Star Wars and pensions may seem an unlikely mix but Raj Mody believes there are lessons to be learned from the blockbusting franchise.
As the submission date for this column was May the fourth, let's talk Star Wars.
When George Lucas created Star Wars, did he carefully orchestrate the wonderful mix of mythology, philosophy, religion and politics which it is?
In Jedi knights, we see the eastern tradition of monks and their commitment to both study and martial arts. The story of how Luke Skywalker's light sabre was gifted to him has echoes of the story of Excalibur.
As a hero, Luke has to learn lessons - of morality, faith and discipline - which he does through the telling of cautionary tales, even if told in Yoda-speak. As The Iliad warns of the dangers of unbridled anger, so Yoda warns of how hate leads to the dark side.
Luke transforms from an everyman - King Arthur, Dorothy and Harry Potter all experienced the same journey. The films are also awash with well-known classical rituals - pod-racing replacing chariot racing, arena battles resembling gladiatorial fights.
Odysseus, hero of the Trojan war, was one of few Greeks to visit the underworld and return. While there, he learned many important things, as did Luke on his visit to the Death Star. And of course there is the father/son dynamic, which we have seen before in Hamlet and his ghost father.
Did Lucas purposefully set all these literary connections up, or are we spotting them after the event? It is probably a bit of both. These ancient themes are consistent and enduring. Basic stories about good vs evil and triumph over adversity have the same hallmarks. Some things just don't change.
So what does this have to do with pensions? The ancient challenges of pension schemes also seem pretty consistent. How to save enough, whether for repairing DB deficits or funding DC savings. How to manage risk, whether across DB scheme assets or over a DC lifetime. How to draw down funds, whether for DB cashflow obligations, or individual retirement planning.
Since I started in the industry we've been talking about the triangular conundrum of having to pay more now, live on less in future, or retire later. A savings provider recently published research indicating people would have to work until 81 to retire on the lifestyle they expect. I was doing the same sums and research two decades ago, albeit the answer then was only 70-something.
Are there permanent fixes to these problems? I see three lessons from my cinema-going.
First, the industry needs to work better as teams. Most heroes have a great support team, not just in Star Wars - think Frodo and the Fellowship, Jason and the Argonauts. Yet when pensions stakeholders come together, it can sometimes feel too disjointed and unnecessarily conflicted, with too much duplication and exploring dead-ends.
Second, don't fear complexity - the emotions, relationships, hopes and fears that can complicate decision-making. I've heard trustees become nervous about improving the way they run their pension scheme because a long-standing scheme actuary might have to reduce their fees. Trustees and sponsors need to be in charge of their situation - advisers, providers and others are there to support that.
Finally, most heroes - and, in pensions, trustees need to be heroes - attain their ability through study, wisdom and acquired experience. Do we share what we have in our industry in the best way?
Raj Mody is a partner at PwC
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