It’s great this pensions business isn’t it?

So we’re nearly at the end of January. Do you remember the Christmas and New  Year holiday, seems like another age doesn’t it? In a way it is of course as most of us are now back at work and seeing many of the same issues to deal with but also some really old friends popping their heads back up. The FT today ran a story about the return of surpluses; for those of you under 40 who thought these were mythical flights of fancy up there with unicorns and open final salary schemes, yes they’re on the way back apparently, albeit in the US.

Apparently a mixture of improved funding levels, better equity and corporate bond yield returns have seen a huge rise in the Fortune 1000 scheme funding levels and Macy’s the department store is considering skipping a planned $150m payment into its fund because of its strong performance. To read more see the FT at  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/de134048-8449-11e3-9903-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2rayFHyYt

Lots of friends and colleagues I have spoken to this month have of course been bemoaning the relentless onslaught of more work, more change, and less time to do things.  We may also be entering a period of improving economic recovery which will sit alongside legislative changes via the next Pensions Bill, more detail on defined ambition and perhaps some robust proposals for the whole decumulation phase, including a debate on adopting the Dutch model of collective schemes. The Financial Conduct authority are also due to report on its review of annuities and 2014 may well see far-reaching regulatory change on charges attempting to give more consistent value for money.

In addition, the juggernaut of Auto enrolment takes a hugely significant turn this year with medium and smaller employers coming into scope. Many of these employers have limited resources or experience of running a pension scheme but an update survey published by the Regulator last week, suggest some 30,000 medium sized employers reach their staging date between April and the end of 2014. Even our friends in the public sector do not get any time off from change either, local governments new scheme comes in this year and the other major schemes such as for NHS, Civil Service and Teachers all need to prepare for their new arrangements in April 2015.

What a year we are facing! However before we all embrace Private Jones catch phrase, “we’re doomed”, just pause for a moment and think of how positive change is. Not that many of us in the pensions industry came to pensions as a career choice but many more remain in the industry and thrive. Why do you think that is. Yes partly because the industry has, by and large, been a successful growing segment of UK plc but largely because it is always changing. Every year something occurs in pensions that needs a new approach, new tools to deal with, new ways of communicating with members, etc. alongside the employment market convention of people changing jobs 7 or 8 times in their career, that doesn’t take into account the pensions industry where you can be doing several different or changed roles with your employer because everything keeps changing. If we take the changes mentioned above as opportunities then we should all be seeing more interesting work ahead, more employment and ideally better outcomes for members, employers and the wider pensions community going through 2014.

If surpluses are returning from the past and we are embracing change for the future I would urge you all to welcome the rest of 2014 with a vibrant postiveness.