On Wednesday 25 January 2017, I attended a Knowledge Sharing Scotland (KSS) talk given by Sir Steve Webb on The Changing Pensions Landscape at the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh. The ex-MP for Thornbury and Yate, and pensions minister in the coalition government led by David Cameron from 2010-2015, is now the Director of Policy at Royal London. As a Life actuary, this talk seemed like a perfect way to ‘top-up’ my knowledge on current issues in the pensions field and it certainly didn’t disappoint!
Sir Steve provided an edge of the seat review of recent pension history in the UK and ideas for how the many issues impacting future retirement income could be alleviated. All forms of pension provision were covered, including State Pension benefits through to Defined Contribution, Defined Benefits and the Triple Lock. The idea of a secondary annuity market was presented to Parliament in 2015 and we discovered that Sir Steve got the original idea from a contribution made from the audience at a Staple Inn meeting – we all know what happened to that idea! “Don’t let that put you off”, he said - he is actively looking for suggestions from the actuarial profession on how pension provision can be improved.
Sir Steve also demonstrated the extent of the pension time bomb waiting to explode in years to come unless radical change is made to the thinking, design and educational aspects of pension provision. Would you believe that the average benefit payable from NEST pension pots is projected to be around £1 per week?
The talk wasn’t all doom and gloom: some self–deprecating quips about his recent knighthood generated some laughter as did his reference to a fellow knight of the realm, Sir Philip Green (or just Philip Green as he likes to call him). Sir Steve also confessed that he originally wanted to become an actuary, and the Scottish Board leader commented that there is "still time" - so you never know!
An impressive aspect of the talk was that it was delivered completely off-the-cuff without the aid of notes or slides – obviously a skill honed from his many years as an MP!
The Scottish Board must be commended in attracting such a figure as Sir Steve to present at this KSS session. Hopefully those attending found the talk as invaluable and entertaining as I did.
Barry Shannon FFA
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