The Pensions Regulator has built on its past successes despite working in an increasingly challenging environment, Natasha Browne finds
The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has been faced with an enormous challenge over the past year including trying to deal with the ‘freedom and choice' reforms, just like the rest of the industry.
Alongside that, it has continued to make strides on auto-enrolment (AE), governance in defined contribution (DC) schemes and settlements in huge legal battles, such as the £184m deal agreed for the Lehman Brothers Pension Scheme.
But it has not let this demanding environment impact too heavily on its performance. Its Annual Report and Accounts 2014/15, published on 2 July, shows it met 14 out of 17 of its key goals last year. This compared with just eight for the previous 12-month period.
It uses a traffic light rating system - green when targets are hit, amber when they are marginally missed, and red when they are significantly missed - to measure its achievements against 17 key performance indicators (KPIs).
In 2013/14, only 42% of schemes surveyed by TPR said they had fully integrated the management of scheme funding, scheme investments and the employer covenant, versus a target of 54%. But this rose to 62% in the latest report, exceeding its goal of 49%.
The regulator made significant gains in the area of trustee knowledge too. The 2013/14 report found a total of 12,483 modules on the trustee toolkit were successfully completed against a cumulative target of 16,000.
However, this increased to a record-breaking 17,385 last year. The improvement was driven by the watchdog's decision to launch new modules in August 2014, which it said re-engaged a large number of existing users as well as attracting new registrations.
According to the latest results, 78% of schemes used for AE had at least 80% of the regulator's DC quality features in place. This compared with 61% for the previous year. TPR said this improvement was primarily down to the number of master trusts that met this objective.
Another notable achievement was the finding that an average of 84% of employers, trustee boards and actuaries, were aware of the key messages in TPR's annual funding statement. This compared with a target of 80%. Some 86% of actuaries reported that they would advise schemes in a way that was consistent with its views too.
From an engagement point of view, there was a 54% increase in the amount of time users spent on the regulator's desktop website. And that figure was significantly higher at 96% among mobile users.
TPR also said its increased use of social media and online activity had doubled its number of Twitter followers and subscribers to its email news alert service.
For the year 2013/14, the regulator did not hit its goals on five key areas and narrowly missed its targets on four others. But that fell to just one red rating last year and two ambers.
Commenting on the report, chairman Mark Boyle said: "Against a backdrop of unprecedented change in pensions, we have continued to help schemes deliver quality outcomes for retirement savers.
"Automatic enrolment has been rolled out successfully to large and medium-sized businesses, but there is no doubting the challenges of preparing smaller employers.
"We have responded to significant pension reforms on DC governance standards and the new pension freedoms at retirement by developing simple, practical guidance.
"With the continuing roll out of automatic enrolment and new pension flexibilities we need to be agile marshalling our resources and adaptable in prioritising our activities to fulfil our broad range of objectives.
"The arrival of our new chief executive Lesley Titcomb has added to our strong management team in order for us to fulfil these challenges."
Titcomb took up the role in March after the regulator's 18-month search for a replacement for Bill Galvin. She joined from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), where she was chief operating officer.
Titcomb (pictured) commented: "As both memberships of schemes and interest from the general public about pension savings increases, we will come under increasing scrutiny.
"In 2014-2015 we continued to demonstrate our ability to regulate a diverse range of entities sensitively and professionally. From small businesses to large pension schemes, our approach is tailored to educate and enable these organisations to become and remain compliant with the law.
"We identify the challenges faced by our regulated community and help them to comply, but we stand ready to use our enforcement powers where necessary."
- The regulator received over 175,000 inbound contacts from scheme members, trustees, employers and advisers, about a range of issues
- More than 33,000 employers across one three-month period submitted their online declaration of compliance on time – three times more than all large employers in the UK
- Around 787,000 letters raising awareness of automatic enrolment were dispatched
- Settlements of over £200m were made through casework following TPR engagement
- Two new codes of practice – for DB and public service pension schemes – were consulted on and subsequently published
- TPR produced its first radio ad and first in-house media ad campaign and launched its own YouTube channel