There are those who feel that there has not been a lot to laugh about in the UK pensions industry in recent years. London-based information provider Pendragon Professional Information (PPI) doesn’t agree and on the basis that a picture is worth a thousand words it invited leading members of the industry to illustrate their view of the current state of the pensions world in the form of a postcard-sized cartoon.
The Art of Pensions competition, which was launched in 2003, generated even more interest and creative flair this year attracting more than 150 entries, according to PPI managing director Simon Freeman. The most original and amusing were displayed on the PPI stand at May’s NAPF Conference in Glasgow, and attendees voted for the best in four categories while the PPI commendation award winner giving the most unusual insight into the industry was selected by Pendragon staff.
The competition “does seem to be giving the industry a different way of expressing its feelings and the mood of the moment,” Freeman says. “We are constantly amazed by the effort and thought that goes into the postcards and I think this highlights that although light-hearted, the initiative gives scope to some serious messages.”
Sarah Watkins of Total UK Pension Plan, who with Laura Robinson and Lester Farrant won the PPI commendation award for their Love Actuary, told IPE it was a truly co-operative venture: “It was my idea, Laura drew it and we put Lester’s picture on the front.” The downside is that the entry is not an accurate reflection of the industry’s romantic nature, Sarah notes. “But I live in hope.”
The redtop parody by Matthew Demwall of Mercer Human Resource Consulting was voted best overall. The card reflected a sense of frustration at the level of public debate on pensions, especially in the tabloid press, Matthew told IPE. “It’s either paltry or non-existent. The card was a crie de coeur about the way in which huge decisions are being made and are not discussed in any intelligent way. This is not a criticism of the press but of our inability to get our messages across clearly, simply and effectively enough,” he said.
“So. Gordon Brown Ate My Pension is exactly what the ACT change was all about. Extra taxes were taken out of pension funds to fund the Exchequer, it was a stealth tax, and he was able to get away with it because only we boring actuaries were able to spot it and we were not able to communicate it effectively.”
The Most Humorous award went to Chris Mullen of London law firm Pinsents, who took an aquatic view of the industry. “The cartoon reflects the way that the Pensions Bill has gone,” he says. “The government is killing off the whole final salary schemes sector with kindness, trying to wrap it up in legislation and make it better, but actually the effect is going to be its demise. In 10 years’ time we will look back at what will then appear to be a weird species of scheme that everyone used to know about but which will by then be extinct. We will have killed it through over-regulation.” Mullen agrees with Pendragon that deploying humour to make a serious point is useful. “I certainly think that using an illustration is a particularly good way to get a point across,” he says.
Steve Delo of Escher Asset Management, who recruited Dr Who to highlight the demographic danger, won the most original accolade. He says that the outlook for the industry does have him cowering behind the settee in fear. “The problems are not here at the moment, but they are clearly visible down the track,” he warns. “I thought that time-travel was a good analogy to show how things will be in 20 or 30 years. As far as I’m concerned, the one over-arching issue in the industry is that there is just not enough money going into pensions and there is not the likelihood of this improving. The problem is that those who need to have money put aside for pensions are consuming all of their salary and more, and therefore we have a debt bubble, while the government dare not finance the shortfall by raising the necessary taxes.”
IPE’s favourite is the enigmatic three statements from Allan Course, head of administration consulting at Watson Wyatt, whose dadaesque approach reflected a lucid obscurity that small-print writers would kill for. “The concept of dadaism is not based on sense of logic and one of its tenets is that it tries to challenge people’s ways of perceiving the world,” Course says. And how is that reflected in Course’s work? “I head up a small consulting team and one of our necessary skills is an ability to think outside of the box,” he says. “We’ve got to look wider than the evidence put in front of us and think of all the possibilities. The trick is not to know what the answer is; the trick is to know what the question should be. So having a mind set where you can look at things in a slightly unorthodox way can be quite helpful.”
And this was encapsulated in his cartoon. “The mention of dadaism was a clue to what the card was about, so if people worked the logic on the card through then what they would find is that it is inevitable that there is a ‘q’ in pension.” And how does Course reach that conclusion? Answers on a postcard.