers are typically more about preaching to the converted and creating a place for them to congregate, than they are about converting those whose ear they don’t already have.

As behavioural psychology tells us that people tend to ‘filter out’ messages that they aren’t already aligned around or on board with, the idea of influencing young people about saving for their future when they’re engaging with content about the latest trainers feels a little remoter.

Maybe if Omar had posted a few shots of himself increasing his monthly pension contribution instead of splashing all that coffee around…

5g and You


June 2019

The much anticipated fifth generation standard for cellular network communications, 5g, looks set to revolutionise the way we use the internet.

Vastly improved performance in three key areas will enable intensive tasks traditionally confined to a WiFi or cabled environment to be completed on the move, in addition to brand new workflows, products and services like the ‘Internet of Things’ that could not have existed under previous network architectures.

However, there are also technological drawbacks to 5g compared to the 3g and 4g (LTE) that we are used to, and more than one company involved in the rollout of 5g infrastructure across the world has been implicated in controversy. What do all of these factors mean for the way we conduct business, and live our lives?

The specification
The new 5g network specification is primarily concerned with achieving the following improvements over prior implementations:

  1. Greater speed

    The much higher bandwidth of 5g connections is expected to provide worst-case bitrates in excess of 100 megabits per second to all users, and a theoretical maximum of up to 20 gigabits (20,000 megabits) per second in ideal conditions. For comparison, current 4g LTE networks provide an average of between 5 and 10 megabits per second, with peak performance approaching 50 megabits per second in perfect conditions. Google Fiber, the superfast fibre optic network operated by the global search giant, operates at 1 gigabit per second over a cable or high performance WiFi router.

    In other words, the ‘worst case’ 5g speed will be 2 to 4 times faster than the current average speed, with a ‘top speed’ around 400 times faster than the current 4g top speed.

  2. Reduced latency

    Connection latency is a measure of the delay between a device sending a signal and receiving a response from the network, and is unrelated to connection bandwidth.

    A good demonstration of this is watching a Youtube video over your cellular network, followed by conducting a video call. Both videos will likely run at lower resolution than they would over WiFi due to bandwidth constraints, but you may also notice that your video conversation feels ‘laggy’ or desynchronised in a way that Youtube doesn’t. Your contact might take half a second longer to reply to you than you are expecting, and you find yourselves speaking over one another more than you would in person. This is the effect of latency; a fractional delay between you speaking words and your contact hearing them, compounded by the same delay in the other direction when they respond.

    5g network technology is expected to reduce latency to between 1 and 4 milliseconds, comparable to a good WiFi connection. 3g and 4g have average latency greater than 50 milliseconds. The benefit of this will extend to every real-time interaction performed on the network, from video and voice calls to online gaming and general web application responsiveness.

  3. Many more simultaneous connections

    All wireless networks, from 3g and 4g cellular to WiFi and Bluetooth, suffer reduced performance in both bandwidth and latency in busy environments. This is due in part to increased congestion causing interference on whichever frequency band the network uses, and in part to the upper limit on simultaneous data transfers from a given antenna being reached. Interference reduces download speed as more pieces of whatever is being downloaded will arrive corrupted and must be reacquired, and reaching the simultaneous connection limit puts surplus connections in a queue for service, adding greatly to latency.

    5g network broadcasts are directional, allowing many more transmitters to be used in the same location without interfering with one another. This significantly raises the number of connections that can be maintained in a given area using 5g compared to the same area using 4g, alleviating the issues mentioned above.

So what does this all mean for the world of saving for retirement?
As with previous generations of mobile communication technology, we can expect 5g to drive up demand for faster and slicker ways to consume content – even about pensions. Online content about pension benefits has to be accurate and up-to-date but unless it’s also accessible in a way that’s in line with wider communication trends, then it’s at risk of looking old-fashioned and irrelevant.

Saving for retirement already has a bit of a ‘street-cred issue’ – especially for younger people – so failing to keep up with technology is a mistake our industry cannot afford to make.

How Brexit delay is affecting pensions


June 2019

The Brexit process now seems likely to run until October 2019.

One of the effects of this is that a new pensions bill, planned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to be written into law during 2019, is now unlikely to be passed before 2020.

This means that five major pensions initiatives could face a delay of unknown duration:

  • Pensions scams: the cold-calling ban introduced in January was a welcome step, but measures to make it easier for schemes to block suspect transfers and harder for scammers to establish fake schemes
  • Mid-life MOT: an obligation on all employers to support a financial health-check for employees
  • Pensions dashboards: set to become a reality later this year (on a voluntary basis), the real value for rests on making it compulsory that all schemes provide information
  • Collective defined contribution (CDC) schemes: these plans are designed to offer a halfway house between defined benefit and defined contribution and Royal Mail is keen to adopt CDC for its 140,000 UK staff
  • Defined benefit (DB) consolidation: although DB consolidation is already possible, the DWP wants to allow DB “superfunds” to drive consolidation of smaller schemes to maximise potential cost savings as long as members have equal protections to those of other DB schemes.

All of above initiatives could bring tangible benefits, but all require new legislation and it’s currently unclear when a new pensions bill will be at the top of the Parliamentary agenda.

Don’t forget your pension


May 2019

When people move to a new job, they often move to a new pension plan. The problem is that they also ‘leave’ their old pension and can forget about it.

Although almost all pension plans send scheme members annual information, one of the most common reasons why people lose track of pensions not updating their contact details when they move house.

The Association of British Insurers estimates that more than 1.6 million pensions worth over £19.4bn are “lost”.

With 10 million people now auto-enrolled in workplace pensions, the issue is going to get worse.

If you move house, you should write to all your pension providers to tell them your new contact details. If the providers can’t be tracked down, you can get help from the government-backed Pension Tracing Service or by calling 0800 731 0193.

GMP equalisation delayed by HMRC


May 2019

Earlier this month, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) announced that data needed to enable pension schemes to confirm the guaranteed minimum pension (GMP) benefits payable to members won’t be available as planned. The detailed GMP information won’t now be available until November 2019 at the earliest.

The delay is in response to pension industry concerns about the complexity and cost of resolving GMP data issues. As a result, HMRC will run additional automated GMP reconciliation exercises on top of the checks and calculations from its original plan.

Given the size of the issue, industry experts warned that further delays might be likely – especially for those schemes undergoing transactions, such as buy-ins, or member option exercises.

Making plans with Nationwide


May 2019

It was great to see Ness, Amanda and Helen at our offices this week for a planning meeting. As always, there is much to be done for the Nationwide Pension Fund and keeping things on track is key. Thank you for your input and looking forward to the next one.

Pensions – Are You Saving Enough?


May 2019

ITV’s “Tonight” aired a program last week questioning whether the general public are saving enough for a comfortable retirement. “Pensions – Are you saving enough?” challenged three working volunteers to live on their future predicted pension pots for a week to investigate.

It is estimated that 60% of people don’t know how much is in their pension pots and the program highlighted concerns and fears from members of the public regarding the future of their finances. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people are not saving enough for a comfortable retirement and some say this can be attributed to the way pensions information is being communicated. The pensions industry is now working towards simplifying communications so that they resonate more with the general public to encourage people to pay more into their pension pots.

After following the three volunteers, the program demonstrated the difficulty that many people would face if trying to live on the amount per week that they would receive from their predicted pension pot. Despite the introduction of Auto-enrolment in 2012, 1 in 4 people are still not paying into a workplace pension scheme, meaning that they will be relying solely on the state pension once they reach retirement. Retirement planning is important and getting advice from a financial adviser can be extremely beneficial if you have concerns over whether you’ll have saved enough for retirement.

“Pensions – Are You Saving Enough?” is available to watch on ITV Player until the end of May.

Auto-enrolment contributions to increase


April 2019

The contribution you make to your pension is set to increase on the 6th of April of this year. Both you and your employer will pay an increased amount of 8% through auto-enrolment rather than 5% as in recent years. This increase in contribution equates to an increased amount of 5% of your salary being paid in to your workplace pension, up from 3%.

Date Employer Minimum Contribution Employee Contribution Total Minimum Contribution
New rate: 6 April 2019 onwards 3% 5% 8%
Current rate: 6 April 2018 to 5 April 2019 2% 3% 5%

Someone earning the average wage in the UK of £28,759 will be paying £75.41 from the 6th April, which is £29.96 more than the current rate. Opting out of auto-enrolment may sound a tempting option for some, however, by doing so, you are essentially turning down both your employer’s contribution and tax relief from the government, which is free money and could help to grow your pension pot. Another useful benefit of saving through enrolment, is that you could be earning investment returns on your money, which will help your pension pot to grow.

With the State Pension ages set to increase these small increased contributions through Auto Enrolment could pay dividends to your future.

Pensions Lifetime Allowance is set to rise


April 2019

From the 6th of April 2019, the Lifetime Allowance is set to increase. The Lifetime Allowance is the amount of money that you can put in to your pension savings, before tax charges apply. The amount is rising from £1,030,000 to £1,055,000 for the 2019/2020 tax year. This increase is a product of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure of inflation, which determines the change in pension Lifetime Allowance year on year. The CPI measure of inflation this year was calculated at 2.4%.

This change will offer the chance for workers to save more money in their pension pots before they get hit with a large tax sum. Although this is positive news for some savers, there is also the annual allowance to consider, which limits the contribution that workers can pay in to their pension on a yearly basis.

Pensioner income from occupational schemes


March 2019

Government statistics have revealed that the proportion of pensioner income from occupational schemes has fallen for the first time since 2005.

A study from the Government across all pensioners’ households, showed that the income from occupational pensions provided 27.8% of gross income in the last full tax year, having reduced from 29.9%, which was recorded the year before.

It was recorded by the Department for Work and Pensions (in its publication of its Pensioners’ Income Series) that the fall equated to a drop of £160 to £148 in average weekly income.

Single pensioners faced the biggest cut, with the proportion of gross income declining from 27.6% to 25.1%. Comparatively, pensioners living in couples saw a smaller reduction in the proportion of gross income, dropping from 31% to 29.2%.

Additionally, in 2017/2018, couples saw a rise in gross income by £15 per week, compared with pensioner households who were recorded as experiencing a £3 fall. Single households were hit the hardest with £20 less per week.

Pensioners in receipt of occupational pensions have also declined compared with previous years. Pensioner households receiving funds from a workplace scheme fell from 62% to 59% in 2017/2018, coinciding with a drop in weekly income from £259 to £254. When looking only at recently-retired households, the decline is more significant and those in receipt of occupational pensions dropped from 61% to 55%.

Nathan Long, Senior Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown describes, “There's yet more evidence that pensioners are being punished as a result of quantitative easing, with income from savings and investments on the slide, the data so far shows that semi-retirement is gathering pace fairly slowly as defined benefit pensions are still supporting more traditional retirements.”

Source

Concert’s crystal ball


February 2019

With the start of the new tax year on the horizon, many organisations are looking ahead to 2019/20.

The Pensions Management Institute is no exception and this month’s edition of their in-house magazine, Pension Aspects, takes a look at upcoming trends in communication – including an article co-written by our very own Jerry Edmondson.

When communciation doesn’t help


February 2019

Despite being published on a Sunday, this BBC article about the April increase to auto-enrolment contribution rates didn’t escape our attention.

As communication consultants, you’d be forgiven for thinking our perspective would be ‘all publicity is good publicity’ but there are times when that’s not necessarily the case. This is one of them.

The headline is actually pretty alarmist and negative. You can argue it’s doing its bit to raise awareness but it’s not so easy to say that its raising understanding in equal measure…

If you read the article in full (and many won’t), it’s hard to see why the imminent 2% increase in employee contributions should trigger a significantly higher spike in opt-out rates than the last 2% increase in April 2018.

In the first three months after last year’s increase, the opt out rate was 0.7%. This was only very marginally higher than the previous 4 year average rate of 0.6%.

Since that increase, those who didn’t opt-out (that’s the other 99.3%) will have become used to seeing that 3% deduction. Yes, the incremental step-up to 5% will be noticed but the question is will it be noticed enough to signicicanlty increase the number of existing members opting-out? We’re not so sure.

People being auto-enrolled for the first time could certainly feel that 5% is a bit steep, but a 2% increase when you’re already paying 3% is arguably going to feel less significant than a 2% increase when you’re only paying 1%. You could argue that the opt-out rate in this group may even be lower.

This was always one of the key points of the auto-enrolment design – action though inertia.

Headlines that focus on the ‘hit to pay packets’ and using the soundbites like ‘auto-enrolmageddon’ might be good for page views but by focussing on the negative they do little to help people understand why they need to save for retirement – which is the real story.

Should Trustees take professional communications help?


February 2019

By Jerry Edmondson

Last week, Professional Pensions publicised the results of its ‘Pensions Buzz’ that asked the question ‘do trustees need professional help with communications’?

I’m not sure whether copyright restrictions allow me to reveal the results (although you can take a look for yourself right here) but I’ll admit to a few pangs of anxiety before the ‘big reveal’.

I mean, what if the consensus was ‘no’?

Could this usher in a new age of ‘homemade’ or ‘DIY’ member communications in which trustees cranked out member benefit statements by hand using an old-style print press like the Croxford Reliant?

Happily, I needn’t have worried.

And that’s good news because, having been involved with the communication of pensions (and other employee benefits) for, ahem, almost 30 years, the question whether or not trustees need professional help with communications simply hasn’t come up. Not once…

Naturally, that’s largely due to the disclosure-driven requirement to communicate. It’s not as if it’s a matter of choice for trustees.

But equally it’s been a matter of access to appropriate and expert resources.

Even if trustees have to send printed matter to some or all members every year, buying and running their own print press isn’t really a viable option. Similarly, if they want to make information available on the new-fangled interweb, Trustees probably don’t want to create and populate their own ‘web-development and maintenance sub-committee’.

So getting help to do what needs to be done makes a lot of sense and, in this context, trustees have ALWAYS needed professional help to communicate with members.

The real question being asked by Pensions Buzz is probably more around the nature of the communications advice given to, and agreed by, trustees.

I've mostly spent those 30 years offering advice to trustees not about whether to communicate with members, or even about what to communicate to them, but rather how to communicate with members.

There was a big shift with the rise of DC, and the recognition that members had to make decisions that could and often would materially affect the quality of their life in retirement. Eventually, DC communication became more about inspiration and less about information as the challenges of helping ‘normal people’ (and that excludes just about everyone reading this article) get their heads around ‘pensions stuff’ became clearer and more acute.

Since the introduction of Pensions Freedoms four years ago, the same challenges have been becoming increasing clear in the DB context too and how trustees view DB communication is evolving as a result.

No self-respecting trustee would dream of failing to seek appropriate professional advice in matters of investment or actuarial valuation. A few may challenge that advice, but I suspect that number is microscopic in comparison to the challenges received in respect of communications advice.

It’s understandable. We live in the communication technology age and we all communicate all the time; so it’d be crazy to think that anyone has no opinion on what is good, or bad, communication.

But, as with actuarial and investment advice, the key to success in terms of ‘doing the right thing’ is listening to appropriately expert advice.

For example, over the years, I’ve lobbied trustee groups to carry out detailed member research many, many times. More often than not, that advice has not been accepted. Sometimes, but not always, for good reasons. But in every instance where member research has been done well, the results have been unexpected and hugely helpful in terms of making member communications more effective. Every instance.

Do trustees need professional help to communicate with members? Yes, absolutely.

But, if trustees really want to help members try and get their heads in the complicated, boring and slightly scary pensions game, then those trustees need professional communications advice at least as much, if not more.

Concert Consulting appoints Lee Bacon as Head of Production


February 2019

Lee joins Concert with a specific focus on managing our digital, design and production hub in Bristol. Lee’s appointment is Concert’s second major appointment in the last quarter, following the recent recruitment of Jerry Edmondson as Consulting Director, as the business continues to expand.

Prior to joining Concert, Lee held communication roles at major insurer and pensions provider Legal & General and at communications agency Ferrier Pearce.

Most recently, he was Lead Communication Projects Consultant at Sparks, the communication and engagement business of Capita Employee Solutions.

Lee Bacon said:
"It’s an exciting time to be joining Concert. We have an enviable track record of providing creative ideas and innovative solutions for both employers and trustees and I’m really looking forward to helping take Concert to the next level.”

Peter Walsh, Managing Director of Concert Consulting, said:
"We’re delighted that Lee’s joined us. He brings detailed design and production experience as well as communications expertise and industry knowledge. Lee will help us evolve and refine our existing processes, as well as develop new ways of delivering for our clients, so we can continue to delight them."

Five fold increase in people seeking information about pension scams


December 2018

Following an awareness campaign in the summer by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Pensions Regulator (TPR) there has been a huge increase in people visiting the FCA’s ScamSmart website, www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart.

The ScamSmart website allows you to find out more about avoiding scams, as well as check pension opportunities you may have been offered.

Before the awareness campaign, the average number of visits to ScamSmart website per day was 562, however after the campaign this increased to an average of 3,145 visits per day.

Research from the FCA shows that in just one year over 10 million UK adults received an unsolicited pension offer, and victims of pension scams last year lost an average of £91,000 each to scammers. In addition, new research suggests that 52% of 45-65 year olds with a pension do not think they are likely to be targeted by a pension scam. 21% thought they are too smart to be scammed and 18% thought they didn’t have enough money saved into their pension to be a target.

Nicola Parish, TPR’s executive director of frontline regulation, said: “The dramatic increase in the number of people visiting ScamSmart for information is very encouraging. Every pension holder is a potential scam victim so it’s vital that we continue spreading the word about scammers and how they operate to prevent more people handing over their funds to criminals.”

Head to www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart and see if you can spot an investment scam from a smart investment.

Ben & Jerry join Concert


November 2018

We promise that there will be zero ice cream puns in this piece!

We are thrilled to welcome Ben Havery and Jerry Edmondson to Concert. Ben is joining us as a Digital Developer and Jerry as Consulting Director.

Jerry brings over 20 years of communications experience and will be responsible for shaping our offering to the market going forward, with an emphasis on new technology and wider benefit communications. Jerry is a Sunderland fan and Ben isn’t quite sure what football is as it can’t be played on a laptop. Both are great guys and we can’t wait to introduce them to our clients and get to work.

These appointments are a response to our continued growth and desire to expand what we can offer our clients.

Peter Walsh, MD of Concert commented ‘We could not be more excited to welcome Ben and Jerry to the team and continue on our 'rocky road' to success.’ [sorry!]

Three pension updates to come out of the Budget 2018


November 2018

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, delivered his Budget speech on 29 October. Outlined below are some important pension updates included in the Budget.

The Pension Dashboard

Philip Hammond committed to a consultation later in the year on the implementation of the Pension Dashboard and the inclusion of State Pension information. The expected launch date of March 2019 is fast approaching, however a spokesperson for AJ Bell commented, “the fact a commitment has finally been made by the DWP to provide State Pension information is a positive step in the right direction.”

An additional £5 million a year for the DWP in 2019/20 is a symbol of commitment from the Government that it is taking this agenda forward.

‘Patient capital’ funding

Patient capital, another name for long term capital, is the capital an investor is willing to invest with no expectation of returning a quick profit, but with the anticipation of more substantial returns in the future.

Philip Hammond said actions were in place to get around £1trn of defined contribution (DC) assets to be invested in so-called ‘patient capital’. This is considered the most impactful announcement to come out of the Budget in respect of pensions.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will soon launch a consultation to allow unit-linked pension funds to invest in this type of asset class.

Cold-calling ban

This ban has been continually delayed for some time now, but it is now expected to take effect later this year.

The Treasury has published draft regulations to enable and enforce a ban on pensions cold-calling where consumers don’t already have an existing client relationship with the caller.

The Pensions Dashboard – an update on progress


October 2018

Background

In the 2016 Budget, the Government announced its intention to launch a Pensions Dashboard. The aim of the Dashboard is to allow individuals to view all their pension savings in one place, allowing them to consider all their retirement savings when planning. The original expectation was for this to be available from 2019.

The latest position

Earlier this year, it was reported that Esther McVey, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was considering scrapping the development of the Pensions Dashboard, despite hopes that it would encourage people to be more engaged with their retirement pot.

Subsequently, a petition, of over 100,000 signatures was delivered to the Government, calling on it to continue the development of the Dashboard. It argued that pension pots are at risk of being forgotten if the Dashboard is scrapped. Many individuals have multiple employers throughout their working life and there’s a need for a simpler way for individuals to keep track of their different pension pots.

At the recent Conservative Party conference, Guy Opperman, the Pensions Minister, confirmed the Government still supports the idea of the Pensions Dashboard, however it wasn’t in a position at this time to formally announce a policy, or changes to legislation, to compel pension providers to provide the information required to make the Dashboard a success.

The Financial Conduct Authority (the regulator for the financial services industry) has expressed its desire for the industry to take the lead on providing the Pensions Dashboard. Therefore, we may find that the project continues to progress, but as an industry-led project rather than one driven by the Government.

Pension transfers decrease in the second quarter of this year


October 2018

For the first time since the beginning of 2017, the funds transferred out of occupational pension schemes has decreased.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows individuals transferred out £8.2bn between April and June, which is down from £10.6bn in the previous quarter.

It is thought the majority of the transfers are from defined benefit (DB) pension schemes, and that people may have been transferring their DB pensions into defined contribution (DC) schemes in order to benefit from the pensions freedoms introduced in April 2015.

Product technical manager at Nucleus, Rachel Vahey, suggested the decrease in transfers could be a result of a number of reasons. Namely:

  • Increased public awareness around the issues associated with transferring DB pensions;
  • The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) focus on DB pension savings; and
  • Change in financial advisers approach to DB pension transfers.

Alan Chan, director and chartered financial planner at IFS Wealth & Pensions, said: “The increase in the base rate in August may have caused a further drop in transfer values from the heights we’ve seen over the past year or so.” He suggested this would make a transfer appear less attractive and so fewer people would be looking to transfer out of their existing DB pension scheme.

Over 55s are spending more time planning for a new car than preparing for retirement


October 2018

In a recent study conducted by Legal & General of more than 2,000 members over age 55, around one third spend less than a week making decisions regarding their pension income arrangements. Whereas, 40% claimed to spend more than a week deciding on a new car.

The study also found that 58% of over 55s, who are yet to retire, haven’t started to research the options available to them when accessing their pension pots. Emma Byron, Managing Director at L&G retail retirement said, “The flipside of the flexibility offered by pension reform, is that we are all now responsible for making sure our pension pots will last through our retirement. But, as a nation, we are not spending enough time thinking about this, and about how we want to use our pension.”

It’s never too late, nor too early, to start preparing for retirement. Could you be doing more to plan for your retirement?

An evening at the Savoy with TV personality and culinary expert Gregg Wallace


September 2018

We were recently delighted to host a culinary evening for our clients at the Savoy.

Under the watchful eye of Gregg Wallace many tried their hand at a little cooking in the Savoy kitchen, whilst others soaked up the atmosphere wining and dining the night away on fabulous food.

In true competition fashion, our guests were judged by Gregg and the Savoy Grill head chef. Sara Pinkstone took top prize, with Michael Chatterton and Stuart Walters close runners up. The Savoy does not usually allow anyone to cook in their kitchen but, thanks to Gregg, our guests were treated to a real once in a lifetime experience.

Enjoy swiping through the highlights of the evening. View all the photos on flikr.com

FCA director Jo Hill to join the Pensions Regulator


September 2018

There has been a newly created position at the Pensions Regulator (tPR) of Executive Director of Strategy & Risk.

Jo Hill will take on this new role at tPR in November, leaving her current position at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as Director of Market Intelligence, Data & Analysis.

Jo has a strong background in supervision, enforcement, insight and analysis. Mark Boyle, tPR’s chairman said: “The effective use of data in the early detection and mitigation of risks is crucial and through her wealth of experience and knowledge in this area, Jo will help maximise our effectiveness as we strive to make workplace pensions work for savers.”

In her new role, Jo will be responsible for ensuring tPR’s tougher and more proactive regulatory approach continues to influence how it works with the pensions industry. Mark Boyle also said: “I’m confident Jo will ensure our clearer, quicker and tougher strategy continues to have an impact.”

Petition to save Pensions Dashboard reaches over 100,000 signatures


September 2018

It was announced in the 2016 Budget that a Pensions Dashboard would be developed, with the expectation of being launched in 2019. It is hoped that this will allow individuals to view all their pension savings together in a single place.

However, earlier this year, it was reported that MP Esther McVey moved to scrap the Pensions Dashboard, despite hopes that it would encourage people to be more engaged with their retirement pot.

In response to Esther McVey’s comments, a petition, which has reached over 100,000 signatures, was launched calling on the government to continue to roll out the Pensions Dashboard. The petition argues that pension pots are at risk of being forgotten if the Dashboard is scrapped. As many individuals could potentially have more than 10 employers throughout their working life, there is a need for a simple way for individuals to keep track of their pension pots in one place.

Shaun Gomm, commercial director at design agency Sigma (who produced a prototype for the Pensions Dashboard) said: “The pension system in the UK remains one of the most complex to navigate in the world. Despite paying into our retirement fund for decades, millions of us have no idea how to track or properly manage our pensions; and we’re potentially losing out on thousands in misplaced pension pots.

“It has never been more timely for the government to take action on pensions – so to scrap it at this crucial stage would be ill-advised and hugely detrimental, which is to say nothing of the substantial investment in time and money that many organisations have already committed to this project in good faith.”

Funding improvement for FTSE 100 pension schemes


August 2018

After a decade of deficits, pension schemes for FTSE 100 companies have seen a shift to a surplus position of £3 billion in July, which is up from a £34 billion shortfall when compared to the same time last year (31 July 2017).

Charles Cowling, chief actuary at JLT Employee Benefits said, “After 10 years of deficits, finance directors may be celebrating as FTSE 100 pension schemes finally move into surplus.” He also said, “Despite an unsettled political backdrop, with Brexit looming, markets have continued to be favourable for pension schemes. Moreover, the improvements in life expectancy, which have added so much to pension scheme liabilities over the last 10 or 20 years, do indeed seem to be slowing. Of course, this is the overall picture and individual companies and their pension schemes may show different positions. That said, the latest move is still good news for all UK pension schemes”.

The low interest rates over the last 10 years have also been a considerable factor in producing large pension scheme deficits. As anticipated by experts, the interest rate announced by the Bank of England on 2 August increased from 0.5% to 0.75%. This may further impact the health of UK pension schemes.

Pension scammers falsely claim to be calling on behalf of the Pensions Regulator


July 2018

The Pensions Regulator (tPR) have received two reports of fraudsters calling individuals and falsely claiming to work for the watchdog. The callers offered a “free pension review” in an attempt to obtain details from the individuals about their pension savings.

TPR has confirmed that it never cold-calls individuals about their pensions, a common warning sign of a scam. Head of intelligence for the tPR, Mike Broomfield confirmed "Like all reputable organisations, we never cold-call people about their pensions. If anyone cold-calls you about your pension, it is an attempt to steal your savings - just hang up."

In May, the bill including provisions for a ban on pensions cold-calling received Royal Assent. However, the implementation of the ban has been delayed while the Treasury consults further on "technicalities" in relation to the ban.

The chief executive of the Pensions Regulator resigns


June 2018

It has recently been announced that Lesley Titcomb, the chief executive of the Pensions Regulator (tPR), will leave her role after her current contract ends in February 2019. Ms Titcomb’s decision to step down comes after she recently received heavy criticism from MPs over tPR’s handling of the collapse of Carillion (a construction and civil engineering company) earlier this year.

Until Ms Titcomb leaves, she will continue to lead the executive team that is currently focusing on a programme of change designed to make tPR clearer, quicker and tougher. Mark Boyle, chairman of tPR announced that subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the search for her replacement will begin immediately.

Increasing numbers of over 65’s continuing to work.


May 2018

The number of individuals choosing to work beyond age 65 continues to steadily increase.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently reported that for the period December 2017 to February 2018 there were approximately 1.2 million people over the age of 65 remaining in employment, out of a total UK workforce of 32.3 million. This compares to only 478,000 over 65’s working in 1992.

The ONS report also showed that 742,000 were men and 454,000 were women and that 57.3% were employed on a part-time basis and 42.7% were employed on a full-time basis.

These figures show that the number of people choosing to continue to work beyond age 65 has been steadily increasing in recent years. Although a sharp increase in numbers might have been expected in 2011 when the default retirement age was removed (which previously enabled employers to impose a compulsory retirement age) the results published did not show this.

Wincanton sign Concert


April 2018

We are delighted to confirm that Wincanton have appointed Concert to take their pension communications to the next level. Strategic advice will be supported with the provision of materials in both the digital and more traditional communication channels.

Matt Jones, a Director at Concert, confirmed "we are looking forward to working closely with the Wincanton team to develop new and exciting solutions."

The Pensions Dashboard


April 2018

The government announced in the 2016 Budget that a Pensions Dashboard would be developed in order to allow individuals to view details of all their pension savings together in a single place. The government has also given a strong indication that all pension providers will eventually agree to sharing benefit information via the ‘Pensions Dashboard’.

It is hoped that enabling members to have a holistic view of their pension savings in this way, will help individuals to stay in control of their savings and allow them to make the right choices about their overall finances as they approach retirement.

The Pensions Dashboard Prototype Project was launched by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and it is reported that good progress is being made with input into the design and capabilities of the Dashboard, being provided from across the pensions industry.

Currently, the Pensions Dashboard Prototype is being reviewed by the government and it is expected that a fully operational Pensions Dashboard will be launched in 2019.

Royal Mail make some changes


April 2018

We are delighted to report that one of these is for the Plan Trustee to appoint Concert to oversee a change exercise for members of their DC Plan. Our challenge has been to create a package to address changes in contributions levels, default positions for members and the introduction of a Cash Balance Plan. We have responded with a suite of digital, animation and paper communications to help members make ‘an important decision’.

New phone number for TPAS


April 2018

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) provide free independent and impartial guidance to the public. Anyone can use this service and speak with a pension specialist without the need to book a prior appointment.

You can phone them on 0800 011 3797 - this call will be free from most UK mobiles and landlines. The new number replaces their existing local rate number which remains available for the time being.

TPAS also offer a live webchat facility which is available weekdays between 9am and 6:20pm (and 7-9pm on Tuesday evenings) at www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk/chat

Alternatively, you can continue to contact TPAS by writing to:

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS)
11 Belgrave Road
London
SW1V 1RB

Pension schemes offer a tax efficient form of investment


April 2018

Understanding the benefits of saving for a pension is important because your State Pension (whilst it will provide a regular steady income) it is unlikely to be sufficient for you to live on during retirement.

It is reported that more than half of the people in the UK are not saving enough to give them the standard of living they are hoping for when they retire. Consequently, individuals are often having to make a choice to either:

  • Adjust their financial expectations for when they retire;
  • Defer their retirement to a later date; or
  • Simply save more whilst they are working.

Any contributions paid into a pension scheme will benefit from tax relief and are not subject to tax while they are invested. Consequently, for those who choose to save more whilst they are working, pensions are often seen as a tax-efficient form of investment.

Even when you retire there are further tax advantages of being invested in a pension scheme. Whether you are invested in a defined benefit or defined contribution scheme any Pension Commencement Lump Sum you elect to receive will generally be free of tax. Also, any pension or annuity income you receive (whilst it will be subject to tax at your marginal rate) it will not be subject to National Insurance contributions.

Could you therefore be saving more into your pension and take advantage of this tax efficient form of investment?

Changes to the pension transfer advice process


April 2018

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) recently announced changes to the pension transfer advice process. The changes are designed to improve the quality of the advice provided and help individuals to make informed decisions based on their own personal circumstances.

The changes include:

  • Transfer advice to be provided as a personal recommendation that takes account of the member’s individual circumstances.
  • To replace the current transfer value analysis with a requirement to undertake a personalised analysis of the member’s options; and
  • A requirement to provide a comparison which shows the value of the benefits being given up.

In addition, the FCA is also considering further changes in relation to the fee structures currently used by advisers as well as the need for advisers who provide pension transfer advice to have the same qualifications as investment advisers.

The FCA has further agreed to currently maintain its view that an adviser should start from the assumption that a transfer from a defined benefit (DB) scheme is likely to be unsuitable. However, this should not stop an adviser from recommending a transfer from a DB scheme where it is deemed the transfer would be suitable.

The FCA's Executive Director of Strategy and Competition, Christopher Woolard, said “defined benefit pensions are valuable so most people will be best advised to keep them. However, where people are considering a transfer, it is vital that they get good advice to enable them to make an informed decision”.

Experts express concern that savers are not taking tax advice


March 2018

Financial experts are concerned that since the introduction of pension flexibility as part of the freedom and choice reforms in April 2015, Defined Contribution (DC) members (which includes Defined Benefit members who have transferred their benefits into DC arrangements to access the new rules) have failed to take appropriate tax advice before utilising their pension pot in this way.

Under the new rules, savers are no longer obligated to purchase an annuity. Instead, savers are seeking to withdraw cash lump sums in favour of the annuity option through drawdown arrangements, for example.

However, the experts are concerned that savers do not understand that only the first 25 per cent of any cash taken out of a pension fund is tax free and as soon as they drawdown on any pension savings above this threshold, they are liable for tax.

Consequently, as a result of savers not being aware of the tax implications of withdrawing cash lump sums, it is reported that the Treasury has received a windfall of up to £5billion since the freedom and choice reforms were introduced in 2015.

Keith Richards, chief executive of the Personal Finance Society, said: “Our research suggests up to two-thirds of consumers are not seeking professional advice before entering into a drawdown arrangement. This is a genuine worry, pension pots were designed to carry one through the long retirement years, buying an income for life. Now it appears that barely 10 per cent of all people accessing their pension pots are opting for the safety net of an annuity. We fear many will run out of cash.”

FCA and TPR working together on developing a pensions regulatory strategy


March 2018

Last month the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Pensions Regulator (tPR) announced that they would be working on a pensions regulatory strategy to set out how they’ll work together to tackle the risks faced by the pensions sector in the next 5-10 years.

The two regulators are planning to hold several engagement events with stakeholders in London, Edinburgh and Manchester in the Spring, in order to establish the following two key areas:

  • Their collective view of the current landscape of the sector and their respective regulatory remits.
  • The likely key areas of focus in the coming years.

It’s expected that the FCA will focus on ensuring its regulation provides the right consumer protection and competition whilst tPR will target a drive to improve standards of governance. To achieve this, the tPR will be looking to make sure sponsoring employers treat schemes fairly and that workers are enrolled into the schemes they’re entitled to as part of automatic enrolment.

The crack down on cold-calling intensifies


February 2018

The crack down on cold-calling continues to intensify. The Pensions Regulator (tPR) in collaboration with the police, recently carried out a number of investigations into pension schemes that it suspects are linked to cold-calling firms.

A press release from tPR, announced it has concerns that members have been cold-called in a bid to ‘transfer their funds into poorly-run schemes with the promise of higher returns and cash incentives upfront’.

Mike Birch, director of case management at tPR, said “cold-calling pension holders isn’t illegal yet, but no reputable business does it. We would urge anyone to contact Action Fraud if they are phoned and offered the chance to transfer their pension. Our message is simple – a cold-call about your pension is an attempt to steal your savings.”

The collaboration to undertake joint investigations between tPR and the police comes ahead of the Governments intended changes to legislation to ban cold-calling which is unlikely to take effect until 2020.

If you think you may have been a victim of pension fraud you can contact Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk or call them on 0300 123 2040.

TPAS transfers all pension disputes to TPO


February 2018

It has been confirmed that the Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) will be moving its dispute resolution function to the Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) with effect from 1 April 2018.

Under the current system TPAS usually deal with complaints before the pension scheme’s internal dispute resolution procedure (IDRP) has been completed, whilst TPO is usually involved after the IDRP has been concluded.

It is envisaged that after the transfer, the complaints resolution process will become more efficient and provide an improved level of service as a result of more than 350 TPAS volunteer advisers joining TPO.

Anthony Arter from TPO said: “We have been working with TPAS to create one centre for the resolution of pension disputes helping to ensure a simpler and quicker customer journey. I am delighted to welcome the dispute resolution team and its network of volunteers to The Pensions Ombudsman. We have worked with the team for many years and recognise the excellent customer service which they deliver.”

Recognising the value of your pension


February 2018

According to a recent report from the Office for National Statistics the number of millionaires in Britain has increased by a third as a result of increasing pension wealth. It is reported that since July 2016 3.5m households in the country now have total assets in excess of £1 million.

This highlights just how important an investment an individual’s pension has become. In many cases it may prove to be the biggest single investment an individual will make except for maybe their home.

New Pension Minister announced following the latest cabinet reshuffle


January 2018

Esther McVey, MP for Tatton in Cheshire becomes the fifth Work and Pensions Secretary to be appointed in less than three years. Esther replaces David Gauke, who after only a short term in office, now moves to the Justice Department.

Ms McVey became parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2012, and later became the Minister of State. She therefore takes on her new role with some experience and understanding gained from her time at the DWP.

Ms McVey’s appointment was announced earlier this week after Justine Greening turned down the role in the Prime Minister’s latest cabinet reshuffle. Commentators have highlighted concerns around the apparent difficulty in finding an appropriate long-term candidate to fill this important position within the cabinet, which has a huge bearing on people’s financial wellbeing.

Rising inflation helps pensioners


January 2018

In September last year, the 12-month rate for CPI inflation reached 3% for the first time since April 2012. Pensioners will therefore see their State Pension and possibly other pension entitlements increase significantly this year.

Increases to the State Pension are currently governed by what is more commonly referred to as the ‘triple lock’. This effectively means that the State Pension will rise by the greater of inflation (as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) in the previous September), the increase in average earnings, or 2.5%. The Government has considered removing the ‘triple lock’ however this decision has been deferred to at least 2020.

Consequently, anyone receiving the full, flat-rate state pension will see this rise from £159.55 per week to £164.30 per week (an increase equivalent to almost £250 a year). Anyone who retired before April 2016 and is receiving a State Pension under the old system (i.e. the basic State Pension plus an earnings-related pension) will see their basic State Pension element rise from £122.30 to £125.95 per week.

Scottish Income Tax – New rates


January 2018

The Scottish Government has confirmed that with effect from 6 April 2018 it will be introducing two new income tax bands whilst also increasing the top rate of income tax for high earners.

The table below shows how the income tax rates will be changing for Scottish residents in the 2018/19 tax year.

2017/18 Income tax bands Income tax rate 2018/19 Income tax bands Income tax rate
Under £11,500 0% Under £11,850 0%
£11,501 - £43,000 20% £11,850 - £13,850 19%
£13,851 - £24,000 20%
£24,001 - £44,273 21%
£43,001 - £150,000 40% £44,274 - £150,000 41%
Over £150,000 45% Over £150,000 46%

Derek Mackay, the Scottish finance secretary said "despite introducing some higher bands, nobody earning less than £33,000 a year will pay more in income tax. This will cover about 70% of taxpayers in Scotland."

Calls for the ban on pension cold-calling to be implemented sooner


December 2017

The Work and Pensions Select Committee says the Government needs to introduce new legislation as soon as next year to help prevent pensioners losing their life savings. Although the Government has already confirmed it would look to introduce a ban on pension cold-calling, legislation was not expected to be passed until 2020.

The Select Committee is therefore now putting pressure on the Government to introduce legislation much sooner than it had previously planned to prevent more individuals being scammed out of their pension savings.

In addition to introducing legislation banning cold-calling the Select Committee has also called for savers to be automatically offered guidance when considering accessing their pension pots using the pension freedoms rules that were introduced in April 2015. These rules allow anyone over the age of 55 to take some or their entire pension as a lump sum with up to 25% being paid tax-free.

The chair of the Select Committee Labour MP Frank Field said “Every day that passes without a ban, people are being avoidably conned out of their life savings.” The Committee also warned that the scale of the problem was likely to be grossly underestimated by official reports and may not be apparent for many years. In the meantime, if you suspect you have been contacted by a pension scammer please contact TPAS for help. You can call them on 0300 123 1047 or visit the TPAS website at www.thepensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk for free pensions advice and information.

TPAS and MAS announce web chat facility


December 2017

Ahead of the Government’s planned merger in 2018 to combine the Money Advice Service (MAS), The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) and Pension Wise into a single consumer facing body, TPAS and MAS have launched an integrated webchat service. A key objective of this new initiative will be to re-direct individuals with queries to the right support more effectively.

Individuals with pension queries will be directed to TPAS while those with money matters will be supported by MAS. Pension Wise will continue to provide a free ‘at retirement’ guidance service.

Chief executive of MAS, Charles Counsell, said: “It's important for customers to get the specialist guidance they need and we’re really delighted that we are now able to directly transfer our web based customers to TPAS when those customers have questions related to pensions”.

Autumn Budget 2017


November 2017

In the autumn budget last week the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, had very little to say about pensions. There was speculation prior to the budget announcement that the Chancellor may look again at both the Lifetime Allowance (LTA) and the Annual Allowance (AA). Commentators had suggested that the planned increase to the LTA in April 2018 could be postponed and the Chancellor could also consider a further reduction to the AA. In his statement, the Chancellor confirmed that the planned increase to the LTA would happen in April. The increase, which would be in line with the increase in the Consumer Prices Index, will see the LTA increase from £1m to £1.03m with effect from April 2018. The AA will remain unchanged at £40,000 for the tax year 2018/19. Even though the majority of people are unlikely to be affected by the LTA, if you suspect that the value of all your pension benefits might be close to the LTA limit, you should take action and seek independent financial advice. If you do not have an adviser you can find details of financial advisers in your area by visiting www.unbiased.co.uk.

Make sure your pension withdrawals are not being over-taxed


November 2017

Many savers who have accessed their pensions early under the new pension flexibility rules may have been over taxed.

It is reported that hundreds of thousands of tax-payers have been overcharged as a result of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) treating the lump sum they have withdrawn from their pension savings as the first of a series of regular income payments, rather than as a single payment.

In total HMRC have refunded £262 million in overpaid tax collected as a result of this issue.

If you believe you may have been over-taxed on any pension withdrawals you have made, you will need to contact HMRC and fill in the appropriate tax reclaim form. Help and support is available free from the Pensions Wise website www.pensionwise.gov.uk/en. If you are aged 55 or over you can also book a phone interview with the Pensions Advisory Service or with Citizens Advice. Alternatively, you may wish to see an Independent Financial Adviser.

Legislation against pension cold-calling delayed


October 2017

Last week the House of Lords demanded that unsolicited calls in relation to pensioner cold-calling are outlawed, sooner than the Government’s current plans.

The Government had originally suggested it would ban pensioner cold-calling in September last year but has since warned it was now unlikely to legislate on this matter before 2020. Without legislation, there is continued fear that many people will carry on receiving such calls and consequently placing them at a higher risk of being scammed.

Ros Altmann, a Tory peer and former pension’s minister, said: "People need protection from this nuisance now, they shouldn't have to wait still more years for a ban. Direct approaches to people on their mobiles or home phones should have no place in the modern world of business."

Millions of pensioners are being targeted annually by cold callers with one source estimating 2.6 million cold-calls are made each month.

If you suspect you have been contacted by a pension scammer please contact TPAS for help. You can call them on 0300 123 1047 or visit the TPAS website at www.thepensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk for free pensions advice and information.

2018 increase to State Pension confirmed


October 2017

The State Pension will increase in 2018 to £8,545.50 p.a. This increase of circa £250 a year is the biggest annual increase in the last five years. State Pensions increase each year by the greater of inflation, earnings growth or 2.5%. This is often referred to as the “triple lock”. Inflation is measured by the increase in a number of general household expenses for the 12 months to September. Inflation for the 12 months to September 2017 was 3%. As this is higher than both the increase in earnings for the same period and a fixed 2.5% increase, it is the inflation figure that will be used by the Department of Work and Pensions to calculate the State Pension increase in April 2018.  

Latest warning from tPR about pension transfer scams


October 2017

The Pensions Regulator (tPR) has recently issued further warnings with regard to “Pension Scams” as the methods adopted by fraudsters are becoming ever more sophisticated.

One of the more recent changes of tact being used by criminals is to place anti-scam messages on their websites with the aim of misleading individuals into believing them to be legitimate pension arrangements. These websites imply they are regulated by carrying warning messages such as cautioning about the tax implications of accessing pensions before age 55 and the danger of responding to cold callers.

Where tPR finds such websites it will demand they immediately cease using material owned by tPR and will investigate with other government and regulatory agencies whether further action, such as legal proceedings, should be launched.

Auto-enrolment eligibility to be expanded


October 2017

The Government’s review of auto-enrolment (AE) is anticipated to reduce the minimum qualifying age for eligible workers from age 22 to age 16.

Since the introduction of AE in 2012 the number of people contributing into a company pension scheme has almost doubled to approximately 13.5 million (as at 2016). The Government is now considering reducing the qualifying age to include employees between 16 and 22 years old in a further drive to increase the number of individuals who automatically qualify for inclusion in company sponsored arrangements.

The upper age limit, which is currently set at an individual’s State Pension Age, is also being considered in response to the continued trend for UK workers to stay employed past this date.

The review concludes later this year.

The Pensions Regulator looks to streamline the transfer process


October 2017

The pension industry has for some time been calling on the Pensions Regulator (tPR) to provide a set of standard rules that are to be followed by Scheme administrators when providing defined benefit (DB) transfer information to members and/or financial advisers.

Consequently, the tPR recently announced that it is working closely with the Financial Conduct Authority to produce an information template which they hope to publish in 2018.

With the number of transfer requests being received from DB members on the increase, it is intended that this information template should reduce the amount of secondary requests received from advisers for additional information.

Generally, most transfer value quotations are guaranteed for three months. Therefore, if the transfer process can be streamlined and sped up, there will be fewer requests for additional transfer quotations to be provided if the guarantee expires on the original transfer quotation.

Average pensioner income trebled since 1977


September 2017

The ONS recently reported that the average annual income for retired households had almost trebled between 1977 and 2016 but had only doubled for working households for the same period. The results showed that the average retired income had increased from £10,500 p.a.to £29,000 p.a. and that for working households the average income only increased from £20,200 p.a. to £41,900 p.a.

However, retired workers relying only on State pension benefits have not experienced the same level of increases as those receiving additional retirement incomes from employer or private pension arrangements.

The ONS said "disposable income of pensioners has on average risen by 2.8% a year in real terms since 1977, compared with 2.1% for non-retired households".

Young savers willing to pay more into their pension


September 2017

Recent research undertaken by a leading insurance company revealed that the majority of millennials appear to be happy to contribute more to their pension following pay reviews or promotions.

The research revealed that:

  • After automatic enrolment, 71% remained opted in to their pension scheme.
  • 8% of those who chose to opt out, later re-joined the pension scheme.
  • 75% of people aged 25-34 were happy to increase their pension contributions automatically in line with future pay rises.
 

Clearly, automatic enrolment has led to an increase in pension savings over the past few years particularly for young people despite financial pressures from rising housing costs and student loans.

Getting the right advice will safeguard your financial future


September 2017

The increase in families investing their pension pots without taking the appropriate financial advice could see savers running out of money in retirement.

Since pension freedom reforms were introduced in 2015 there has been as significant shift from people using their retirement savings to purchase an income in retirement (an annuity) to the more flexible drawdown option, where income can be drawn as required in the form of lump sums. The record-low interest rates have also made annuities more expensive, adding to the migration away from this fixed income in retirement solution.

Using the greater flexibility now available with regard to defined contribution pension savings may be the right decision to make, however it is critical you get the appropriate advice and understand all aspects of the decision you are making.

Pensionwise, a free service provided by the Government, is available to help you understand your options. You can visit their website at www.pensionwise.gov.uk

You may also wish to talk to an independent financial adviser. If you do not have one you can find details of financial advisers in your area by visiting www.unbiased.co.uk

FCA warns about accessing benefits without taking financial advice


August 2017

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned that an increasing number of members are accessing their pension benefits early without taking financial advice. They have identified that three quarters of all pension pots accessed were done so by members under the age of 65.

It has been recognised that this issue has been developing since "pension freedoms" were introduced in 2015 which allowed members with defined contribution benefits to access them from age 55.

The FCA also identified that over 50% of the money being withdrawn is then re-invested into other savings and investment funds, consequently resulting in members paying additional tax, unnecessarily.

The FCA has announced that it is considering additional protection for those who access their benefits early.

Further changes to the State Pension Age


July 2017

On 19 July 2017, the Government accepted the recommendation made by John Cridland (ex-Confederation of British Industry boss) in his report to bring forward the rise in the State Pension Age (SPA) for men and women to age 68.

Under current plans, the SPA for women will increase to age 65 (the same as the current SPA for men) by November 2018. The SPA for both men and women will then increase to age 66 by 2020, 67 by 2028 and finally 68 by 2044.

However, in this latest move announced by the Government, the rise in the SPA to 68 will now be phased in between 2037 and 2039, rather than from 2044 as was originally proposed. It is estimated this decision will affect approximately six million men and women who are currently between the ages of 39 and 47.

The announcement was made by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke who said "As life expectancy continues to rise and the number of people in receipt of State pension increases, we need to ensure that we have a fair and sustainable system that is reflective of modern life and is protected for future generations."

Government goes ahead with the reduction to the MPAA


July 2017

The Government has now confirmed it will retrospectively implement with effect from April 2017 the reduction to the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA), which it had subsequently delayed due to the snap general election.

As Chancellor, Philip Hammond’s intention behind reducing the MPAA from £10,000 to £4,000 a year is to prevent individuals from "recycling" their pensions by withdrawing cash from their pension pots and then claiming tax relief on new pension contributions.

The reduction to the MPAA will only apply to those who have already taken advantage of the new flexibilities introduced by the pension freedoms in April 2015. Those people who have not used the freedoms or are under 55, will continue to be able to receive tax relief on contributions they make as long as they do not exceed the current annual allowance of £40,000 a year.

How can I locate lost pension pots?


July 2017

In May 2016, the Government launched a free Pension Tracing Service enabling you to track down lost or forgotten pension pots. The service allows you to trace either the name of your previous employer or the name of the pension provider at that time.

Armed with the contact details necessary for you approach your previous employer or pension provider, you will then be able to contact them directly to request a valuation once it has been established that you hold a pension pot with them.

Experts believe there are approximately £400m of UK pension savings that are currently unclaimed and that this amount is only expected to rise as the number of jobs an average worker has over their lifetime is also steadily on the increase. For more information or to use this service, visit the government’s website “Find pension contact details” at www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details or call the Pension Tracing Service on 0345 6002 537, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

Changes to the data protection legislation


July 2017

The law relating to data protection is changing with effect from 25 May 2018, being replaced by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The new regulations will provide a framework with much tougher punishments for those who fail to comply with new rules around the storage and handling of personal data.

Despite Brexit, the UK government has already indicated that these laws will be converted into British law.

These changes are being introduced in an attempt to combat cybercrime. In 2016 major data breaches enabled cybercriminals to take advantage of these situations leading to Companies in the UK losing more than £1 billion to cybercrime.

Could pensions be affected as a result of a parliamentary minority?


July 2017

Following the result of the general election where the Conservative Party failed to obtain a parliamentary majority, it is likely this will now lead to a period of confusion and uncertainty. This will be particularly evident with regard to the pension related topics that were set out in Conservative Election manifesto. This view is further supported as the recent Queen’s Speech also failed to address any of the following pledges that were set out in the Tory manifesto.

  • Remove the 2.5% guarantee element of the State pension ‘triple lock’ and introduce a ‘double lock’ that would ensure State pensions increase only by the greater of the rise in average earnings or inflation from 2020.
  • Provide greater powers to the Pensions Regulator and Trustees to block mergers and acquisitions of participating employers.
  • Increase penalties for company directors who intentionally put pension schemes at risk of not being able to meet the scheme’s ongoing obligations.

Interestingly and in light of the agreement between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the DUP manifesto had a number of conflicting views to the Conservatives particularly in regard to the State pension ‘triple lock’.

2017 General election result


June 2017

The consequences of a hung parliament are likely to bring a great deal of uncertainty for pensioners and those saving for retirement as each of the leading political parties had very different views on their individual policies.

Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, said "A hung parliament is the worst possible outcome for pensioners and people saving for their retirement. It means that key decisions around the State Pension Age, the State Pension ‘triple lock’, social care funding and pension tax relief are all going to take a back seat while the wheels of Westminster slowly turn."

In particular, the Government announced in April that it would defer the reduction in the Money Purchase Annual Allowance from £10,000 to £4,000 until after the election. However, given the uncertainty that a hung parliament will bring and their intention to apply this change retrospectively (back to 6 April 2017), it is feared that clarity on all these issues will not be provided any time soon.

New pensions minster announced following cabinet reshuffle


June 2017

Following the government’s latest cabinet reshuffle, Guy Opperman has been appointed as the new pensions minister or the parliamentary under secretary of state for pensions and financial inclusion to give him his full title. He replaces Richard Harrington who was previously in the role for less than a year.

Mr Opperman has been tasked with creating a new single financial guidance body that will see Pension Wise, the Money Advice Service and the Pensions Advisory Service combine. It is also expected that the new minister will also be accountable for overseeing the government’s response to the State Pension age independent review that was undertaken by John Cridland which outlined the possibility of raising the State Pension Age.

Annuity market reforms announced


June 2017

New reforms recently announced will require annuity providers to inform individuals (when purchasing an annuity) if a higher annuity income can be obtained elsewhere from another insurer. For individuals in poor health i.e. those suffering with high cholesterol, blood pressure, or may have a life limiting condition “enhanced annuities” are often available. It is estimated that this type of annuity can increase the level of income provided by up to 40 per cent. The new reforms will require providers to compare standard annuities for those in good health, despite expectations that a large proportion of individuals looking to purchase an annuity may be eligible for an “enhanced annuity”.

It is currently estimated that each year around two-thirds of all annuities sold are issued by insurers with whom the individual invests their pension pot. Consequently, as a result of individuals not searching the “open market” for the best deal, it is feared that the majority of annuities could have provided a higher level of income, if they had purchased the annuity with another insurer.

Pension Wise – Free and impartial guidance


May 2017

There have been a number of changes to Pension Wise since it was first established in 2015 and therefore we would like to take this opportunity to remind you about the service they currently provide.

Pension Wise is a free government service for those aged 50 or over and have a Defined Contribution (DC) pension pot. The service is also particularly helpful to Defined Benefit members who are currently paying or have paid DC Additional Voluntary Contributions or have DC pension savings elsewhere.

Pension Wise is there to help you:

  • understand the different options available to you when accessing your pension pot(s);
  • assess the potential advantages and disadvantages of any decisions you are planning to make;
  • understand any tax implications that might occur;
  • make the right choices, for example
    • if you are planning to continue working and draw your pension benefits at the same time.
    • taking into account your current personal and financial circumstances.
    • in the event that you should die.

Pension Wise is delivered by Citizens Advice if you require a face to face meeting or the Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) if you are happy to discuss your query over the phone. Their website www.pensionwise.gov.uk also provides a lot of useful information that may be of interest to you.

To book either a telephone or face to face appointment, you can call 0300 330 1001.

Beware!! Pension fraud continues to rise


May 2017

Since the introduction of pension freedoms in April 2015, fraud related crime generated through pension scams has steadily been on the increase. The City of London Police recently reported that the amount of fraud for March 2017 was £8.6m making this the highest recorded month and bringing the total amount of recorded fraud to £13m for the first quarter of 2017. This compares to a total of £19m for the whole of 2016. It is feared the true level of fraud could be considerably higher.

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) recently launched an online tool specifically designed to provide support and guidance to pension savers and the Pensions Regulator (tPR) has also released a series of videos which can be viewed on their website http://www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/individuals/dangers-of-pension-scams.aspx

If you suspect you have been contacted by a pension scammer please contact TPAS for help. You can call them on 0300 123 1047 or visit the TPAS website at www.thepensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk for free pensions advice and information.

Will you get the full amount of the new State Pension?


May 2017

Pension reforms in April 2016 introduced the new State Pension. The maximum entitlement is currently £159.55 a week.

Government rules state that to qualify for the full amount of the new flat rate State Pension (applicable to those reaching their State Pension Age after 6 April 2016) you must have built up 35 years’ worth of National Insurance credits.

How do I find out what my State Pension will be?

You can contact the Future Pension Centre on 0345 3000 168, or write to the address below and they will let you know how many qualifying years you have and what your State Pension entitlement will be.

Future Pension Centre
The Pension Service 9 
Mail Handling Site A 
Wolverhampton 
WV98 1LU

You can also register for the personal tax account at www.gov.uk/personal-tax-account where you can view your National Insurance record and see all your qualifying years.

Why the general election might affect State Pension increases


May 2017

As we approach the general election, State Pension provision and in particular how it increases each year, is a topic for political debate, especially as the leading parties have already declared different pledges in this regard.

Currently, annual rises in the State Pension are decided by whatever is the highest of:

  • Price inflation;
  • Average earnings growth; or
  • 2.5 per cent.

This policy is what is more commonly referred to as the ‘triple lock’ policy. Official forecasts predict this policy will add at least £15bn to the long-term cost of State Pension provision by 2050.

Labour has already confirmed that if they are elected they will retain the ‘triple lock’ policy until 2025. The Conservatives however, despite promises to keep the guarantee until the next election (presumed at the time to be in 2020), have refused so far to renew their commitment to the ‘triple lock’ policy beyond the snap general election next month (June 2017).

It is widely anticipated that if the Tories are re-elected they will seek to downgrade the ‘triple lock’ policy to a ‘double lock’ policy, which would effectively remove the 2.5% minimum increase from the ‘triple lock’ policy.

Sir Steve Webb, (former pensions minister) who introduced the ‘triple lock’ policy, has suggested it could be adapted to apply only to those receiving the basic state pension and not those receiving the new state pension.

The snap general election halts the decision to reduce the MPAA


April 2017

Following the recent announcement by the Government to call a snap general election in June, the Government have proposed a number of changes in order to expedite the passing of the Finance (No 2) Bill, before Parliament is dissolved on 3 May 2017.

One of the clauses being scrapped from the Bill is the proposal to reduce the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA), from £10,000 to £4,000 with effect from 6 April 2017. However, it is believed this clause may be passed at a later date if the current government is returned to office.

The MPAA was originally introduced in order to restrict the amount of contributions that individuals can pay and consequently receive tax relief on once they have already begun to withdraw funds from their pension pot, under the new pension flexibility rules.

As a result of the General Election the MPAA will remain at £10,000 for the time being.

Pension flexibility leads to an increase in defined benefit transfers


April 2017

A study conducted by Willis Towers Watson has identified that over half of defined benefit (DB) members who received independent financial advice chose to transfer their benefits out of their DB Scheme. The increase was credited to members wanting to access greater flexibility following the freedom and choice reforms in 2015. The study also found that this was a significant increase on the previous year where just over one-third of members who received financial advice, chose to transfer their DB pension to another arrangement.

Stewart Patterson, head of liability management at Willis Towers Watson said “Increasingly, many members of DB schemes are recognising that by transferring out of their scheme they may be able to achieve a pattern of retirement income that better suits their needs than the more traditional DB pension.”

He also added "The results of our survey clearly demonstrate that members value flexibility over their retirement savings and we predict that over the next few years pension flexibility for members of DB schemes will become the new norm."

However, Patterson indicated that DB transfers may not be the appropriate solution for all members.

Senior Consultant Zoë Prescott joins Concert


April 2017

Concert are pleased to announce the appointment of Zoë Prescott who joins as a Senior Consultant. Zoë has worked in the pension industry for over 16 years and now joins Concert after leaving BT (formerly EE and Orange) as their Pensions and Reward Manager.

Matt Jones (Director) said “We are excited to have Zoe on board and welcome the depth of knowledge she brings to the team. Zoe not only adds to our already extensive expertise in both pension and flexible benefits but also brings insight from the client’s perspective having been BT’s Pension and Reward Manager for the last 11 years.

TPAS goes digital in the fight against pension scams


April 2017

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) launched an online tool earlier this year that provides support and guidance to pension savers who may be concerned about the risk of pension scams. The tool asks savers a number of questions before offering them advice. These questions include asking whether the user believes they have been scammed or have previously been approached by a scammer and if so, how they were contacted.

TPAS chief executive Michelle Cracknell said "We are seeing positive signs that consumers are now more aware of pension scams, which is great news, but we must continue to offer consumers opportunities to learn about scams; how they work, the consequences and understand how they can best protect their pension savings".

You can obtain more information about pension scams or access the online tool on the TPAS website at www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk

Treasury rules out changes to UK pension taxation process any time soon


March 2017

After much speculation, the pensions industry welcomed the news that the Treasury would not be looking to implement ‘significant changes’ to the UK’s pension taxation system. The proposals being considered included a possible move to a flat-rate pensions tax relief or an ISA-style form of pensions tax relief.

Recently the chief executive of investment service company AJ Bell (Andy Bell) wrote to the government’s Pensions Minister requesting that they consider a “more measured, long-term approach to pensions tax policy”. Mr Bell received a response from Jane Ellison (HM Treasury financial secretary) that provided assurance that in light of the extensive consultation conducted only last year “now is not the right time to undertake significant reform. Given this, the government does not think it is necessary to convene an independent pensions commission at this time”.

With the government’s focus firmly fixed on the Brexit process and the assurances provided by the Treasury recently any future changes to the pensions taxation system is not expected for some time.

Scottish Rate of Income Tax (SRIT) – no change for 2017/18


March 2017

The Scottish Government has confirmed formally that all income tax rates and thresholds will remain at the 2016/17 levels for the 2017/18 tax year. Consequently, top rate taxpayers in Scotland will pay more than their British counterparts south of the border.

For the rest of the UK, the threshold after which income tax is levied at 40% will increase from £43,000 to £45,000. As the equivalent threshold in Scotland will remain at £43,000, some Scottish taxpayers will pay more than their British counterparts. It is understood that approximately 370,000 people in Scotland will be affected.

Derek MacKay, Scottish finance secretary, said: ‘Having considered the proposals put to me, I confirm that I will lodge a Scottish Rate Resolution that sets the same tax rates as originally proposed but which applies a cash freeze on the higher rate threshold. This change protects basic rate taxpayers while generating an additional £29m of revenues in 2017/18. And it ensures that 99% of taxpayers on the same income this financial year will not be paying any more income tax in the next financial year. These proposals balance the need to raise additional revenues, whilst asking the highest earners to forego a significant tax cut at a time of UK government austerity. For the 10% of people covered by this higher rate the income foregone amounts to around £7.70 a week.’

The deadline for Individual Protection 2014 approaches


March 2017

If you are considering applying for Individual Protection 2014 (IP 2014), the deadline to submit your application is midnight on 5 April 2017. Please take action sooner rather than later as there will be no extension to the deadline for late applications.

This may apply to you if you had pension savings on 5 April 2014 which have a value of more than £1.25 million. IP 2014 allows you to protect those savings (up to a value of £1.5 million), as long as you don’t already have valid primary protection on 5 April 2014.

Applications for IP 2014 can be made using HMRC online service. To apply you will require details relating to the value of your pensions as at 5 April 2014.

Further information relating to this matter can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/pension-schemes-protect-your-lifetime-allowance#individual-protection-2014

If you are unsure with regards to this matter you should consult your independent financial adviser. If you do not have a financial adviser, details of those near to you can be found at www.unbiased.co.uk

Applications for the government’s State Pension top up scheme closes on 5 April 2017.


March 2017

If you reached your State Pension age before 6 April 2016 then you only have until midnight on 5 April 2017 to take advantage of the State Pension top up scheme.

The top up scheme is a government scheme that allows you to boost your retirement income by between £1 and £25 a week in exchange for a lump sum payment. The size of the payment is based on how much extra pension you wish to purchase, and your age. 

The additional state pension purchased is:

  • Guaranteed for life
  • In most cases inheritable at a reduced rate by a spouse or civil partner
  • Protected against inflation with increases in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI)
  • You can apply online at www.gov.uk/statepensiontopup.

Treasury raises pension advice allowance to £1,500


February 2017

The Treasury recently announced it will triple the amount it will allow people to withdraw from their pensions, before they retire in order to pay for appropriate advice.

The new pension advice allowance will allow individuals the option to withdraw £500 up to three times from their pension pots tax-free in order to pay for the pensions and retirement advice from April 2017.

However, following the consultation, HM Treasury confirmed that the £500 allowance can only be used once in any single tax year but be used on three separate occasions. The allowance must then be used towards the cost of "regulated financial advice, including ‘robo advice' (online digital advice) as well as traditional face-to-face advice".

The Treasury also confirmed that the allowance will only be available to individuals with defined contribution (DC) pensions or hybrid pensions with a DC element. The allowance will not be available to individuals with defined benefit / final salary schemes.

HMRC warn about GMP reconciliation deadlines


February 2017

HMRC has recently announced a couple of reminders to Trustees with regard to completing Guaranteed Minimum Pension (GMP) reconciliations. The key message was:

  • Reconciling non-active members

    The facility to raise queries through the Scheme Reconciliation service will close with effect from October 2018.

    Consequently, all queries should therefore be completed by December 2018.

    Failing to reconcile and agree any queries with HMRC before this date, could result in Trustees being liable for the payment of GMPs they didn’t know existed within the Scheme.

  • Reconciling active members

    Again all active member queries will need to be reconciled before October 2018.

    As part of the “closure scan” carried out in December 2016, schemes are now able to apply to HMRC for details of all members who had their contracted-out membership records closed. To allow HMRC time to share the closure scan data with schemes, requests for re-runs of Scheme Reconciliation Service data will not be accepted until June 2017.

Reconciling GMP queries is a slow process and consequently should not be left to the last minute. It is important therefore that Trustees take action sooner than later to resolve any queries they might have well in advance of any deadlines.

New developer joins concert


February 2017

Following a number of recent appointments Concert are pleased to announce the further appointment of Jamie Cook, who joins the Website Development Team headed up by Dylan Hughes.

Dylan commented “I’m confident that Jamie’s appointment will create opportunities for us to undertake new and exciting initiatives. Jamie brings a wealth of specialist knowledge, a whole new dynamic and depth of skill to the Web Development team. I’m looking forward to working with him to create new and innovative digital products for our clients.”

Concert are also continuing to expand their Consultancy team and look forward to making further announcements in the near future.

Abolition of Defined Benefit contracting out – Trustees, do you need to act?


January 2017

Contracting-out of the state pension scheme was abolished with the introduction of the new single-tier state pension on the 6 April 2016.

Even though contracted-out employment will have ended for active members at this date, their pensionable service is likely to have continued beyond this date. However, as a result of far-reaching legislative changes, any “open” contracted-out schemes at 6 April 2016, where Trustees are seeking to continue to use fixed rate GMP revaluation rather than adopt the default option of using section 148 orders beyond this date, are likely to need a rule amendment in order to maintain the use of fixed rate GMP revaluation.

If this is the case, Trustees need to ensure they pass a resolution to this effect before 5 April 2017. The resolution would apply to any member who was in contracted-out employment on 5 April 2016.

Further growth in the design team


January 2017

Following the appointment of Mike Chalmers at the end of last year, Concert have added another member to their Design team. Charlotte Frost joined the team at the beginning of January as a Designer. Both Charlotte and Mike’s appointments are in anticipation of further success in winning new clients following a very successful 2016.

Peter Walsh, Managing Director of Concert commented “2016 was one of our most successful years and we anticipate 2017 to follow suit. With this in mind we are strengthening all of our teams in preparation for this additional workload.”

Charlotte will work from Concert’s Bristol office.

Concert are also looking to strengthen both their Digital and Consulting teams and expect to make further announcements to this effect in the very near future.

Employer-arranged pensions advice


January 2017

As part of the Finance Bill 2017, it’s been proposed that a new exemption for income tax will be introduced with effect from 6 April 2017 to replace the existing restrictive provisions. The new tax exemption will apply to Employers who make pension advice available to their employees who would otherwise have to pay for this advice from their net income. The new proposal seeks to increase the current tax and National Insurance Contribution relief that is available to an employee for any employer-arranged pension advice from £150 to £500 per tax year.

The advice that could be provided and would qualify for the exemption, includes information or advice relating to:

  • an employee’s existing pension arrangements.
  • Any other pension savings employees may have.
  • Any pension related tax issues.

Exciting times as Concert continues to build


December 2016

Concert have made a further appointment to strengthen it’s already highly talented Design team. Mike Chalmers joined the team this month as a Senior Designer, having performed similar roles for a number of design agencies in the Bristol Area.

Matt Jones, a Director at Concert commented “Mike is a welcome and valuable addition to our Design team. We have been very successful recently, winning a number of new appointments with some of the largest Pension Schemes in the UK. Our approach is always to build the team ahead of winning new clients and Mike’s arrival is in preparation for anticipated further growth in 2017”.

Mike will be based in Concert’s Bristol office.

Autumn Budget 2016 - Consultation to reduce the Money Purchase Annual Allowance


November 2016

In Phillip Hammond’s first Budget as Chancellor, he announced that the Government is planning to consult on reducing the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) in order to close a loophole, which currently allows individuals to access “double tax relief”.

The reduction will affect those over the age of 55 who have already accessed their pension pots in the form of a cash sum under the new “pension freedom” rules that were effective from April 2015. It is believed that in the first year alone from April 2015, over 300,000 people took advantage of the new “pension freedom” rules.

Currently it is possible to contribute £10,000 a year into a pension and obtain tax relief on these contributions at the individual’s highest income tax rate. However, in order to close the loophole, the Chancellor is planning to cut the amount that can be paid into pensions in these circumstances from £10,000 to £4,000 from April 2017. This will consequently restrict the amount of pension savings that could otherwise be recycled to take advantage of tax relief.

The Chancellor confirmed however, there would be no change to the current “Annual Allowance” of £40,000 or the current “Lifetime Allowance” of £1m.

Market turmoil as Trump wins the 2016 US Presidential Election.


November 2016

The world’s financial markets initially reacted quite negatively to the news that Republican Donald Trump wins the race to the Whitehouse. As was widely predicted, the value of the dollar fell against major currencies (including the pound and euro), as did the value of the world’s financial markets also fall. However, after initial falls, the markets have recover somewhat. What is clear though is that the financial markets at this time remain volatile and are very susceptible to significant changes in value in a very short period of time. It is believed that growing concerns over Trump’s future trade and foreign policies brought about the latest market volatility.

If you are invested in a Defined Contribution Scheme any volatility in the market, will almost certainty result in significant variations in the value of your investments. It is for this reason that members need to be reminded and reassured that Pension Scheme investment is usually considered to be a long-term investment and knee jerk reactions to change investment strategies should be avoided.

Although to a lesser extent (due to the benefit guarantees provided by Defined Benefit (DB) Schemes) members of these Schemes also become concerned in times of market volatility.

If you are therefore looking to provide reassurance to your members around these or similar issues, Concert Consulting can help you prepare communications in a clear and concise manner that can be easily understood by all members of your Scheme.

For more information about the support we can provide to you, please contact Matt jones on 0117 927 2759 or email him at matt.jones@concertconsult.co.uk.

2016 Autumn Budget – Pensions key points


November 2016

On 24 November 2016, Chancellor Philip Hammond has presented his first Autumn Budget Statement. The key points announced in relation to pensions are:

  • A reduction to the Money Purchase Annual Allowance from £10,000 to £4,000 per annum.

    The Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) would be cut to £4,000 from £10,000 per annum. The Money Purchase Annual Allowance is the maximum annual amount individuals can contribute to a defined contribution pensions after having previously accessed a pension flexibly. The measure will be effective from April 2017 and the Government said it would consult on the detail.

    For more information, please see our news article ‘Consultation to reduce the Money Purchase Annual Allowance’.

  • ‘Scaling back’ on salary sacrifice benefits

    Chancellor Philip Hammond is proposing to restrict the tax-free benefits offered by salary sacrifice schemes. The restrictions to the salary sacrifice regime being proposed are due to take effect from April 2017. This would mean most salary sacrifice schemes will be subject to the same tax as cash income according to HM Treasury.

    However, childcare vouchers, cycle to work schemes and ultra-low emission cars (those with CO2 emissions of up to 75g/km) would be exempt from these changes.

    He also announced that certain long-term arrangements would be protected until April 2021.

  • A clamp down on pensions ‘cold calling’

    The Government reconfirmed its commitment to crack down on pensions cold calling. This is a move to give firms greater power to block suspicious transfers and make it harder for scammers.

    This follows an announcement from the Treasury on 19 November proposing a new regime under which all calls where a business has no existing relationship with the individual will be forbidden.

    The Government has revealed it will shortly publish its consultation paper to tackle pension scams.

  • State Pension triple lock to remain

    In the Autumn Statement, it was confirmed that there will be no change to the State Pension triple lock but warned it could be cut in future due to rising longevity.

    Philip Hammond said the Government would keep its pledge by maintaining triple lock until 2020 ensuring that state pensions would continue to go up every year by inflation, earnings growth or 2.5 per cent which ever is the highest.

Knowing your members


October 2016

Do you know your members? Their Views? Their Needs?

It is important that you understand your members and what they need. Good member communications, provided at the right time and in the right format, are vital if members are to engage and make decisions that lead better outcomes.

Obtaining feedback from your members can help you shape your ongoing communications making sure it hits the spot. There are a number of ways you can find out about your members views. This could be simply looking at the feedback your members provide. However a more proactive method is to approach your members and ask for their views on specific communications they have received.

If you are interested in discussing how we can help you connect with your members, please email Matt Jones at m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk or call him on (0)117 927 2759.

Concern continues to rise about the performance of workplace pension scheme – is there a simple solution?


October 2016

A recent survey conducted by Portus Consulting identified that “more than a fifth of respondents were concerned about how their workplace pension scheme has performed over the past two years”.

The survey undertaken by 1,043 UK employees found that 27% of respondents would welcome guidance on retirement planning from their employer.

Even though pension scheme membership is higher than ever before, the research also found:

  • Around a quarter (26%) of respondents have access to guidance or advice on retirement planning at work.
  • 15% of respondents can access online retirement planning support through their employer.
  • 11% of respondents have one-to-one meetings with advisers on a regular basis.
  • A third (33%) of respondents would be willing to source and pay for independent financial advice.

The survey concluded that “the missing link is that employees are being left to their own devices and significant numbers are disappointed with pension savings, while others are being deterred from even starting to save”.

At Concert Consulting we regularly come across similar situations to those identified in the survey and although many employees have access to guidance and sometimes advice, they are often surprised by the performance results of their pension scheme. Unfortunately, for those who do not take up the offer of guidance early enough, often remain blissfully unaware until it is too late.

One of Concert’s main objectives is to work with Employers and Trustees to develop clear and effective communication strategies necessary to specifically target this problem whilst simultaneously educating members to face up to this issue before it is too late.

If you are concerned that your communication strategy is not as effective as you would like please email Matt Jones at Concert Consulting using m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk who would be pleased to help. Alternatively please call him on (0)117 927 2759.

Further growth at Concert Consulting


October 2016

The summer has been a busy time here at Concert and we are delighted to have started three new client relationships with the BT Pension Scheme, Nationwide Pension Fund and Welplan, our first Mastertrust client.

Whilst we have been planning for this growth with new hires in both our Web and Design teams (see our ‘Two exceptional hires’ article published in August) we have again been hiring. Matt Jonat joins us to further strengthen our Web team. Matt brings a wealth of experience in front end web development and has already proved to be a valuable addition to an already strong team.

Our plans are to continue to grow, so watch this space for further recruitment news.

Pension Liberation and Scams complaints still a cause for concern


September 2016

Following a report recently published by the Pensions Ombudsman it was identified that Freedom and Choice has contributed to a significant increase to the number of complaints received by the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman confirmed it had completed over 1300 investigations, of which 20% were related to pension liberation complaints. Although the growth over the last year is less than the previous year, the report confirmed that since the introduction of pension freedoms the increased risk from pension liberation and scams was still a real cause for concern.

To help combat this, it is clear to this you need strong solid communications. To discuss your communications strategy, please contact Matt Jones on 0117 9272759 or e-mail m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk.

Government launches online application process to apply for Individual Protection


September 2016

At the end of July 2016, the HMRC released an online application process allowing members to apply for Individual Protection 2014 (IP14), Individual Protection 2016 (IP16) or Fixed Protection 2016 (FP16). Members who are considering applying for protection can now do so using the following Government’s website: www.gov.uk/guidance/pension-schemes-protect-your-lifetime-allowance

The new online service allows members to access applications made and print out any protection details necessary, which may be required by their Fund Administrator.

This is a further example of how a digital communications solution is preferred to the traditional paper approach. We are seeing clients increasingly favour digital communications as their primary communication medium, what’s more, in our experience this is welcomed as well overdue by scheme members of all ages. To talk to us about moving your communications into the digital world call Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk

Pensions freedom – one year on


September 2016

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries recently undertook a survey of over 55s regarding their views on the pension freedoms. The results showed that, although the majority of individuals were aware of the changes and felt confident in deciding what to do at retirement, many may not be saving enough (only 21% of respondents felt that their DC pot and State Pension would be enough to live on in retirement).

It is important to ensure individual understand how much they need to pay into their DC pension pot to ensure they have a comfortable income when they decide to retire. If you would like to discuss a communications strategy around promoting this to your members, please contact Matt Jones on 0117 9272759 or e-mail m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk

Will Brexit affect my pension?


August 2016

Following the recent announcement that the UK will leave the EU, many pension scheme members will be asking themselves “How will this affect me?”

In all honesty, it is probably far too early to predict with any certainty what impact this will have if any in the longer term particularly in the immediate aftermath of one of the UK’s largest political decisions. What is known though, is that Scheme members will rightly be concerned as to whether this could significantly impact any pension scheme investment or other retirement savings they may have. 

In the short term, whether this is the coming weeks, months or even the next twelve to twenty four months, we are all entering a period of ‘uncertainty’ both politically and financially whilst Britain prepares to withdraw from the EU.    

Economists are already expressing concern about the impact this decision might have on us in terms of the economy but again the true outcome at this time is not certain. Members may have a number of worries about how they could affect the economy. For example: 

  • Increased volatility in the markets and the impact this could have on investment returns;
  • The impact of possible changes to interest and inflation rates;
  • Could the Bank of England be considering a further programme of quantitive easing (QE);
  • Possible increases in taxation being imposed.

Trustees will no doubt be looking to reassure and remind members that pension scheme investment, is an investment for the longer term, particularly whilst they navigate a pathway through any short-term volatility generated by the decision to leave the EU. At the same time, Trustees will want to acknowledge member concerns but also want to advocate that members exercise caution and do not over react at this time. 

Please contact Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk if you would like more information about designing a communication strategy specific to meet your requirements.

A Nationwide challenge


August 2016

Concert Consulting is delighted to announce that they have been selected by the Nationwide Pension Fund to provide digital and communication consultancy services to 2021.

The Nationwide Pension Fund has around 30,000 members. The Fund merged with the pension scheme of the Portman Building Society in 2009 followed by the schemes for employees of both the Cheshire and Derbyshire Building Societies in 2010.  Currently there are approximately 6,000 active members accruing benefits on a CARE basis.

Peter Walsh, founder and Director at Concert has stated “We could not be more proud to be awarded this opportunity to help set a new communications agenda for a Fund of this stature. I like to think that we understand and reflect the objectives of the Trustee and that means creating thoughtful campaigns that engage with their members at every level.”

Vanessa Roberts, the Pension Fund Secretary commented “Concerts’ ability to demonstrate how and why a creative process can lead to improved member engagement was a key feature.”

“Communications needs to have a purpose” noted the Communications Manager at Nationwide, Amanda Innes, “and Concert demonstrated an eagerness to provide benchmarking wherever possible.”

Two exceptional hires for Concert


August 2016

We are delighted to announce two new hires to refresh our creative and digital offerings. Debra Porritt joins as a Senior Designer and Dylan Hughes as a Senior Web Developer. Both join with huge experience in their respective fields and crucially bring expertise gained from the wider commercial marketplace. That’s right folks they don’t know one end of a Transfer Value from the other! Our policy is to augment the pensions technical side of our business with a creative and development balance that does not spring from any preconceived pensions bias. Debra brings a creative expertise honed in the legal space and Dylan specialises in ensuring that websites are compliant with the latest accessibility rulings.

Both are West Country types who share a love of cider, cheese and working late….they should fit in well! Welcome to you both.

Communicating with Members regarding Non Statutory CETVs


July 2016

The one size fits all approach, traditionally associated with Defined Benefit Pension Schemes is being questioned more and more by its members, as a result of changes in lifestyles and income requirements. It is for this reason that many trustees and sponsors have begun considering Flexible Retirement Option ("FRO") exercises as a way of allowing their members to access the new flexibilities that apply largely to Defined Contribution arrangements.

An FRO exercise usually involves writing to all members of retirement age (typically all members over the age of 55) with a quotation of the scheme benefits they could currently receive. Increasingly Trustees are keen for FRO’s to also be included as part of the usual retirement quotation process, as members approach their normal pension age ("NPA"). This could be as simple as the inclusion of a Cash Equivalent Transfer Value ("CETV") quotation as part of the retirement pack. The purpose however, of these exercises is to allow members to transfer their benefits to a suitable arrangement that would then allow them to purchase benefits in a form that is suitable to their requirements on the open market.

The impact for DB arrangements though, is that it is anticipated that more members will want to transfer their existing DB out of the scheme in order to take advantage of the new flexibilities, but instead could possibly be prevented from doing so.

A key point that needs to be considered for members of DB arrangements, is that their statutory right to request a CETV will continue to remain as any time up until 12 months before their NPA. The fear here is that DB members may mistakenly believe that they can transfer their pension benefits at any time before retirement (i.e. after age 64 if their NPA is 65), particularly as their confidence and level of knowledge and understanding of the DC flexible options grows. Consequently many members may fail to understand the DB implications or restrictions that may prevent them from doing so once they are within 12 months of their NPA.

Therefore at Concert Consulting we are working with Trustees, once they have agreed their approach with regard to dealing with non-statutory CETV requests, to ensure this complex topic is communicated to all members in an easily understandable way.

You may already be considering the content of your next Newsletter and this topic may be one you might choose to include. Please contact Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk if you would like more information about how Concert can support you in designing Newsletters specifically tailored for your members.

DC Governance Guides


July 2016

In April 2016, the Pensions Regulator launched for consultation a series of six draft guides aimed at assisting trustees to demonstrate, implement and comply with the revised Code of Practice 13 - the governance and administration of occupational defined contribution (DC) trust-based schemes. This consultation process ended on 11 May 2016.

The guides produced by the Pension Regulator (tPR) and listed below, set out what they regard as "basic hygiene duties" for a scheme to remain compliant. They are:

  • The trustee board
  • Scheme management skills
  • Administration
  • Investment governance Value for members
  • Value for members
  • Communicating and reporting

Focusing on "Communicating and Reporting" in particular, we would like to draw your attention to the key topics covered in this guide:

Knowing your members and seeking their views

TPR strongly recommends that obtaining the views and needs of Scheme members is paramount to maintaining good scheme governance and effective ways to achieve this can be through:

  • accessing existing knowledge and data (tapping into trustees’ and the employer’s existing knowledge, as might union representatives or staff forums);
  • conducting sample-based member surveys; or
  • Other member engagement methods.

Communicating with members

TPR’s recommendation is that communications must be:

  • provided at the right time in the right format, if members are to engage as planned;
  • They need to be accurate, clear, relevant and in plain English.
  • Avoid jargon and all technical terms to be explained clearly and the language used throughout is consistent.

The guidance also highlighted the important role that technology can play in educating and communicating with members. It is also proven that having well illustrated and interactive planning tools are more effective in achieving this.

Having these core principles embedded into the way we prepare all communications at Concert Consulting, we are confident that we could help support you to meet the tPR’s recommendations and deliver the innovative, high quality communications your members expect.

Please contact Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk if you would like more information about designing a communication strategy specific to meet your requirements.

Creating creative websites


July 2016

There are so many different factors to think about when designing a website, as each of clients have different needs depending upon their specific communication strategy, budget and the level of understanding of the audience they are being designed to target.

In developing website’s, it is our aim to ensure the website are seen as an enhancement of your business, which you can be proud to use to promote your business. In order to achieve this objective, at the core of our design and development process are the following fundamentals:

  • Identifying and engaging with the Target audience

The production of a successful website is not possible unless the development process is driven by what you know about the audience, to which the website is aimed. This is achieved by good preparation, quality planning and thorough research before attempting the development stage of the process. Common question we would ask ourselves are:

Who are we targeting?

How might the audience think?

What level of knowledge and understanding do they already have?

What would they like and what do they expect?

What would they like to know?

  • Making the most of the available budget

The temptation is often to over load the site with as much information as possible which consequently leads to the site being uninteresting and users not retaining any of the information intended for them.

We believe that when it comes to creating a successful website, less is more. It is for this reason where ever possible our professionally designed websites utilise the latest interactive web applications and components. This allows us to offer bespoke web development solutions ranging from powerful content management systems to standalone web applications.

Leading busy lives as so many of us do now a days, its essential that all web sites are fully mobile responsive and can be accessed using all types of devices with high quality user interfaces.

  • Ensure simplicity and creativity

Just using loud colors and flamboyant images are not the answers to creating an attractive web design. Keeping things simple and using fresh ideas is more likely to deliver the website you are looking to create.

  • Think visually appealing

It’s proven that online visitors will stay longer on a site if the imagery is meaningful and attractive. Creating an attractive website will encourage all users to spend more time on the site, regardless of the topic.

  • Incorporate smart choice of colors

Having the right color scheme must not be underestimated. This will only enhance your brand image and identity. Whether you choose a simple color scheme or a more complex suite of colors, it is paramount that the text on your website is easily readable. The text and colors used must complement each other.

  • Use the best technology available

HTML (the Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are two of the core technologies for building creative Web pages. HTML provides the structure of the page, and CSS delivers the visual and audio layout for a variety of devices, that allows the right graphics and scripting to be incorporated.

  • Only use graphics to enhance the impact not overcrowd

Graphics can massively enhance your site but can also ruin your web design. Finding the right balance is essential. The use of too many graphics can easily lead to the website looking confused.

At Concert we have a team of consultants, designers and web developers who collectively have many years of professional experience, where the above principles are at the heart of our design process.

This enables us to generate innovative ideas and combine them into a strategy that is individually designed to meet your needs. The solutions we deliver are tailor made, creative and designed to provide a first rate member or employee experience.

Please contact Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 or email m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk if you would like more information about designing the right website for you.

Design trends for 2016


June 2016

As with fashion design, website design goes through trends. Here’s our view of what’s new (or not so new) and exciting for 2016:

"Modern" Retro Style - As opposed to vintage or “old” retro—styles that draw from the early 1900s through the 60s, “modern” retro takes its stylistic influences from more recent decades, the late 1970s through the 90s. Think early PCs, video games and pixel art.

Material Design - Google made quite a splash in the design world when it introduced its material design guidelines. This visual language is characterised by “deliberate color choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space” for a bold, graphic look.

Bright, Bold Colours - Fitting in with both 80s/90s styles and material design, vibrant hues should continue to prove popular this year as we see increasingly a move away from the more muted, 1960s-inspired palettes to favor bright pastels, neon, and richer, more saturated colours.

Geometric Shapes - Geometric shapes and patterns are a motif that aligns with some of the 80s-era trends we’ve already looked at. This one can be applied in all sorts of ways—as individual graphic elements, as backgrounds, as an illustrative technique.

Also keep an eye out for a style known as "low poly," which got its start as a 3D modeling technique for video games. This angular, faceted look will continue to show up outside the gaming world, in web and print projects.

Negative Space - Negative and/or white space is an essential part of any good design. But used strategically, negative space can be a clever way to add deeper or double meaning to your designs, particularly for logo and branding projects. Or it can simply help give your composition a more minimal look.

Modular Layouts - Modular or card-based layouts have been adopted by some of the biggest brands for their websites and mobile apps. But organising designs (of all mediums) according to a grid is nothing new. It is the self-contained modules or cards used as the primary organisational principle that has created the twist of a new trend.

Dramatic Typography - According to this trend, typography isn’t just for reading—it’s for making a statement. Look out for big, bold type that’s the center of attention. You can create drama through size, but also through color, texture, or arrangement.

Abstract, Minimalistic Style - In contrast to the more flamboyant, 1980s-inspired design styles we’ve seen so far, this trend relies on minimalism and deconstructing or distorting recognizable forms.

So, if you are looking for a fresh new look for your Scheme, or just want to update your current look, come and have a chat with one of Concerts Consultants. For more information call 0117 927 2759.

Going paperless – it’s not just about saving trees


June 2016

Increasingly we are helping Trustee boards implement a paperless communication strategy, but they are not doing this just because it’s better for the environment. So what is motivating this change?

Cost is always going to be a key consideration. The average communication costs around £2 per member to distribute; this excludes producing the actual communication but does include postage costs, envelopes and the labour requirements of the fulfilment process. A digital distribution strategy removes the need to package and post the communication, so a 10,000 member scheme can save around £20,000 for each communication.

Often as a result of the costs, Trustees look to reduce the number of communications they send, sometimes saving up information to issue all at one time either in a single document or a number of documents in the same envelope. Our experience shows however, that to improve engagement with members, Trustees are better adopting the ‘little and often’ approach, providing a stream of bitesize communications. With the cost barrier removed, this can be adopted more easily. It also means information can be sent to members on a timelier basis.

Security is another factor considered. Sending confidential or sensitive information digitally is far securer than using the traditional post route. You can also track the distribution more easily, so you know when the communication has arrived. In addition, members do not have to consider how best to store and ultimately dispose of the communication.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just deciding to go paperless and away you go. Under current legislation, certain information must be sent to members in a paper format unless you have undertaken a specific process to inform your members of your intentions to move to digital communications and enable them to request to continue to receive paper communications. This process does not however, need to be onerous or significantly increase your short term communications costs.

So why not talk to use about going paperless, there are many benefits and you may also save the odd tree along the way. Please contact your Concert Consultant or Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 (m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk) for more information.

Pension freedoms - £4.35bn in cash sums paid out in first 12 months


June 2016

Professional Pensions reported last month that the figures for the 12 months to March 2016 showed that around a quarter of a million pensions have received £4.35bn in cash payments following the reforms last April.

This is clearly good news from the standpoint of giving members greater choice and flexibility. But still leads to the questions:

  • "Are we doing enough to ensure pension scheme members fully understand the options?"
  • "Are we educating them early enough? Do they have the information to properly plan their retirement savings and maximise the opportunities pension freedoms offer?"

Clearly the numbers show that taking your pension savings as a cash sum is very attractive for a lot of people, but many may also get caught in the trap where Scheme rules (specifically defined benefit schemes) prevent members from taking advantage of pension flexibilities as the right to transfer their benefits is automatically removed as they approach normal retirement age.

At Concert, we are delighted to see a number of our clients looking at how best to communicate to those approaching retirement and what options are available to them in addition to those offered directly from their scheme. We’d be happy to share with you further some of the strategies we have developed with our clients and help produce a communication plan tailored to your needs. Please contact your Concert Consultant or Matt Jones on 0117 927 2759 (m.jones@concertconsult.co.uk) for more information.

More communication can only be a good thing!


May 2016

Reading this week's copy of Professional Pensions, it was great to see communications being the focus of Helen's "editor's view". Whilst Helen goes on to concentrate on providers, we believe the same principles apply to members (and potential members) of occupational schemes. The savings landscape is far more complex now with ISAs, LISAs (the new Lifetime ISA) and alike. When we then add in the Annual Allowance, Tapered Annual Allowance and Lifetime Allowance restricting what someone can pay into their pension, it is no wonder many people consign pensions to the "too-hard pile" never really understanding or maximising the tax efficient saving potential of their pension scheme.

So now is the time to spend a little time (and money) ensuring pensions is clearer to all, in the long term this has to be good for the pension schemes and more importantly the pension scheme members.

Concert hire Lee Davies


May 2016

Concert are delighted to announce that Lee has joined us as a Senior Consultant. Having spent over ten years at Capita, as a Client Relationship Manager, and will bring great experience and extensive technical knowledge. Matt Jones, a Concert Director noted "We could not be more excited about Lee’s appointment – he is so well respected in our industry and we know that he will hit the ground running at a time of real growth for our business".

Lee will be based in our Bristol office where we continue to build a formidable consultancy presence.

Budget 2016


March 2016

On 16 March 2016 the Chancellor George Osborne, delivered his 2016 budget. Whilst the speculation of changes to pensions tax relief did not transpire, George Osborne did announce a boost to how people save for retirement or their first home by the introduction of a new 'Lifetime ISA'.

The new 'Lifetime ISA' will take effect from 6 April 2017 and will be available to any adult up to the age of 40. It will allow savers to put away up to £4,000 each year and for every £4 saved, the Government will give an extra £1 up to the age of 50. Therefore, if you save £4,000 each year, the Government will pay an additional £1,000 each year into your funds.

These funds, including the Government bonus, can be withdrawn tax-free from age 60 for general retirement purposes. In addition, the funds can be used to buy a first time home (the value must be less than £450,000 and must be for personal residence and not buy-to-let). Access before age 60, other than for a first time home will result in the loss of the Government bonus (and any interest or growth) plus the levy of a 5% tax charge.

If you already have a Help to Buy ISA, you will be able to transfer those savings into the new 'Lifetime ISA' when it is available, or continue saving into both. You will however, only be able to use the bonus from one to buy a house.

At the same time, the total amount you can save each year into all ISAs will be increased from £15,240 to £20,000.

The good news for active members taking advantage of Pensions plus is that the Government have decided they will not change salary sacrifice schemes designed to benefit pension savings. It was also announced that the government will restructure the public-service financial guidance providers (the Money Advice Service, The Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise), to ensure that customers can access the help they need to make effective financial decisions.

The new structure will direct more funding to the front line and focus more support in areas where it is needed. This will include:

  • A new pensions guidance body, to make sure that customers can get all their pensions questions answered in one place, at all stages of their lives; and
  • A new, slimmed down money guidance body responsible for identifying gaps in the financial guidance market and commissioning providers to fill these gaps to ensure that customers can access the debt advice and money guidance they need.

In addition, the Government has announced that it promises that the industry will design, fund and launch a pensions dashboard by 2019. The dashboard will be a digital interface where an individual can view all their retirement savings in one place.

GMP reconciliations. Now the hard work really starts!


February 2016

We are all aware that the date for schemes to complete their reconciliations is fast approaching, and for many months now our administrators have been feverously working to identify any issues, fill in the gaps and report on whose pension needs correcting. But now the hard work starts, it’s one thing working out someone is being paid the wrong pension, it's something completely different explaining that to them in a way that they can understand and will accept. A carefully constructed communication plan, providing the right amount of information, in an engaging and understandable format can pay dividends in reducing the administrative and legal workload which can be the result of a pension correction exercise. Whilst not all schemes are ready to start the communication process, now is the time to start thinking about how you are going to do it.

Has the world gone completely digital?


February 2016

Recent studies suggest that 70% of the UK population now own a smart phone, and on average they look at it 57 times a day. So the answer is yes, right? Well partially it is. We are definitely more wedded, as a society, to technology than we ever have been. The simple telephone has been transformed into a multi-tasking hand held companion that will organise our lives; telling us where we should be, when we should be there, with who, and what all our other friends are doing if they are not going to be there. But is this true when it comes to pensions? The answer is no. Most pension schemes are clearly still behind the times when it comes to pensions communications, using paper as the primary communication medium, supported in some cases by a scheme website. So now’s the time to make the most of our scheme websites, let’s start putting them at the centre of our scheme communications strategy. In most cases it will be more cost effective than the more traditional paper approach, and if the statistics are to be believed it’s how most of us would prefer to receive the information as well.

DC Digital


February 2016

Its not only clothes, celebrities and food that are subject to the whims of what is ‘fashionable’ …. what ‘works' in a digital format is also subject to change.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking these trends are of no relevance or credibility because often they are the result of a kind of mass user access testing that occurs naturally in most marketplaces. Indeed this is even more noteworthy when considering applications in niche markets – take DC digital comms – there has been a distinct movement away from the general to topic specific immediate impact. Pages are not to be wasted on general blurb, rather direct, relevant challenges are all the rage.

Another development that we include on our client sites is less text(with options to choose levels of complexity) and more graphics. Fewer pictures too.

So sites will be shorter, brighter, more immediate, relevant and boast a cleaner, more uncluttered feel. Happy designing.

United Biscuits appoint Concert


September 2015

It's always a proud moment for us when we are appointed to work with a client of the standing of United Biscuits. This is a Company appointment to provide communication services for a number of pension projects .... Projects that require strategic and technical input at the planning phase and the logistical management of our internal delivery services once the projects are underway. We are looking forward to working with a great team at UB.

Concert strengthen design and digital services


September 2015

For the last ten years the provision of top notch design services to our clients has always been a core activity for us. Over the past five or six years the demand for our digital and web expertise has grown at such a rate that we are having to extend that team too. Enter Cliff Newman and Daniel Bevan. Cliff joins as a Senior Designer and will oversee our creative output at a strategic level. Daniel is the newest of our Website Developers. Both are at the top of their respective games and we look forward to introducing them to our clients.

Concert get their man


August 2015

It wasn't easy but we are delighted to announce the arrival of Matthew Jones who has joined us as a Director. Apart from managing key clients Matt will be responsible for developing new products to bring to market and helping to set the direction of our business. He brings with him a wealth of experience in administration and communication services as well as a strong background in research and client management ... a real pensions professional.

Google ranks 'mobile friendly' pages higher


June 2015

On April 21st 2015, search engine and software giants Google released a brand new algorithm that ranks mobile friendly sites higher than those that lack mobile compatiblility. As we move further into the technological advances of the internet and mobile browsing, more websites are moving over to responsive web design. Being able to access a website on multiple formats, platforms and browsers is now a necessity rather than purely aesthetic.

The new ranking will take largest effect when submitting search queries on a mobile device such as phone or tablet. Although, Google are planning on spreading the algorithm to desktop searches in the near future in a push to convert more websites to responsive design.

The algorithm is in 'real time', which means if a site switched to 'mobile friendly' today, this would be picked up by Google almost instantaneously, rather than delayed like its Google Ad-word or Analytics algorithms. This has a big impact on sites that have yet/have not planned to go mobile, as pages that have made the switch will have been ranked longer, therefor earned a larger rating.

Though your site will not be delisted from Google for being 'non mobile friendly' the effects could affect up to 25% of catalogued Google sites.

If you wish to discuss how you can make your website responsive or about building a responsive website, please contact Concert on 0117 927 2759 or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.

Take the risk out of de-risking


June 2015

When it comes to liability management you must already know that communications are key…..but not for the usual reasons. Whilst creative input can have a role to play, our experience tells us that the ability to convert technical information into clear, well ordered wording, whilst also striking the right ‘tone of voice’ are the all important factors.

Here at Concert our experience in such projects from scheme closure to trivial commutation, Pensions Increase Exchange and Pensions Restructuring can prove the difference when conducting such exercises. We can advise you as to best practice and produce a project communications plan to compliment your wider strategy in this area and take care of all production headaches. That includes designing, writing and printing, collating and mailing all communication materials all from our Bristol offices.

We have also found that the construction of micro-sites (either linked to client intranets or not) can provide members with near real time updates and answer their questions in a media that diverts work-flow from your administrators.

And, as everything takes place under one roof and using our secure data room we have taken every precaution so that you can be sure your member data is secure. Our ISO 27001 accreditation in data management is testament to that.

A 'new man’ at the creative helm


June 2015

Welcome Cliff Newman. Cliff has been appointed as our new creative supremo. Based in our Bristol office, Cliff will be responsible for the creative direction of our clients as well as managing our general output for both digital and print. Cliff comes to us from the wonderful world of publishing having had stints at Immediate Media and Future Publishing where he has built up a wealth of knowledge around how top quality design and layout can assist in communicating complicated messages.

With apologies for the lazy, clichéd headline... Welcome to Cliff (yet another Gooner!)

Equiniti & Concert Partnership


April 2015

We are pleased to announce that Concert have teamed with Equiniti to help Equiniti enhance their communications within their Pensions Administration business.

Communicating effectively with pension scheme members is increasingly important to trustees and scheme sponsors, and is a key service component within any leading pension services organisation. With the April 2015 changes to the pension’s landscape, this will again raise the bar in terms of the need to communicate effectively, and to educate scheme members.

This is an exciting time for us and look forward to working with Equiniti.

Direct Mail is still a great way to connect with members


April 2015

Concert produces a number of paper-based items for our clients. These come in the shape of scheme newsletters and Trustee Reports; postcards that advertise the launch of a new website; flyers that let members know that their annual Statement is available online; and web enrolment cards for supplying members with their personal login details. More recently, it has been in the form of video books, where members can watch bite-size pension videos just by turning a page.

There are several reasons why direct mail is just as effective now as it ever has been. It continues to sit nicely alongside the newer digital marketing solutions, and here’s why…

A clever piece of direct mail engages people

How many emails are you receiving each day? If your inbox is anything like mine then 50% of it will be filled with junk mail, spam or e-newsletters - which means that more important messages will either be ignored, missed or deleted by accident. You may have also noticed that the amount of post you’re getting through your letterbox has greatly reduced over the past few years. As a result, an envelope or postcard carrying a clear message is more likely than ever to grab the attention of members when it lands on their doormat. What’s great about direct mail is that it can be sent out in a range of formats, shapes and sizes. This allows our designers to get their creative juices flowing and come up with something that really engages members and ultimately gets your message read.

Direct mail can be more personalised

Direct mail allows administration teams and Trustees an opportunity to speak directly to a pension scheme member on a personal level - something that email struggles to do. This will help promote trust between a company and it’s members, and that’s very important in the pensions industry.

Whatever you send to a member, addressing them by their name is not enough in some cases. Sometimes there is the need to give them personalised and tailored information that’s specific only to them. This can be done very successfully in print by using certain techniques that allow us to mix generic information with personal information, and it’s these little touches that go a long way to engaging members.

Even in this age of digital communication, direct mail marketing campaigns are as effective as they ever were. Highly targeted, personalised and tangible, marketing messages sent by post speak directly to consumers in a way that email communications never can. With some careful planning and execution - along with the right materials - direct mail marketing can play an important role in modern business for many years to come.

So, while accepting that email and digital content are becoming ever more popular because of the specific advantages they bring, the traditional method of direct mail should not be ignored. Contrary to popular belief, printed direct marketing is not dead. It's actually just as effective now as it ever was, and continues to sit nicely alongside the newer digital marketing solutions.

If you wish to discuss ways of connecting with your members using direct mail, please contact Concert on 0117 927 2759 or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.

Responsive Websites: A modern era must!


April 2015

There is an average of 5,700 tweets per second, the estimated amount of Facebook likes a second is a staggering 100,000 plus and most of this is done via a tiny device that sits with us through most of the waking day. People check the news, the weather and latest sports scores, all from the comfort of their mobile devices. Whether it is an iPhone, iPad or Kindle, these devices are becoming an integral part of our day-to-day lives.

Responsive design or responsive websites are web pages that are designed to work across a multitude of platforms. Whether it is a tablet, phone or PC, it should work accordingly. Ever since digital technology became accessible to the general public, there have been people working on making the users 'end goal' more achievable in the most comfortable and painless way. Responsive design works in the same way, it takes the sites you use every day and makes them accessible, reliable and structurally solid.

Our design and development team, here at Concert, have welcomed the used of responsive design with open arms, whilst also having a bubble of excitement at the endless possibilities in scope. It can transform a painful document repository, into a smooth, accessible file sharing tool. Sometimes everyday luxuries are taken for granted. Our phones are just our phones and websites are, at the end of the day, just websites. It is the thought process behind each design, which allows us to develop these luxuries.

To someone who is not familiar on the technical aspects of web development, it may be hard to feel the same excitement towards responsive website. However, by today’s digital standard, it is something that is expected.

If you wish to discuss how you can make your website responsive or about building a responsive website, please contact Concert on 0117 927 2759 or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.

Radical pension changes – your opportunity to engage with your staff and members


February 2015

Recent research suggests that only 5% of people expect to use Pension Wise, the free guidance offered by the Pensions Advisory Service and the Citizens Advice Bureau from April 2015. Over half of people surveyed anticipate approaching their employer and pension provider, asking family and friends, or searching online to help them understand the forthcoming changes to pensions.

Whether you operate a trust-based or contract-based pension scheme, your staff and members will be looking to you to understand how they are likely to be affected by the April 2015 changes and what action they need to take to ensure they are able to maximise their retirement outcomes. It is incredibly important to use this window of opportunity to improve pension engagement levels.

Marketing research suggests that online videos are 600% more effective than print and direct mail combined. At Concert, we know that short, engaging videos with embedded animation are one of the most effective ways to educate people in subjects that they have little familiarity with.

Shortly we will be filming an initial set of videos which explain the 2015 pension changes. We have chosen what we consider to be the most fundamental topics for defined contribution and defined benefit members. These are:

  • Understanding your new options
  • Transferring your defined benefit pension
  • Annuities and Income Drawdown

The videos will be scripted so that they can stand alone on your scheme or company website or, equally, sit together as a library of resources. We would also be delighted to discuss additional April 2015 topics to add to this library.

This year we will experience some of the most radical changes to the pensions industry in decades. Concert is here to help you grab this opportunity to maximise pension engagement levels.

For further information about filming, please call us on 0117 927 2759 or email b.mockridge@concertconsult.co.uk or s.powell@concertconsult.co.uk.

Please click here to watch a short montage of videos that we have produced for various clients.

Does a pension scheme need an identity?


February 2015

I think we all recognise the importance of a good logo, particularly where company brands are concerned. But are logos and corporate identities really necessary for pension schemes? Concert believes they are. In fact, not only are they necessary but they are also absolutely essential in order to communicate effectively to members of pension schemes.

A good logo will create an impact. It will instill confidence and align a company with its members – giving them a symbol to support and get behind. It can also define standards, add credibility and personality to a company’s image.

From a design perspective, a logo should be clear, easily interpreted and visually engaging to its audience. However, a logo on its own is not enough – it needs to be part of the scheme’s overall corporate identity. So things like ‘company values’ have to be considered alongside that of typefaces, colours and photographic styles.

Tone of voice is also hugely important when communicating to your members. For example, should a member booklet be written in a friendly or formal way? Or, perhaps somewhere inbetween? Get it wrong and your reader could miss your message altogether.

Concert are experts at getting it right. We create bespoke logos for pension schemes and co-branded versions for schemes that have to sit alongside the larger corporate brand. Our experienced designers can either follow your existing brand guidelines to the letter or create new ones for you.

If your pension scheme is in need of a re-brand or a new identity, please contact Rebecca Mockridge on 0117 927 2759 or email her at b.mockridge@concertconsult.co.uk.

Web Design Trends for 2015


February 2015

Not every design trend has to be followed, or indeed, is applicable to the pensions industry and pension websites in particular. However, Concert is always monitoring the web for new ideas and developments, so that if we see something that could really work for our clients, then we are there at the beginning of the ‘trend’ and not at the end of it. Longevity, after all, is a key component of web design. Separating the trends that last from the fads that don’t, is the responsibility of our web team and they are very good at it - only applying what’s good for the design and right for the client.

Large Images

Looking back at 2014 we saw a huge increase of good quality, large photography being used on websites and webpages across all sectors. This was partly due to better images being made available on library stock image sites, but also the increase in broadband speed meant that people were no longer sitting around waiting for them to load when viewing a website. Large images are not regarded as an issue anymore and subsequently they are becoming very popular. A picture paints a thousand words after all.

Semi-Flat Design

Semi-Flat Design has been around for a couple of years now but it is thought that it will continue to be used in 2015. What is semi-flat design? Well, it’s the use of flat graphics, bold colours, icons, and drop shadows etc. Have you noticed why a lot of sites have become more aesthetically pleasing – it’s because of their semi-flat design elements.

Video Backgrounds

Again, due to broadband speeds increasing and online video popularity in general, video is now being used everywhere on the web. It’s becoming a great way of creating mood and ambience on a website, and by placing it in the background of pages, it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t get in the way of information in the foreground. It makes an immediate impact and can get the viewer emotionally involved and give them a better experience.

Rich Content

Websites are now starting to contain a lot more information than they use to and Google loves it. That doesn’t mean we’re all seeing longer and longer pages of text though! These days, webpages are containing everything they need to but they are displaying it in the form of graphics, buttons, links, banners and video etc – creating lots of little jump-off points for viewers to go and explorer. It’s about creating a content rich environment for users to absorb key messages and information without really trying.

Better Typography

Google Fonts have been a big influence in web design and no doubt they will introduce more fonts in 2015. They are free to use and allow designers and developers the opportunity to introduce them to websites in order to give them a more unique look and feel. The use of system fonts are really a thing of the past as we can all access Google’s library.

Hand Draw Illustrations

Hand drawn illustrations have made their mark before, and other styles of illustration are also successfully used today. But there is something more unique and visually pleasing to a hand drawn illustration that requires a lot more effort but will help set one website apart from another. Having a rougher, sketchier feel seems more raw and different – and it is thought that people will enjoy that more. So, expect to see more of this type of illustration in 2015.

If you wish to discuss ways of introducing some of the trends mentioned here or maybe you require a new website, please contact us on 0117 927 2759 or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.

What is responsive web design?


January 2015

Responsive web design is a process of designing and building a website that adapts to the size of the screen upon which it is viewed. So, whether you visit a website on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop, the site will automatically adjust and reflow to fit that particular device. This additional functionality forces designers and web developers to focus more on building sites with limited screen space than they may have done in the past.

The dawn of mobile browsing

The introduction of the iPad, iPhone and highspeed mobile internet access revolutionised the way people consumed online content. As a result, developers needed to consider how sites looked and functioned on mobile devices with smaller screens.

Their initial solution was to build separate ‘mobile-lite’ versions of websites, while the main site was built to a standard size that fitted the majority of desktop and laptop screens. As the market for mobiles and tablets grew, developers were continually rebuilding and adjusting sites to accommodate new technology and viewing sizes. Companies had to budget for keeping a number of versions of their website maintained or accept that some versions may look disjointed or too small to navigate properly.

A ‘one size fits all’ solution was required and responsive web design was born.

The future of the internet

Recent research by the Internet Advertising Bureau predicts that the number of people accessing the internet via a mobile device will reach 1 billion in 2015 (13% of the world’s population or 28% of all internet users). It is also anticipated that this figure will increase to 3.6 billion (half the world’s population) over the next four years.

As a result, when creating a new website or improving an existing one, it has never been more important to consider what device users will access the site from. A site that is not optimised for mobile access, across a range of devices, will not retain users and maximise engagement as successfully as a fully responsive site will.

What are the benefits of a responsive website?

The three main benefits of a responsive website are:

  • Consistency - Responsive sites that are consistent across devices can improve user experiences. This means they are more likely to help users access the information they require and improve ongoing audience engagement, regardless of what devices are used to view the site.
  • Longevity - Responsive websites are future proofed against developments in technology. This means there will be less requirement to redesign and rebuild sites to cope with new ways of viewing online content.
  • Value - Responsive websites reduce ongoing maintenance requirements as changes only need to be made once rather than across a number of different versions.

Responsive or not?

Responsive Web Design is the industry standard for new build sites. If your website is not responsive then it is unlikely to maximise its potential to engage new and existing users. Building and maintaining member engagement is incredibly important for pension schemes, so we advise all our clients to have a responsive scheme website. Our developers are highly skilled at creating sites that adapt to all platforms and devices.

To discuss your online requirements drop us a line at info@concertconsult.co.uk or call 0117 927 2759.

A brave new world of pensions


January 2015

Radical pension reforms are only months away. Whilst many occupational pension schemes are reluctant to take action before April 2015, members of the public have been bombarded with information on the changes since March 2014. As a result, most people understand something is happening, but few will have a good idea of how they will be affected next year. A recent study suggests a very small number of individuals will rely on the Guidance Guarantee, so it will fall to pension schemes and employers to give people enough information and education to enable them to make the right decisions about their retirement.

Pensions is a ‘sticky’ industry, major changes are infrequent, largely because of the administrative upheaval they can cause. So when reform occurs, it’s often significant. Just as the industry was getting to grips with the 2006 tax ‘simplifications’ and automatic enrolment, George Osborne surprised everyone with his 2014 Budget reforms. Some of Osborne’s changes are so significant that they could be described as revolutionary.

Pensions Minister Steve Webb’s promise of Lamborghinis instead of annuities may have been optimistic, but the opportunity to cash in a pension pot at retirement is likely to be an appealing alternative to many people who have lost faith in ‘conventional’ pension provision.

In the area of occupational pension schemes, especially those offering defined benefits, the changes are not automatic and not necessarily relevant. Which means that decisions need to be made about how schemes deal with the changes and how best to communicate with members. Many schemes are reluctant to take the lead and are delaying detailed communications with members.

Guiding members to the Guidance Guarantee

Research by retirement provider Partnership concluded that just over half of individuals over 40 don’t know if they’re entitled to free pension guidance next year. Only a third know that they can use the Guidance Guarantee from 6 April 2015. The reality is that anyone over age 55 can use the service provided by the Pension Advisory Service and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Knowing about the service offered is just the first step. The research suggested that only 5% of people expect to use the Guidance Guarantee. Over half of people surveyed anticipate approaching their provider, asking family and friends, or searching online, for the answer to their pension problems.

The anticipation of poor uptake for the Guidance Guarantee means that there is an inherent duty falling to employers and pension schemes to:

  • Make staff and members aware of the changing pensions landscape
  • Provide a base level of education with regard to pension options
  • Run a Guidance Guarantee campaign

The purpose of the Guidance Guarantee is to offer individuals a short generic consultation so that they can understand the benefits of seeking independent financial advice to understand how they can achieve the best retirement outcome. Someone attending a Guidance Guarantee session will need to do a good amount of preparation themselves in order to make the most of their session. This further highlights the need for schemes and employers to improve pension based engagement and understanding.

Annuities – the jury’s still out

One of the key aspects of the Guidance Guarantee, and the ongoing need to improve engagement with employees and scheme members on pension related issues, is to help people understand that the breadth of options they have at retirement has expanded.

In the past, a majority of members in a defined contribution pension scheme would expect to convert their personal account into a retirement income via an annuity purchased from an insurance company such as Aviva, L&G or Standard Life. Some individuals with defined benefit pensions may have also considered annuity purchase as a retirement option if the benefits they could achieve were higher than their scheme benefits (as a result of impaired health or the absence of a spouse to provide for, for instance).

Since the 2014 Budget, annuity providers have experienced a decline of around 40% in annuity business, whilst sales of income drawdown products soared in the third quarter of 2014, more than doubling compared to the same period in 2013 (according to the Association of British Insurers).

That said, the total value of drawdown products sold is still only around half of the value of annuities. It is possible that initial changes in behaviour reflect the uncertainty in the market rather than a long term change in retiree trends. Insurers are expected to review and revise their annuity offerings to make them more attractive, and to develop new retirement products to cater for a far wider range of individuals seeking to find the best option for them.

Make sure you’re prepared

Whether you operate a trust-based or contract-based pension scheme your staff or members will be interested in how they are likely to be affected by the April 2015 changes and what action they need to take to ensure they are able to maximise their retirement outcomes.

Even if you haven’t made a decision as to how your pension provision is going to be affected, it is incredibly important to use the window of opportunity to improve pension engagement levels. At Concert we have a number of methods that you can utilise to maximise engagement across the board. These include:

  • Issuing news updates to reassure members
  • Sending mail-outs to explain changes and considerations
  • Running a joint awareness campaign between trustees and sponsoring employers
  • Ongoing education pieces on decisions at retirement (videos, guides etc.)
  • Reviewing and updating member literature
  • Implementing a new approach to retirement
  • Improving education throughout lifecycle of a member
  • Running seminars to explain changes and answer Q&As
  • Creating Microsites and helplines

If you would like any information on how we can help you with communicating the April 2015 pension changes to your staff or members please email us at info@concertconsult.co.uk or call 0117 927 2759 to speak to your usual contact.

Happy New Year!


January 2015

Concert Consulting would like to wish you all a happy and prosperous 2015!

Magnox Ltd appoint Concert to deliver videos


August 2014

We are delighted to announce that Magnox Limited have appointed Concert to produce a suite of videos to inform and educate staff about their particular section of the Magnox Electric Group Trustees Pension Scheme and the Combined Nuclear Pension Plan.

The videos will help reduce the travel demands on Magnox pension staff who currently have to spend a significant amount of time touring between UK sites to deliver pension information workshops. It is a great example of how communication challenges are being solved by developing technology and new ways to engage staff.

Concert were successfully appointed following a tender process involving a number of other high profile communications firms. Joyce Corbett, Head of Pensions at Magnox, was pleased to say that “Concert’s back catalogue of pension video production is impressive and they have highlighted what was crucial for us, the ability to combine technically accurate content with an appreciation for the overall creative direction.”

The videos will be publically available on the Magnox YouTube channel from the end of October.

Tarmac & Anglo American appoint Concert


August 2014

We are proud to report that Concert has started work on the creation of communication materials for both of these new clients. This is certainly a busy time for our design team as they are briefed with the production of new pensions’ brands for these new clients to Concert.

The Pensions Regulator steps up its fraud awareness campaign


August 2014

Pension Scams

The Pensions Regulator has increased its focus on improving awareness of Pension Liberation with a re-launch of its campaign and a re-brand as ‘Pension Scams’. With new flexibilities for Defined Contribution Scheme members available from April 2015 the Regulator is concerned that this could drive up Pension Scams.

Since the campaign began, tactics used by scammers have evolved and now include in-home visits from 'introducers', claims about 'legal loopholes' and the use of unusual investments like overseas property, storage units or biofuels. These are all used to make targets believe they are being offered a legitimate pension transfer.

The Regulator has asked trustees to help promote awareness of ‘Pension Scams’ to their members. A new leaflet and booklet are now available to help members understand the risks they face when considering a transfer of their pension savings.

Communications

Communicating financial risks to members is challenging because, without the appropriate education, it is hard for people to understand the size of the risks they face. This is evidenced by the fact that a large number of pension liberation complaints made to the Ombudsman have been against trustees who have put up barriers to transferring to protect members. Because members don’t appreciate the risks, they don’t appreciate any protection they are given. This is why the Regulator has chosen to take a higher impact approach to communicating the dangers of Pension Scams by highlighting real life extreme cases.

We can help you communicate this important message to your members by considering the most appropriate channels and helping individuals quantify the risks they face by improving their financial understanding. Speak to your regular contact or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk. for more details.

Are your communications hitting the mark?


May 2014

The Pensions Regulator has issued regulatory guidance to help Trustees meet the standards of practice (best practice) believed to form a good basis of quality governance and administration for Defined Contributions trust-based schemes (DC Schemes). This also includes Money Purchase Additional Voluntary Contributions and Money Purchase underpins so is also relevant to Defined Benefit Schemes. The guidance sets out what the Regulator considers trustees should do to meet those standards.

The code and guidance shows what quality features are expected to be present in all DC schemes to reflect the regulators view as ‘best practice’. However, some are features that must be followed as they are bound by legislation.

In reality many Scheme’s already follow at least some of the code and guidance. However, it is a good exercise to reassess that the code is being adhered to and whether there are any gaps, room for improvement or any further development required in certain areas.

In main the code and guidance focuses strongly on communications to members to promote and encourage ‘good member outcomes’. In particular around:

  • Investment decisions;
  • How the amount the member pays in affects the outcome;
  • Retirement and education; and
  • The decisions members need to make.

Communications play a large part in the members ‘pension life cycle’ as this can be key to how comfortably a member can live in retirement.

What is interesting is that in a recent study as many as 55% of people say pensions jargon has prevented them from doing more to effectively plan for retirement. The survey of 3,000 workers showed 28% of defined contribution (DC) savers were unaware of how much was in their pot and a further quarter could only make a rough estimate.

More than 34% were unable to say where their contributions were invested, with almost half of those admitting they had been told but the information was too confusing to understand.

Some 54% of respondents had no idea how much they should be saving for later life. Another 48% of DC savers agreed they would be more willing to put money into a pension if they understood how they worked.

Should you like to discuss this in more detail and what Concert can do to help please contact us.

The Budget and Defined Benefit Pensions


May 2014

George Osborne's announcement that the Government will abolish compulsory annuitisation from April 2015 is, perhaps, one of the most significant changes to the pensions industry in recent years. The ramifications for defined contribution arrangements are clear to see and annuity providers are already feeling the effects - the provider Just Retirement recently announced that annuity sales are "at around half of pre-Budget levels".

But what does this mean for individuals with defined benefit pensions? On the face of it, not a great deal. Annuity purchase hasn’t generally been a decision that those lucky enough to have DB benefits have had to make. But of course, the opportunity to access all of your benefits as cash at retirement will be an enticing one, even for those with the security of a DB pension and a strong sponsoring employer.

What might this mean for defined benefit members?

The Government is acutely aware that the change in pension tax legislation will prompt a number of individuals to transfer the value of their DB pension to a DC arrangement in order to take advantage of the cashing-in option. The Government is concerned about the effect this might have on markets, saying in section 5.13 of the "Freedom of choice in pensions" consultation document:

"Whilst the government would in principle welcome the opportunity to extend greater choice to members of private sector defined benefit pension schemes, it will not do so at the expense of significant damage to the wider economy – for instance, if doing so were to make it materially harder or more expensive for UK companies to finance long-term investment."

Most commentators believe that an outright ban on transferring from DB to DC is the most likely outcome. This means that, in making the pensions system more flexible for DC members, the Government have inadvertently tightened it up for DB members, who will:

  • No longer have the flexibility to shape their benefit at retirement if, for instance, they are single or are in poor health
  • Be tied to their former employees even if the employer has a poor covenant in place and transferring away could be a safer option for their benefits
  • Lack the control to consolidate their benefits into one arrangement or make their own investment decisions

What are the short term effects likely to be?

The most obvious and immediate effect of proposals to ban DB to DC transfers will be a rush to take up the option before legislation is in place. There will be a clear onus on Trustees to make sure members have all the information they need to make an informed decision and aren't just rushing through a transfer to take advantage of the window of opportunity. Trustees may want to:

  • Emphasise the value of defined benefits to members and their dependants
  • Make clear the risks of transferring from DB to DC
  • Focus on retirement education and understanding post retirement income needs

Member communications will need to be sensitively written and extol the virtues of seeking independent financial advice. Trustees will need to decide whether they make a point of communicating the anticipated changes independently, and potentially encouraging transfers, or just including an update in a regular communication, such as a periodical newsletter. Either way, it is likely to raise a spike in activity, both in requests to transfer and in members asking for more detail and an explanation of why the changes are occurring.

Some companies and schemes may be in the process of undertaking liability management exercises such as flexible retirement (offering the option to shape benefits by transferring to a bespoke annuity) and enhanced transfer value exercises (promoting transfers by offering improved values). Clearly in the longer term, these exercises are in serious jeopardy. But in the shorter term, communications released as part of the exercises should reflect the changing environment and explain the full picture to members.

The pensions' landscape is rapidly changing and all pension schemes should be thinking about how they communicate to members. If you would like to discuss your communication needs for the period running up to April 2015, or just in general, please discuss with your usual Concert contact or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.

Planet Hollywood


May 2014

If your business isn't creating online videos in the employee benefits and pensions arena, you might be missing out on one of the fastest growing segments of digital advertising. Seventy-six percent of marketers at small and large companies plan to produce more videos in 2014 making it the top area they will invest in, according to a Social Media Examiner report.

Why are videos often preferable to many other online marketing tools? "Our brains are wired for motion," says John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and author. "Vision trumps all other senses." Indeed, 65 percent of executives say they visit vendors' websites after watching their online videos, according to a Forbes Insights white paper.

So here are Concert's top tips for making videos.

1. Tell a creative story and include a call to action.

To engage viewers and motivate them to share your video, tell a story that is both informative and clever. Show what makes your offering different, and link the benefits to visual beacons. Always include a call to action as in this format they will appear very pervasive. Also, why not Invite happy clients to record their testimonials.

2. Produce professional quality videos.

You don't need a Hollywood set to shoot a video, but always engage a professional company with a proven track record and show-reel ….like Concert!

3. Measure results.

Video results can be assessed at a basic level by using Google Analytics to see the traffic sources, dates viewed and keywords searched. A video hosting platform such as BrightCove orOoyala can provide additional information, such as when people stop watching your videos.

Concert re-certified as ISO 27001 compliant


April 2014

ISO 27001 is the international standard relating to the management and protection of data. This is obviously of huge interest to our clients as being to demonstrate that suppliers have taken all possible steps to mitigate data risk is of paramount importance.

To retain our certification we are audited annually and every three years we have to apply for re-certification. We are delighted to report that our application has been successful based on the findings of the latest audit in April 2014.

What are the benefits of ISO/IEC 27001 Information Security Management?

  • Identify risks and put controls in place to manage or reduce them
  • Flexibility to adapt controls to all or selected areas of your business
  • Gain stakeholder and customer trust that their data is protected
  • Demonstrate compliance and gain status as preferred supplier

Pensions in the 2014 Budget


April 2014

Budget Update – July 2014

In our last Budget Update we summarised proposals announced by the Government to make fundamental changes to the way members of defined contribution (DC) pension schemes can take their retirement benefits.

The most significant proposal was to remove the requirement for DC members to purchase an annuity at retirement. The Government’s concern was that annuities no longer represented good value for many future pensioners.

Government Consultation

The results of the Government’s consultation were announced on Monday 21st July and you can read the full Ministerial Statement here. The key announcements were that:

  • From April 2015, everyone over the age of 55 with DC pension savings will be able to access them as they wish. As before, a quarter of their funds (subject to overriding limits) will normally be available to take as a tax-free lump sum. The rest can be drawn at any time from age 55 and will be taxed at the individual’s highest (marginal) rate of tax.
  • Transfers from private sector defined benefit (DB) schemes to DC schemes will still be allowed, providing the DB pension is not yet in payment. The scheme which is transferring the benefits must ensure that the member has taken advice from an independent financial adviser authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. Members must pay for this advice unless the transfer is within the same scheme (to a different section) or is being encouraged by an employer (known as an “incentive exercise”).
  • Transfers from public sector DB schemes to DC schemes will only be allowed if the DB scheme is funded. A funded scheme is one that builds up a reserve of money to pay all its members their pensions.

Right to Guidance

The Government previously pledged that DC members would have the right to face-to-face guidance at the point when they retire so that they can understand the greater flexibility available to them. This will be a Government service, provided by independent organisations rather than pension schemes or insurance providers. The hope is that people will have more trust in organisations that do not have a vested interest in what they do with their pension savings.

The Government will bring together a range of partners to deliver this guidance, including the Pensions Advisory Service and the Money Advice Service, which already provide guidance and support to consumers. The advice will be provided through a broad range of channels (web, phone and face-to-face) and will be free.

Communications

The changes herald a new dawn for defined contribution pensions and, with it, the way members engage with their pension arrangements. Communications will be at the forefront of this engagement drive. The most significant change will be the need to maintain communication routes with people after they retire as they will need to make ongoing decisions about investment and income throughout their retirement.

To discuss how the 2015 budget changes might affect the way you communicate to your members and employees, speak to your regular contact or email enquiries@concertconsult.co.uk.

The Importance of Colour in Web Design


April 2014

Choosing an appropriate colour combination in the website design process is considered one of the most important (yet often overlooked) elements in creating a successful website. Psychologists have revealed that people are susceptible on a subconcious level to color impressions and that over 60% of acceptance or rejection of a website is tied to this very fact. Choice of colour has the ability to generate a positive impact to the visitor and as a result, make the visitor stay longer. We all know – the longer the visitor stays the more the chance of enticing him/her to take action on the end website goal.

Here is our list of colours and their likely effects.

  • Red is attractive and powerful and would go well for websites that are focused on products meant for children and also for inducing a visitor to take action with a "Book now", and/or "Reserve now". Red invokes emotion.
  • Orange is used in websites that promote food products. It is known to promote positive thinking and increase creativity. The color also appeals to the younger generation. Many technical companies use Orange.
  • Yellow signifies cheerfulness and creativity. It appeals to children and is used in sites that promote leisure products. Yellow, however, can tend to strain the eyes and should be used as an accent color in most cases.
  • Green is pleasing to the human eye and is apt for tourism sites and sites that relate to nature. Green symbolizes prosperity and wealth. Green also invokes trust and is one of the most trendy / corporate colors.
  • Blue is a conservative color with incredibly high trust value and is known to relax the nervous system. It is suitable for sites offering high- tech products and also for diet products. Many people mistakenly use blue for text color. This should be avoided as it is not a standard color for the human eye to read with.
  • Black is useful for sites that relate to photography and art.
  • Purple is used in religious sites and vacation sites.

Welcome Rebecca Mockridge!


February 2014

Rebecca is a great addition to our consulting team. Formerly of Aon Hewitt and Mercer, Rebecca brings a wealth of technical pensions know-how, knowledge and great project and relationship management experience with her as well as a sunny disposition that can even make Pete Walsh smile! Rebecca’s hobbies include horse riding, softball and socialising (a lot!).

STW logo

Severn Trent Water appoint Concert to communicate reward strategy


February 2014

We are delighted to announce that STW have appointed Concert to re-launch their reward communications starting in Q1 2014. Robert Tyrrell (Reward Manager at STW), commented "Concert have demonstrated an in-depth understanding of our reward mechanisms, creative flair and how together this approach can support our wider strategic thinking through effective communications".

Peter Walsh, Managing Director of Concert remarked "We understand the challenges that STW face at this time and we feel sure that our strategically applied communications programme will have a positive and tangible effect going forward".

Re-launch of the Prudential Staff Pension Scheme website


November 2013

We are delighted to announce that on the 7th November 2013, we successfully launched the "new look" website for the Prudential Staff Pension Scheme. The website was re-designed based upon the quantitative and qualitative feedback gathered from our online survey and a series of on-site focus groups held throughout December 2012 and January 2013.

In today's world access to concise, clear and useful information is necessary to make sure people are engaged with their pension savings and that they fully understand the range of benefits that membership brings to their table. In developing a website that allows access to all the important pension scheme documentation, gives clarity on the more confusing areas, allows the user to view a range of education materials via the On-line Learning Modules and keeps you in touch with Scheme and market events we are taking giant leaps forward.

However, we won't rest there. Our next challenge is to keep the content fresh through the addition of more educational materials, the tools by which those important decisions can be made and to make sure that the website acts as a hub of pension communications – where information can be stored and retrieved.

Pension Liberation


November 2013

So, what are the warning signs? There are several things that may happen which should alert you to the fact that you are being approached as part of pension liberation. Some of the key things to watch out for are:

  • Receipt of an unsolicited email, text or phone call;
  • Being informed that you can access your pension fund prior to age ;
  • Being told of a legal loophole or that the transfer must take place to a receiving pension arrangement that is held offshore or overseas.

Whilst unsolicited contact by its very nature may be unavoidable, by being vigilant and making sure you ask the right questions there is no need to get caught out. Anyone accessing pension funds early through pension liberation will face serious tax consequences. Currently you will be liable to a tax charge of 55% even if you are a basic rate tax payer or pay no tax at all. If you didn't realise you were breaking the rules you will still have to pay tax at 55%.

You can access more information on the subject from The Pensions Regulator and HM Revenue and Customs websites. If you are approached by a company that you suspect may be trying to engage you in a pension liberation scam, you should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Please be vigilant at all times.

United Biscuits PensionsNow newsletter


April 2013

In April Concert undertook the design and production of the latest 'PensionsNow' newsletter on behalf of our client United Biscuits.

The design has changed over the years from three separate newsletters for active, deferred and pensioner members, to a more concise and combined version for all audiences. However, we wanted to make sure that the relevant articles and important messages within it were read by the right audience and not lost amongst all the other articles. So to make things more identifiable we introduced a colour scheme and a key for each audience, and each article was colour flagged accordingly.

'PensionsNow' is a full colour, A4 publication that is mailed out to over 19,000 members of the UB Pension Plan.