PWC blames everyone for UK pension problems

UK – A pensions partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers has launched a scathing attack on everyone involved in the UK pensions industry, with nobody escaping the blame for its current problems.

“Everybody is partly to blame – although nobody is honest enough to raise their hand,” says PWC’s John Shuttleworth/ “The roll-call of indictments is a long one.”

He blamed corporate management, actuaries, accountants, the financial services industry, trustees, parliament, the government, the regulator, pensions industry bodies, investment consultants and the media. He made the remarks in a newspaper article.

Corporate management, he says, made a “truly reckless” concentration in a single asset class - equities. “Why was there so little investment in, for example, property? Indeed, why no insurance?” Managers also denied information to shareholders by obstructing the move to the FRS17 financial reporting standard, he said.

He accused actuaries of not understanding how to allow for the “time value of money”. “ And in what sort of fantasy world is it possible that the riskier the trustees’ investments, the lower their liabilities, the smaller the contributions that can be paid, and the smaller the investments that are needed?”

Accountants, he said, were “sitting on their hands” by not adopting US proposals to put the deficit or surplus on the balance sheet.

Trustees lacked self-awareness, Shuttleworth said, by not knowing the limits of their own knowledge.

Parliament failed the public while the government ignored the lessons of every other country. “Most bizarrely we had the minimum funding requirement – an absurd, doomed attempt to overturn natural laws.”

The regulator, the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority, was “small-minded”. Opra’s “obsessive attention to detail” has meant it has missed the bigger issues of under funding and mismatched assets and liabilities.

An Opra spokesman said the body is constrained by legislation and that it is set to be replaced by a new body which will be more risk-focused.

Shuttleworth also accused the various pension industry bodies of “resisting change”. And he accused investment consultants of “laziness”. Shuttleworth says there have been developments in finance theory since the 1950s “but it has passed most consultants by”. He acknowledges that sometimes trustees want “dumbed down” advice, “but surely a consultant has a duty of care to the end-beneficiary?”

Lastly, he blamed the media for merely regurgitating the pensions industry’s propaganda.

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