Pension Schemes Bill — Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 7th January 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Drake Baroness Drake Labour 5:30 pm, 7th January 2015

My Lords, I rise to support and speak to Amendment 10 in particular. I expressed the view at Second Reading that at some point, unfortunately probably later rather than sooner, the Government will inevitably have to place in statute a clear fiduciary duty on pension providers and asset managers to put savers’ interests first.

Why one goes through all the regulatory complication of setting up independent governance committees, giving them fiduciary responsibilities to monitor the behaviour of private pension providers, while exempting the private providers themselves—the people who make and implement the decisions—from such responsibility is a little beyond me. If the responsibility of the independent governance committees is an attempt to align scheme governance with the interests of savers, why should that responsibility not be put directly on to the decision-makers in the pensions industry? But we are where we are.

John Kay, in his review commissioned by BIS, also concluded that all those looking after someone else’s money or advising on investment should be subject to fiduciary standards of care. Many times from these Benches I have argued the case for extending a clear fiduciary duty to those who have discretion over the management of other people’s money. It is a principle that the Australian financial regulatory system has embraced and applies to retail pension providers, including an unequivocal requirement that conflicts of interest must be resolved in the beneficiaries’ interests.

Each time I try to present the arguments in a slightly different or novel way but increasingly the FCA appears to be providing the arguments for the proposition. We have had numerous reports on how the market is not serving pension scheme savers well, be it legacy schemes, annuities, lack of transparency on charges, and many other examples. The new FCA study, which examined how market conditions may evolve from April 2015, found that greater choice and potentially more complex products will weaken the competitive pressures on providers to offer good value. The chair of the FCA has said that the increase in regulatory rules has failed to prevent misconduct and does not seem to “prevent further problems arising”. The FCA director of enforcement and financial crime, Tracey McDermott, speaking at the FCA’s recent enforcement conference in London, referred to the need for a cultural shift among firms similar to the change in public attitudes whereby drink- driving was, in the past, avoided through fear of being fined, but is now seen as a moral issue.

It is clear from the flow of pronouncements from the FCA that the behavioural and cultural challenge within the pensions industry remains a major issue. They are telling us and demonstrating to us that regulatory rules have failed to deliver the cultures that embrace the ethic of care towards the customer. Time after time, reports, reviews and investigations confirm that the private pensions market is dysfunctional, with a weak demand side that cannot be expected or fails to self-remedy, and where the process of trying to provide for the savers’ interest in a competitive fashion does not work well. One is tempted to ask: how many reports of market failure in the pensions market do we have to receive before it is accepted that writing yet another set of rules will not solve the problem? What is needed is a game-changer to force the pace of change in providers’ behaviour by strengthening in law the principle that they must act in pension savers’ interests.

The advent of auto-enrolment raises the bar. At the heart of the governance structure for the private pension system must be the interests of the pension saver, and the law must require that providers identify and manage conflicts in favour of the saver. An alignment of interests is not sufficient. The saver’s interests must come first. It will be a major regulatory failure of public policy if millions of citizens are auto-enrolled into pension schemes but Parliament has not ensured that sound governance is in place.

Turning specifically to collective benefit schemes, which Amendment 10 targets, the case for the oversight of the management of such schemes resting with trustees with a clear fiduciary duty to the members of the scheme that takes precedence over other interests is even more compelling. Collective DC schemes are more complex in that they are designed to smooth income and manage intra- and intergenerational risk-sharing between members. The individual does not have a well defined pot over which they have individual ownership. Consequently, transparency is a key challenge and provides a potential breeding ground for conflicts of interest. Collective benefit schemes do not automatically guarantee higher retirement incomes. In order to be sustainable, collective DC schemes need scale, an assured flow of new members, full transparency and, in particular, excellent governance. If these schemes are not well run or if risks are unfairly shifted—for example, across different age cohorts—young savers could be subject to lower payouts.

The Bill has a significant number of delegated powers so there is much still to be understood. On governance for collective DC schemes particularly, the Bill is largely silent. But the complexity of what needs to be addressed is captured in Clauses 9 to 18. The Government appear to recognise the particular nature of the governance challenge in collective benefit schemes and the possibility that things could go wrong because they have added Clause 37 to enable the Secretary of State to impose a duty on managers of collective benefit schemes to act in members’ best interests. But that is not sufficient. If the Government are serious about encouraging and building collective benefit pension provision, the governance rules have to be robust right from the very beginning. The risks are too great to do otherwise and that means requiring a body of independent trustees with a clear fiduciary duty to the members of the scheme, which takes precedence over any other duty, to oversee the running of such collective benefit schemes.