Henry Tapper says pension schemes need a good dose of the serious FCA.
Steve Webb's admission that we need a single regulator (PP Online, 3 September) is a sign of his strength. It takes guts to admit you've been wrong for four and a half years!
I'd come to the same conclusion myself for three reasons: the geographic split between Brighton and Canary Wharf didn't make for joined up regulation, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are now a very serious regulator indeed; and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) - still without a permanent chief executive - is a lame-duck.
All this may be disappointing to readers who know and love TPR's quirky ways. But pensions just got serious and in the post-2015 world, we need brutal efficiency.
Compare the simple elegance of the FCA's independent governance committee (IGC) proposals with the baroque elaboration of TPR's 31 d3efined contribution (DC) characteristics. And the 6 DC principles aren't fit for purpose either.
TPR is obsessed with pension liberation, DB minutiae and the master trust assurance framework. Meanwhile the seismic issues relating to pensions have passed it by.
It's influence on the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) minimum standards appears minimal.
They have been on the side lines of the debate around the new pension freedoms and anonymous in discussions on the guidance guarantee. Even though the DWP's pension bill contains the legislation for Defined Ambition (DA) and the guidance, we have heard nothing from Brighton. It is as though TPR has become a "legacy regulator".
So it comes as no surprise to see the pensions minister running up the white flag. Of all his battles, saving his regulator is one he won't fight. And it looks like the merger has already begun.
With Charlotte Clark, the architect of much of the new reforms now the DWP's director of private pensions, there appears a new spirit of co-operation between the DWP and Treasury.
A team of DWP staff has been dispatched to the Treasury to help out on delivering the guidance guarantee, the IGC consultation is properly joined up to the DWP's minimum standards and the Treasury policy for the guidance guarantee is embedded in the DWP's Pension Bill.
And while TPR has struggled to assert itself, the FCA has become a world class administrator. Under its auspices the UK financial services industry has not only survived 2008 but grown stronger. Its reputation is global and it's seen as a success story. When I visit the FCA in Canary Wharf, I am blown away by its self-confidence.
This is not to deny TPR its successes - Charles Counsel and his team promoting auto-enrolment are doing a great job. But there is, even within the auto-enrolment division, a lack of confidence about pensions that is worrying. I'll give an example.
Having made a joint statement with the FCA in March that "advice to employers on scheme selection was unregulated", I got a sorry mail in August stating that "although giving advice to an employer regarding their choice of pension scheme and/or fund is CURRENTLY unregulated, TPR believes that people without the right skills and knowledge should not be giving advice or expressing an opinion on this".
I cannot imagine that mail coming from the FCA.
Henry Tapper is business development director at First Actuarial
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