Broadstone Pensions

2020 – a year full of challenges

I am not sure anyone could have predicted quite the year that 2020 would turn out to be. This is a personal perspective on what has happened over the past 12 months.

The start of the year would have seen a number of items on Trustees’ agendas. The impact of the CMA review on investment consultants and the fiduciary management market; the PPF was going to be consulting on their levy rules; the new rules for Trustees, SIPs and ESG were bedding in; and the rumour mill was alive to the fact that tax relief should change.

As we know towards the end of March, everything changed. COVID-19 Lockdown #1 was introduced and for the next three months, life changed. I am not sure any of us ever imagined that this could happen and it changed our lives dramatically. For me, this meant two children aged 9 and 11 would be with me all day throughout the working week. This brought a huge pressure, with home schooling and entertaining required alongside my existing workload. Add to this the response of The Pensions Regulator, with the job of policing thousands of pensions and employers through the impact of this, going into guidance overdrive. If I could make one plea should such a scenario ever happen again, it would be “Please stop releasing things at 5pm – and later – on a Friday afternoon!” During March and April, we had a series of major announcements from TPR, with little let up from the Government and other parties through the spring and summer.

The burden on employers and trustees will have been to put some in positions they never considered they would have to face. The effective normalisation of a deferral of contributions gave welcome relief for some employers facing an existential threat, and trustees given the unexpected liberty to allow this. However, many trustees may still have felt uneasy, especially as it was emphasised that the rationale for the contribution easement should be paramount.

A new word was added to our vocabularies: “furlough” – the method by which employees could be retained while permitted not to work, and for any open schemes this presented its own challenges.

Part of my role at Broadstone is to help keep clients and staff abreast of topical developments and together with colleagues we were doing our best to draft clear and relevant pieces for them. We hosted some webinars, our first real foray into this area, which was a great success and very enjoyable.

Since the initial burst, TPR has maintained a steady output of COVID-related updates, scam awareness during the COVID crisis and beyond, plus guidance on the interim regulation of DB consolidators. We’ve also had the GMP Equalisation transfer ruling (aka Lloyds 3 – Return of the Judge) and the Government’s consultation and response on RPI reform. You can read our thoughts on all of these here.

What have I learned through all this? A few things, certainly. Mainly, my clients (and I am sure this is the same for everyone) are real people. Flexible and adaptable to the changing circumstances and considerate to the situation into which we had been thrust. Perhaps interested in seeing into our houses (I remain ever nosy) and how we dress when not in our finest business wear (in my own case, like it’s still the 1990s). I have had some rather ridiculous experiences including looking up from a meeting to see my son standing over my brand new sofa holding his latest missing tooth as the blood poured out and then almost simultaneously my daughter, trying to be helpful upstairs, pulling over my wardrobe… “Sorry Chair, can I just take a moment?” “No problem.”

My particular favourite tale was during a live and recorded webinar, with my son going to the toilet very accurately and very loudly in the room next door – “Don’t worry son, I prefer that it all goes in!” I am pretty sure not much can phase me – or my clients – now.

I would like to thank the patience of all my clients and the support of all my colleagues this year. I think we made it.

Here’s to 2021 and all that it may throw at us. Watch this space for a summary of some of the things to look out for. Not sure how I have made it through a piece reviewing the year without mentioning Brexit. Amazing how this has played second fiddle through this craziness.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.