Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pensions: Who on earth is looking after our money?

An employer covered by my trade union branch offers a Group Stakeholder Pension scheme with Standard Life. As "Direct Contribution" (DC) schemes go it is pretty good but employees have to join Standard Life to benefit from employer contributions. Recently a union member in this pension scheme came to me with a letter from Standard Life which worried him. This letter explained that the company had recently found out that there had been some mistakes in its marketing literature about their Sterling Fund which as not to their "usual high standards". They offered to move his money into another fund and make up any loses.

You might think “What a decent company Standard Life is for doing this, well done for owing up and doing the right thing”.

It now turns out that Standard Life has just been fined £2.45 million for misleading pensions customers “Insurance firm claimed money would be placed into low-risk fund when it was invested in toxic mortgages” The Guardian .  They were forced to pay and had actually shamefully tried to get out of paying anything beforehand.  They had to pay policy holders in the end over a £100 million in compensation!

While I hope that shareholders will paying for this compensation and the FSA fine (I am sure that the poor old policy holders will pay somehow - I also have a paid up policy with Standard Life) it does call into question who is checking up on Standard Life on behalf of policy holders. Who can not only call to account Standard Life over their marketing material but also question why on earth were they investing in toxic mortgages in a just before you actually retiresafety first fund”?

Most proper pension scheme (defined benefit or defined contributions) have member trustees to do this job. Such Group Pension or insurance schemes don’t have trustees. They can (see here) have “management committees” but they have no teeth or legal status. What we need is a requirement for trust based effective policy holder representation on all pensions’ schemes.

After all, surely we all now know what happens when you get capitalism without any owners?


ModernityBlog said...

[Off topic, but I am sure you will appreciate the significance of this issue]

A British blogger has been intimidated by the police. The Reverend Stephen Sizer didn’t like comments and criticism made on the Seismic Shock blog, so got the police to physically intimidate the blogger, to take down that mild criticism.

This is a clear freedom of speech issue, the police should not be used to intimidate bloggers.

I urge you to publicise this issue and support Seismic Shock, as “I too am Seismic Shock”

For more information see


Anonymous said...

Having personally lost money in pensions, investment, endowments and shares. I can confidently answer this question for you.

The integrity of the people running pensions schemes is NO different to the people running Newham Council.

Newham Council spend £115m on Building 1000. We have some of the highest paid Councillors and advisors. Plus, money spent on hiring celebs for private private parties. They did not give a toss for Newham residents because it is OPM = Other People's Money.

The SAME goes for your Pension funds, they use your pension money to pay their high salaries.

They get paid regardless of pension performance (they take 1 to 5% of your ENTIRE pension fund, rather what a percentage of they managed to grow for you).

Why do you think investment bankers have Ferraris. All they are doing is moving money from one office to another. Who do you think bought some of those sub-prime loans?.

Another scam, you will see one pension company take over another pension company. What I find strange is that whilst the performance of my pension fund is going down, but pension company are making record profits. What is going on?.

Of course, by the time you realise what is going. You are 40 years paying into your pensions fund.

I am not saying all pension funds are corrupt... just as there are good politicians....

Of course, you and your Labour colleagues don't have the guts to bring Robin Wales and his cronies into account. The same goes for the Pension fund industry.

You reap what you sow!

John Gray said...


Good comment. I don't think the Police should have been involved in this way but I also don't think that they did "physically intimidate the blogger".

I wonder if Sizer is mates with our Newham Alan "the bigot" Craig?

Hi Anon

Calm down, calm down a little won’t you. The LGPS DB schemes are a lot cheaper than most DC pension funds. The private sector usually rips people off especially small savers, left, right and centre. If you are going to be “very, very angry” about pensions there are far, far more rewarding targets than poor old Newham Council.

Talk about pompous and supercilious!

ModernityBlog said...


It is a political issue, it is not a criminal one.

It was legitimate political criticism backed up with facts and details, Seismic Shock always argued a lucid case based on evidence.

To bring in the police to blogging, is unprecedented.

It is something that you hear from Stalinist states, the knock on the door.

I think it's obvious it was intimidation, why else use policeman?

He is a young blogger and having to large policeman come around to your house on the behest of a clergyman would be intimidating to the majority of people, I am sure.

John, you need to think about what precedence this sets.

John Gray said...

Hi Modernity

I suspect that the yobbish sounding vicar made an official complaint to the Police under the public order act or protection from harassment act. These are serious criminal allegations. Now, I wish the police had simply thrown it out after looking at the words complained about.

I know that police have simply ignored similar barmy complaints about this blog, but you could understand that they could be criticised for not being seen to investigate the complaint properly by not even “interviewing him” about the allegations.

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”

There should be suitable guidance on this from the CPS? It will happen again. So people are right to want to do something about it.

However, yes the police were OTT but I think that criticism of them should not be OTT either.