Systems and processes requirements

Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 7 February 2017.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 2:30, 7 February 2017

I beg to move amendment 27, in clause 12, page 7, line 43, at end insert—

“() A minimum requirement of annual reporting of administration, fund management costs and transaction costs for each asset class, drawdown product and for active and passive asset management strategies.”.

This amendment would introduce annual reporting requirements for Master Trusts.

In his speech to the TUC last week, the Minister spoke about the consensus there may be in Parliament about pensions policy. In some areas, he is right, but he and I know that we are in very different positions on matters such as the future of the state pension and how it can be applied to different people in different circumstances—the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign has been mentioned in that context. One area where the Minister and I agree and which affects the Bill and clause 12 is the need for maximum transparency in the pensions market, revealing to members of pension schemes, including master trusts, exactly what fees they are being charged and for what. In his speech to the TUC, the Minister said:

“We have to get transparency. It’s not an option to do nothing. I’d like to thank the many people in this room that have worked for it.”

The amendment would give the Minister and his Government the opportunity to demonstrate that consensus does exist, to prove their credentials on transparency and to ensure that members of master trusts have access to an annual report of administration, fund management costs and transaction costs, so that they can see exactly how the fees are broken down and what they are actually paying for. It would also help to satisfy the Financial Conduct Authority’s desire to reveal all costs, which it believes will result in competition and potentially better performance for members.

No Member of this House would go into a marketplace to buy anything without seeing the cost clearly displayed, whether that be a large white goods item or just a new shirt or blouse. Similarly, we must ensure that each member who is auto-enrolled into a master trust can establish what each investment choice and drawdown product costs. Anything short of that betrays millions of citizens. We have a duty to ensure that a reporting line is opened between the master trust and its members if we are to achieve what Opposition Members and, I believe, the Minister want to achieve.

I know there may be some resistance from those in the industry to some of those ideas, even though most have tried to convince me over the past few months that I have been shadow Pensions Minister that they are open to greater transparency, are trying to deliver on it and will do so much better in the coming months. However, I think we need to help them by laying down a marker in the Bill that will set a standard of the Government’s expectation.

In the upper Chamber debate, Lord Freud said

“We clearly need to ensure that trustees of occupational schemes and the independent governance committees of workplace personal pension providers have complete, consistent and standardised cost and charges information before they can report it to members; at this point, they do not… We want pension scheme members to have sight of all ?costs and charges, regardless of how they are incurred, and to give members the confidence that there are no other hidden costs and charges.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 December 2016; Vol. 777, c. 1527.]

There is that consensus again. I could not have put it better myself, although the noble Lord could have done more to make it a reality in the Bill.

Rather than wait for the final outcome of the consultation exercise on pension fund cost collection promised by the Secretary of State, the amendment would being master trusts into line with those in the Netherlands, where there is a statutory requirement for trustees to report to their members on three cost headings: administration, investment management and transactions. We need data that enables clear analysis of costs incurred and can be applied ex post to the gross returns delivered by workplace pensions. Then we can get to the real gross return that has been generated on the assets and assess how much of that real gross return has slipped from the saver to the financial services sector. By understanding that slippage in its entirety, we can begin to understand what money has been paid for whatever value has been generated.

Some good things are already happening in the pensions world, but much more needs to be done to progress the transparency agenda. The only area of asset management that is ready to be analysed is the funds used by the local government pension scheme. They are about to be analysed by the scheme advisory board, to ensure they are delivering best value for sponsors and members alike. The architecture to get the data, analyse it and present it is being discussed with a view to being built, and will form a platform from which other projects, including the value-for-money analysis needed for all workplace pensions, can be delivered.

I believe the Minister is a fan of this work too, so I hope that he and his Government recognise that the easiest and most efficient way to ensure that data for master trusts are collected is to adopt the LGPS cost template. After all, it has been sanctioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the data points agreed with Investment Association members, who in the main will be the same suppliers of asset management to the LGPS.

What an opportunity we have before us to herald the day that every person auto-enrolled into a master trust is given the opportunity to understand what pension system they are going into, how much it costs and how much they will get—even if in a defined-contribution scheme that is more estimation than fact. To do otherwise than give them that advantage is a clear breach of fiduciary duty owed to scheme members. We are all aware that the average size of a pot for a person in a master trust is very small, but the principle of driving best value is probably all the more important.

I asked for a simple example of what changes in costs could mean for a member of a pension scheme, and the Unison guide—perhaps I should declare that I am a member of Unison—to defined-contribution costs provided the following example. A total annual contribution of £10,000 might be made up of £4,000 of personal contribution, £4,000 of matched contribution by the corporate sponsor and £2,000 of tax top-up. If we make that level of contribution constant over 40 years, use a 5% gross performance figure, which is the market rate of return over the longer term, and vary the costs of the industry from 0% to 2%, then at nil percentage cost the final size of the pension pot is £1,268,000. At 0.75% costs, the final size of the pension pot is £1,051,000. At 2% costs, the final size of the pension pot is £777,000. That is a huge difference.

The FCA’s “Asset Management Market Study Interim Report” said:

“The evidence suggests there is weak price competition in a number of areas of the asset management industry. This has a material impact on the investment returns of investors through their payments for asset management services.”

The example I just gave probably demonstrates that. One of the FCA’s conclusions was that there should be a requirement for increased transparency and standardisation of costs and charges information for institutional investors. The Minister’s affirmative one-word answer to my question on the Floor of the House about whether the Government had agreed to implement the FCA’s recommendations in full was very welcome. Today, we have the opportunity to deliver in part some of what is desired through the Bill.

It is a fundamental market failure that no pension fund can currently understand its cost basis. It follows that if there is no understanding of costs, the investment strategy cannot be fully evaluated. Members cannot make the accurate choices needed to improve their investment performance without that knowledge. If a member is incurring costs above 0.75%, we know that will have a considerable impact on the value of pension pots both in accumulation and in decumulation. That is why we must ensure that reporting to members includes the accumulation and drawdown phases.

Since the Government introduced the drawdown option in their new pension freedoms, all the attention has been on whether members will be wise with their money. No real attention has been paid to the costs associated with the option, and probably even less attention to the potential long-term effects of a decision to access a lump sum at a much earlier stage in a person’s life. The aim is to keep options open and increase income through investment growth, but if investments do not go the way the member would hope, or if their pension pot is depleted by opaque charges, the income will be reduced all the more in the longer term. The risk and the responsibility rest with the member. Charges for ongoing administration and investment management will be deducted from their account, which is all the more reason transparency and low charges are important. Members of this House should therefore see that the efficient management of members’ funds is critical in ensuring that we do not create a pension crisis that our citizens are forced to endure in their retirement.

I will turn to the FCA’s excellent interim report in a bit more detail. The UK’s asset management industry is massive: it manages £6.9 trillion of assets. I am not sure whether a trillion is a billion billions? I think it is a billion billions.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am not an expert, but I think it is different in the United States from here—like most things.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

The Minister tempts me, but I will move on. The UK’s asset management industry manages more than £1 trillion for individual investors in the UK and £3 trillion on behalf of UK pension funds and other institutional investors that is invested by that management industry. The service offered to investors comprises a search for return, risk management and administration, although it is the investor who bears virtually all the risk.

More than three quarters of UK households with occupational or personal pensions use such services, including the more than 10.2 million people saving for their retirement through pension schemes. Very few of us are not touched by this sector, although most people have probably never heard of it; more important, they will have little idea how much of their hard-earned cash goes into the industry. The FCA’s report confirms that asset management firms

“have consistently earned substantial profits…with an average profit of 36%. These margins are even higher if the profit sharing element of staff remuneration is included.”

Despite his Conservative credentials, I am sure the Minister is, like me, a Guardian reader. Last week, The Guardian reported that more than 4,000 City-based financiers were paid more than €1 million—£850,000—in 2015, including one who received nearly €34 million. The newspaper highlighted the earnings of two people, one whose €199,000 salary rocketed to €33.7 million after bonuses were included, and another who received €28 million. Both worked in asset management rather than investment banking, which is traditionally regarded as the sector with the bigger bonuses. For all I know, each and every one of those individuals really earned their huge fees; the problem is that neither I nor anyone else knows whether the pensions market gets real value for the fees that are paid.

On transparency of costs, the FCA report states that

“investors are not given information on transaction costs in advance… These costs can be high and add around 50bps on average to the cost of active management for equity investments.

In addition, we have concerns about how asset managers communicate their objectives and outcomes to investors. Investors may continue to invest in expensive actively managed funds which mirror the performance of the market because fund managers do not adequately explain the fund’s investment strategy and charges.”

The LGPS has been addressing that problem through its transparency code in England, Wales and Scotland. IT has issued guidance to funds to adopt that code, but it is currently only voluntary and measurable outcomes are still some way ahead.

The drive for transparency is not as present on the retail side; only half of investors are even aware whether they are paying charges at all. I will illustrate that issue using a fridge analogy. If someone buys a fridge, they can compare the marked prices, but a comparison should really include energy use, delivery charges, warranties and much more. Very few of the very different elements of charges are anywhere near as transparent when it comes to asset management.

More of us will be familiar with the investment disclaimer “past performance is no guarantee of future returns.” The FCA report highlights the reasons for that. Funds measure performance over different time periods, and there is a practice of merging poorly performing funds,

“giving investors the false impression that there are few poorly performing funds on the market.”

Even those that do outperform

“do not continue to outperform the relevant market index or peer group for more than a few years.”

Pension trustees are often sold active investment strategies on the grounds that they deliver higher returns than passive funds that track an index—in the UK, the split is around 20% passive to 80% active, whereas in the USA it is closer to 50/50—but the evidence in the FCA report suggests that

“actively managed investments do not outperform their benchmark after costs”

and the costs of active investments are significantly higher than those of passive investments. Charges for active investments have also remained stable, unlike charges for passive investments.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions)

On a point of order, Ms Buck. We are all keen to get through the Bill. I am sitting here listening to the hon. Gentleman and wondering what relevance what he says has to the amendment. Quite frankly, it seems to have very little relevance.

That is a matter for the Opposition spokesman.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman is not following my argument, but perhaps he will as I move to my conclusion.

As I was saying, charges for active investments have remained stable, unlike charges for passive investments, which have been falling. The FCA suggests that that reflects competitive pressures and the unwillingness of funds in the active fund market to undercut each other, and it says that weak pressure on prices can lead to weak cost control. The FCA report is particularly scathing about the role of investment consultants: with 60% of that market controlled by three firms, the FCA is considering a market investigation reference to the Competition and Markets Authority. The report concludes with a number of very welcome interim proposals on remedies, not least on transparency and all-in fees, but this is a hugely powerful and profitable sector and it will be lobbying hard to water down any action.

The Secretary of State confirmed that the Government will consult on hidden costs and charges later this year. On Second Reading, he said:

“Transparency is a key area. Hidden costs and charges often erode savers’ pensions. We are committed to giving members sight of all the costs that affect their pension savings… We plan to consult later in the year on the publication and onward disclosure of information about costs and charges to members. In addition to the Bill, other things are clearly required to give greater confidence in the pensions system.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 756.]

I asked in that same debate why it is necessary to start consulting people when we should simply be saying that we want to know what all the costs are in the entire investment chain. I said that, yes, I agree with consultation—but surely we are getting to the end of the tunnel on that.

The FCA is currently holding two separate consultations on cost transparency. The first is in response to the watchdog’s interim report on its asset management market study and calls for an all-in fee approach to quoting charges. The second, which closed to responses on 4 January, could require asset managers to disclose aggregate costs and then provide a further breakdown on request. That is good news and surely statutory bodies such as independent governance committees, the Local Government Pension Scheme advisory board and the Pensions Regulator are quite capable of making sure that whatever comes out of the FCA’s consultations is enforced. The only beneficiaries of further consultations are the asset managers, who will have won yet more years of grace in which they can operate under the radar.

The Investment Association has questioned the data and metrics the FCA used to come to its conclusions that active funds do not on average provide better value than passive funds. I am concerned that, despite making all the right noises and promising full transparency, the Investment Association has set out to kick the consultation process down the long road by persuading the Department for Work and Pensions that it needs to discover exactly what the FCA has spent the past two years discovering.

If we are to have another consultation, it will be in the teeth of all the evidence gathered so far, at enormous expense to Government and to the private sector, and will serve employers and workers very badly. Perhaps it is time for the DWP to stop consulting and start turning the current consultations into enforceable legislation. It should learn from its colleagues at DCLG, who, as I said earlier, have endorsed the work of the LGPS advisory board. DCLG’s own programme of fund consolidation included advice that the newly forming asset pools should prove to them that active fund management should be no more expensive than passive.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

I do not want to stop the hon. Gentleman when he is in full flow—we are very much enjoying his oration about the effects of compounding and charges. Surely, as we have more master trusts and the auto-enrolment market gets bigger and bigger, it will be a natural feature of that market that people will be more interested and aware of the charging structure. My personal view is that the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises will come out as the market expands and evolves, and more and more of these trusts come forward. Much as I have enjoyed what he has to say, I have a feeling that that will be the natural progression of things in the market.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

Although I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, it is perhaps a typical response from a Conservative politician: just leave everything to the market. In my opinion, we should not leave everything to the market.

When offering investment funds to employers and members, master trusts need to prove the value of the investment post-charges and that active strategies are no more costly than passive. They should remember that the transaction cost issue, badly delivered in 2013, is up for review in 2017 and forms part of the auto-enrolment review.

The People’s Pension, the not-for-profit master trust launched by construction sector financial provider, B&CE, with 1.7 million members, is NEST’s closest private-sector rival.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions)

Could the hon. Gentleman recap and clarify what he just said—that active fund management is no more expensive than passive fund management?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

That is exactly what I said earlier in my speech. Some of the people who have briefed me have said that that is very much the case.

NOW: Pensions, the master trust backed by Denmark’s ATP, also introduced employer charges at the beginning of 2016, alongside a 0.3% management fee and a £1.50 administration fee. Morten Nilsson, the scheme’s chief executive, argued that the cost was a necessity if NOW: wished to continue serving as a scheme of last resort for any employer.

We all agree about the issues. Everyone now acknowledges that something must be done, and done with urgency, and the Secretary of State appears to be on board. The auto-enrolment process must not be jeopardised by hidden cost scandals that emerge down the line, when it is revealed that valuable small pots could have been so much more valuable. Our aim is to ensure that master trusts are obliged to report to members. We should set that out for employers that are considering using a master trust. That is the underlying reason for the amendment, which I commend to the Committee.

Before I call any other Members or the Minister, let me say that I am minded not to have a broad debate on stand part, because we have already covered a lot of the ground. Perhaps the Minister in particular will reflect on that before he speaks.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions)

I will be brief. I want to pick up that issue of active versus passive fund management, because if anyone thinks that an active fund manager will not have higher costs than a passive fund manager, I am afraid that they have betrayed that they know nothing about the fund management industry. Put simply, anyone engaged in active fund management will have to deploy research and fund management skills; someone investing as a passive fund manager is exactly that, a passive fund manager.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Itching though I am to rebut some of the general points on transparency, I will do my best to stick to the amendment. As a point of clarification, however, the bit of the FCA review that the hon. Members for Stockton North and for Ross, Skye and Lochaber mentioned in fact makes the point not that active fund managers have more costs, but that over a period of time there is not much difference in returns. That is a totally different matter, but I think that was the point intended—I, too, read the report.

A final matter, given your instructions, Ms Buck, is to point out to the Committee that 1 trillion is 1 million million. A keen if somewhat nerdish Government Member—I am not sure who—came up with that information, of which I was not aware. I hope that the Opposition spokesperson will at least look at Hansard to see what 1 trillion is, since he missed all that.

I will not rebut the general transparency point, although I am itching to do so. However, I confirm to the Committee that I do in fact read The Guardian. That was the allegation made by the hon. Member for Stockton North. I will, however, refer only to the transparency bit of the amendment.

The amendment would insert a new subsection making it clear that regulations about the processes used to run the scheme may include a provision regarding a minimum requirement of annual reporting of administration, fund management and transaction costs. On the face of it, that takes into consideration a lot of the transparency points made by the Investment Association one way and the various lobby groups to which we have all spoken the other way—as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The Government are taking action on that. The FCA report is an interim one and lots of things are in process. I am committed to transparency, but the question is what is relevant to the Bill.

The objective of the clause is to ensure that schemes are run effectively. It contains powers to make regulations that will specify what aspects of the scheme’s systems and processes the regulator must take into account in deciding whether they are sufficient to ensure that the scheme is run effectively. Examples of what such regulations may cover are listed in the Bill. The list already includes processes relating to transactions and investment decisions. We have been clear that the examples given are not exhaustive and that regulations may include other matters relevant to systems and processes. A guiding principle in setting the scope for the authorisation regime has been ensuring that master trust regulation is proportionate.

I should point out that existing legislative requirements already require trustees of occupational pension schemes offering money purchase benefits, including master trust schemes, to make an annual statement. The hon. Gentleman did not mention that: they are already required to make an annual statement regarding governance, which is known as the chair’s statement. It is appended to the scheme’s annual report and accounts.

The Government have an obligation under section 113 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993, as amended, to make regulations requiring transaction costs and administration charges of money purchase schemes to be published. We intend to consult, because the subject is very complex, and we are not, as the hon. Gentleman asserted, kicking it down the line. It is not that the Department for Work and Pensions does not want to do it. We intend to consult this year about how this information is published and proactively reported to pension scheme members.

Disclosure is very complex. The fridge example that the hon. Gentleman gave is actually more complex than he described. He mentioned energy information and other things, but do people want to know, for example, how much the steel, plastic and the light in the fridge cost? They want to know the cost of the fridge. We must ensure that information is disclosed in a way that is comprehensive but assists members.

In the light of that, I believe the amendment is not necessary. The Government already possess the necessary primary powers and are well on the way to achieving the hon. Gentleman’s stated purpose, which I laud. I urge him to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 3:00, 7 February 2017

The challenge from the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber is one I need to take back to those who advise me, to get an even greater understanding. I thought we would hear a few words of support from him on transparency, on which the Minister and I certainly agree.

I appreciate the Minister’s response. As he says, this is quite complex. I do not believe for one minute that the Government do not want to carry out the consultation exercise, but people out there in the industry are very keen that the Government get on with this, as are members. Members are keen to understand the costs and what they will be told about what their investments are costing them. I will reflect on the Minister’s answers in full, but in the light of what he said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13