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Has AE finally become a pensions matter?

I’m pleased to bring a good news story – from the software geeks who up to now have focused our minds on things like e-invoicing, pan-European VAT handling, UK GAAP and identity assurance

Ian   Holloway
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Ian   Holloway
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Business software is not glamorous; writing about the goings on at the annual BASDA (Business Application Software Developers Association) conference was going to be a challenge.


So I’m pleased to bring a good news story – from the software geeks who up to now have focused our minds on
things like e-invoicing, pan-European VAT handling, UK GAAP and identity assurance.


Charing my debate on the state of the market, I took out all extravagances. Nothing here about pension dashboards, employee engagement or financial education in the workplace – our agenda would stick with compliance, dealing with the non-engaged and the issues of interoperability that beset payroll when setting up and administering the auto-enrolment process.


Then to my great surprise, questions started to come from the audience.


“Why didn’t we turn the debate on its head?”

“Shouldn’t we be treating AE as an opportunity?”

“How can we get employers to put more into pensions?”

“What are we doing to restore trust in pensions?”


Like me, the panellists –hardened by years of scepticism from business audiences – found all this hard to take in.

This is what we were supposed to be saying!


Neil Esslemont of The Pensions Regulator took off his tin helmet, walked out of the trenches and waved enthusiastically, representatives of People’s Pension and NEST looked at each other with expressions of wide-eyed disbelief and Dr Will Lovegrove, architect of the Pensionsync software that is keeping choice alive, raised his eyebrows.


Social purpose


To be fair to the progressive payroll software houses like Sage, QTAC, Bond, Intuit and Xero (all of whom were represented), they have been engaging with pension issues for some time.


Their difficulty is in persuading their users (accountants, bureaux and DIY employers) to engage with pensions.


Cutting edge


From what I’ve seen, these software suppliers are the “thought leaders” for their users, and for many in payroll, what those at BASDA say, goes!


There are of course good commercial reasons for business software suppliers to reach out to pension providers and sponsor choice in the market, not least that it brings business software such as the API technology developed by NEST and Pensionsync and People’s Pension into play.


But what we saw at BASDA went way beyond a cynical exploitation of government legislation to feather personal nests. I sensed throughout the day with these folds a strong sense of social purpose, whether we were talking about RTI with HMRC, more efficient invoicing or fighting cybercrime.


Ring the message out in Whitehall


The success of AE II – the delivery of auto-enrolment to 1.7m employers still to stage (and workplace pensions for the vast majority) – is in the hands of the BASDA community, and especially the individuals driving change. Hats off to Kevin Hart, who was our MC for the day, and to Alex Rowson and Paula Green, who lead BASDA and their businesses’ orientation to the new AE world.


I hope that these people, on whom so much depends, are properly recognised by those of us in pensions who will benefit. And I hope that from the pensions minister down, those with an eye on policy will listen to what these people are saying.


I hope the Pensions Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech in May will contain help for the business software companies so they can deliver positive outcomes to the toughest miles ahead.


These guys get the message. Auto-enrolment isn’t about compliance; it is about delivering better outcomes to millions of people who have previously been excluded from workplace pensions. Auto-enrolment compliance is a by-product of the wider process – not the end in itself.


I thought I would find the evangelists for workplace pensions among SMEs, among the IFAs and their trade bodies. I was wrong – I found them sitting in the BASDA audience.



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Has AE finally become a pensions matter? Has AE finally become a pensions matter?
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