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Understanding pensions should be as easy as finding travel deals

Consumer research suggests savers would prefer a single, independent dashboard. But more choice may not be such a bad thing

Understanding pensions should be as easy as finding travel deals

I have been thinking a lot about the pensions dashboard recently. Strictly speaking, I have been thinking a lot about holidays and finding a wedding venue, which brought pensions dashboard into my mind. Or, as I should now say, dashboards.

I enjoy booking a holiday. I like the process of going to one travel website, opening dozens of tabs, seeing comparable information about each hotel in the same format and layout and being able to easily narrow it down to a few favourite choices.

I was surprised to discover the process of searching for a wedding venue is completely different. Instead, each site seems to have different ideas about what information might be important: some have dizzying charts of every cost and option imaginable but nothing about the venue itself; others have a catalogue of glossy photos yet not a pound sign in sight. How are you supposed to know where to start?

These two vastly different experiences were the first thing I thought of when I read the long-discussed pensions dashboard is now due to become dashboards, plural. It will also be implemented by the pension industry, rather than the government. Would this turn a neat comparison site into unhelpful disorder?

Government impartiality

The original idea of having a single dashboard with complete information about all pensions, run independently from the pensions industry, feels a very long way away now. At first glance, having multiple dashboards, presumably with each only containing partial information (which may vary between each dashboard) would be no more helpful to consumers than simply consulting each provider’s own website.

Research cited in the ‘Pensions dashboards: working together for the consumer’ paper from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also shows consumers expect and want a pension dashboard service provided by the government. Consumers expect the government to run such a service because it is independent from any particular pension provider. They want an impartial dashboard so they can fully trust any information or guidance provided.

This is fully consistent with other consumer research conducted this year. For example, Financial Conduct Authority research for the retirement outcomes review found unadvised consumers were not inclined to trust the risk warnings process when entering drawdown. This is because the warnings were delivered by parties (i.e. providers) with an interest in keeping the consumer’s money in place.

Before these latest developments, it was suggested the dashboard could be the perfect place to host risk warnings and generic pension information. But it seems this could be far less effective if the dashboards are provided by the industry.

Research in the DWP paper also shows consumers expect a single dashboard containing information about all of their pensions, regarding mulitple dashboards as pointless.

However, research into dashboard services in other countries showed there was no detriment to having multiple options, and engagement was still good. It would be interesting to know if any research was completed before those services were implemented, and whether they showed the same initial apprehension. If so, and it seems people are won over by the idea of multiple dashboards once they are in place, ignoring the consumer research seems more sensible.

A shred of optimism

It was a kneejerk reaction on my part to assume multiple dashboards would be akin to using separate, unconnected websites with wildly different aims. There are several travel comparison websites and people have their favourites based on layouts, search options and other relatively minor details.

As the DWP paper touched on, if having multiple dashboards could function in that way, it has the potential to be really successful. It would mean consumers are not left stranded and put off if one option does not suit them. It also may encourage the dashboards to learn from each other and continually improve.

Jessica List is a pension technical manager at Curtis Bank Group

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