Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The politics of Personal Accounts

The proposed Personal Accounts scheme will, eventually, become the largest pension scheme in the UK. It will be, in effect, a massive trust-based occupational defined contribution scheme. Therefore it will have a major impact as an investor, and its governance (both internal and external) will be hugely important to anyone with an interest in the development of capital stewardship in the UK.

With that in mind today's news of progress in addressing the issue of consumer representation in the governance of the Personal Accounts scheme is encouraging. According to the DWP's blurb -

Groups including Which?, Citizens Advice, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the Financial Services Authority Consumer Panel, Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Fawcett Society and the TUC have been invited to help set up the committee. The final membership will be decided at a later date.

This is good news, and on top of the appointmemts of Paul Myners as chair of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority, and the CWU's Jeannie Drake as a non-exec, should make us hopeful. However it is very important that appointments made both to the consumer panel and as member representatives are thought through carefully. The labour movement needs people in there who understand the emerging politics of capital markets. It would be a terrible outcome if, for example, they get down the road of thinking that the way to deal with ESG issues is by offering an SRI fund option. Those of us who are interested in ensuring that the Personal Accounts scheme really acts like an owner need to be lobbying now.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the pensions world, the chair of the NAPF has made some interesting comments. Chris Hitchens has argued in favour of strong governance, and against the "retailisation" of investment. Of course the NAPF has a vested interest in the survival of pension funds, as opposed to pension policies, but I do think they are genuine in the stance they have taken on scheme governance in the past 2 or 3 years. I bet the ABI don't like it!

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