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The nutty names of pension scheme default funds

‘Doctor, doctor! I can’t remove this toy steering wheel from the front of my slacks… it’s driving me nuts!’

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of poor jokes. This one popped into my head recently, during one of my regular catch-ups with a major workplace pension provider. I was having a very small, constructive and smiley rant about default funds. I’ve never been a ‘table-banging’ consultant, and very much like to work in a three-way partnership with providers and employers. It’s the right thing to do. However, this issue is something I feel very strongly about, hence the need for a little, smiley rant.

So, what is wrong with workplace pension default funds? To be clear, I quite like most of them. They seek to support the majority of members who don’t, won’t or can’t make a choice about where their pensions should be invested. Great effort is put into ensuring they are well governed, and much is being done to ensure they cater to the full breadth of pension freedoms options.

But boy oh boy, can you get a name wrong. Having been given the middle name of Rowland, this is something I’m painfully familiar with. During the late 70s and 80s, I tried desperately to keep this a secret, due to a chubby, bespectacled unfortunate on Grange Hill called Rowland Browning. People who discovered my middle name regularly used it as a pressure point during many painful boyish leg-pulling moments. It still echoes today!

Here are some default fund names that drive me nuts (each accompanied by a short rant):

  • ‘Balanced Approach’ – not even a fund, comprising four ‘portfolios’ (a word in itself that most employees can’t relate to). Every time I have tried to explain it to a group of employees, it leaves the room cold, stone cold.
  • ‘Passive Plus III’ – what?? Do most employees understand what passive means in fund management land? No. It gives out the wrong impression about what will be happening to someone’s hard-earned pension contributions. And ‘Plus III’? This one especially leaves a room cold. As you might expect, it takes some effort to generate warmth in a room dedicated to pension discussion, so these icy-cold, room-numbing names are a real treat to describe.
  • ‘Universal Lifestyle Collection’ – another belter! Questions abound – ‘Universal’? That’s a cinema reference right? ‘Lifestyle’? Eat less bacon and do more exercise! ‘Collection’? Do I tick the gift aid box?
  • ‘Balanced Lifestyle Strategy, backed by risk-rated governed portfolios’ – ditto previous comments and there’s that word that nobody gets again – portfolio!
  • ‘Equity and Bond Lifestyle’ – hmm… ‘Equity’, that’s something to do with horses isn’t it? I say ‘nay!’ to that (sorry). But a ‘Bond Lifestyle’, YEEEEESSSSSHHH! (Sean Connery accent needed.) Get me an Aston Martin, a communication device in my sleeve that I can talk into and a blow-dart pen!

Do I like any of the names? Actually, I do. I like them to be simple. Here’s one: ‘My Future’. Like it! Here’s another: ‘Growth Tracker’ – does what it says on the tin (hopefully). I can talk about these in a room full of employees seeking pension enlightenment, and it won’t have the same effect as flatulence in a packed lift, unlike the ones above.

Come on pension providers, get a grip and help the membership of your schemes by addressing this nonsense. Make it easier for the many millions investing in these funds. Stop letting the investment boffins finish off their great design, governance and growth strategies by also being handed the naming rights. Choose colour, choose fun, choose sense, choose smiley, choose gold, choose fun again, choose unicorns, CHOOSE LIFE! Best done in a Ewan McGregor accent, with Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ in the background!

Don’t choose nuts. Dry-roasted, anyone?

This article was originally published on the REBA website – 02 October 2017
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