Bigger is not always better when it comes to pension consulting, last week's Pensions Buzz respondents said following Marsh & McLennan's $5.6bn acquisition of JLT.
The 112 commentators also answered questions on tax relief for non-taxpayers in relief-at-source schemes, the pension dashboards timeframe, and which types of asset class your scheme would consider as suitable when thinking about patient capital.
The vast majority of this week's 112 respondents did not believe that bigger is always better when it comes to pension consulting, with 89% disagreeing.
At the beginning of this month, Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC), the parent company of Mercer, completed the acquisition of JLT for $5.6bn (£4.3bn) to build on MMC's efforts to become a leading global firm in risk, strategy and people.
Of the 89% who disagreed, one commented: "As has been seen with the Big four accountancy firms, having spread themselves across many services, this has led to a deterioration in quality and lack of independent advice received by the client.
"There is no reason to believe that big global pension consultancy firms may not exhibit similar concerns."
Another added: "[It] usually means a reduction in staff as the two combine, service may suffer to some degree but challenge from a cost perspective may suffer, it also depends on how well the information systems come together."
Just 3% agreed, with one pundit suggesting: "It leaves smaller consultancies with opportunities to innovate while the big fish digest each other."
More than half (54%) of respondents said it is fair non-taxpayers receive basic rate tax relief in relief-at-source schemes.
Several felt that any incentive to encourage people to save is a good thing.
"The incentive is intended to get people to save. If anything, non-taxpayers are more likely to require support, and so should receive the incentive," said one.
Another stated: "A little benefit now may mean that the state doesn't have to provide additional support after retirement."
A further pundit suggested it was not an issue of "fairness, so much as reducing poverty in old age."
Of the 35% that did not believe it is fair non-taxpayers receive basic rate tax relief, one commented: "The words ‘tax relief' mean relief from tax. If you don't pay any tax, you can't get relief from it".
Some 11% were unsure, with one suggesting: "The system should be fair across all schemes and all members. It is perverse that some members benefit and others don't, and that higher rate tax-payers benefit more than less well-off colleagues."
The majority of respondents agreed three to four years is sufficient to give schemes time to prepare for the pension dashboards.
One pundit stated: "Pension dashboards are hardly new on the agenda, so let's get moving. I would be more inclined to stop pussyfooting around and give a clear deliverable (fixed) deadline now."
"More than enough - the data should be available in a usable form - if not, the scheme needs to be sanctioned and improved", another added.
A further commentator suggested: "Subject to there being no significant changes to the information needed, it should not present issues to most schemes to provide."
However, 14% did not agree this was sufficient time, with one commenting: "Feels optimistic…especially as there are a number of legacy records in paper files. Feels like rushing this through will lead to errors."
"Data is a mess," a different person said.
Of the 16% who were unsure, one said: "It depends whether the government is prepared to legislate to allow DB schemes to simplify their benefits!"
Another questioned whether the dashboards will actually happen.
Respondents were completely split on the right size for the master trust market with 49% saying 40 providers is too many, and 48% believing it is the right level.
Of those who believed it is too many, one said: "TPR will still need a big team of people to tell those 40 how to run their schemes - surely they only need 10-15 schemes."
Another suggested the market ideally needs to reduce to about 15 master trust providers.
Of the 48% which agreed 40 providers is the right size, one suggested: "Probably the right level for now; expect further consolidation as providers get to grips with life in their new post-authorisation world."
"It will take time to settle as long as the regulations are not so restrictive that too few companies are in the market then value for money for the member gets lost. Secure pension outcomes must be the most important consideration," said a different person.
Another pointed out: "The number of providers isn't that important. What is important is that members are protected".
Earlier this year, the government put forward a range of proposals to expand DC investment innovation and encourage schemes to make greater investment in illiquid assets.
Buzz respondents were asked which type of asset their scheme would consider as suitable investments and were able to select multiple options.
Slightly more commentators agreed that their scheme would consider infrastructure as more suitable than any other option.
Half of the respondents thought their scheme would consider capital to support business innovation, while 65% chose social housing.
One pundit commented: "A cake is only a given size and can be divided up in many ways but will always be a sum of its parts.
"The trick is to try and give everybody a reasonable slice of the cake and this is reflected in being able to please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time."
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