A pensions bill expected next year must include law to require schemes to collect, publish and analyse cost transparency data from their asset managers, MPs have been told.
Trustees are "reticent" to seek such data and, without a mandatory regime, disclosure will "take a long time to percolate through", Unison national officer Colin Meech said.
He was one of four witnesses appearing before the Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) today (5 December) to answer questions on promoting the use of five cost disclosure templates created by the Institutional Disclosure Working Group (IDWG) earlier this year.
Meech said that making the templates mandatory would "change behaviour", but the Cost Transparency Initiative (CTI), set up last month to promote the templates, currently only proposes voluntary usage.
"Unless there's compulsion, it's not going to work," he continued. "In a trustee board, there's four meetings a year and they last three or four hours. If they're not told to go and collect the data, how are they going to know they've got to do it?
"Each time we've done this in a voluntary situation with a sponsoring employer and a board of trustees, outside the Local Government Pension Scheme, it's proved extremely difficult".
He noted that, in some circumstances, a threat of industrial action had to be pursued to force schemes to seek the data and also pointed to public sector pension scheme members in Kentucky who were required to take legal action to get full disclosure.
"We should not be in a place where members of a pension scheme have to consider legal action against their trustees," he added. "There has to be a nudge - a strong nudge."
But his view was not shared by other witnesses appearing before the WPC. Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association director of policy Nigel Peaple said he was "genuinely optimistic" that trustees would "enthusiastically adopt the templates".
"They are people who are aligned with the interests of members, want to do the right thing, but sometimes struggle with the complexity of that."
He noted that the proposed templates were "possibly rocket science" given the granularity of information they will provide but added "there's no reason why they shouldn't do it… other than pressure on time and ability".
Yet, while he predicted a "very high uptake" within a year, he added: "If it was the case in a couple of years that this hadn't been adopted, I would be leading a request to parliament to make this compulsory."
The Association of British Insurers director of long-term savings and protection Yvonne Braun also warned: "As soon as you get into things that are deeply operational, you are usually best advised to leave things flexible and have compulsion at the top level."
Investment Association director of policy, strategy and research Jonathan Lipkin also rebuked the call for a mandatory regime, preferring "a middle ground where the regulator sets a clear signal, we make a commitment, and this data starts to roll through".
Last month, former IDWG chairman and long-time disclosure campaigner Chris Sier launched ClearGlass, a cost collection and analysis facility for pension fund trustees.
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