Tuc in – the industry is out of touch

The FSA and ABI should be ashamed their new pension calculator is a shadow of the one offered by the TUC says Ian McKenna, director of the Financial Technology Research Centre

It is important not to let previous poor experiences prejudice your views so when I received an email from the FSA informing me of their new pensions calculator at the Money Made Clear web site I thought I would click on the link from my iPhone to have a look.

I should have known better, after all why would the FSA and the ABI who have worked together to launch the service have bothered to identify that two thirds of all mobile browsing in the UK is now carried out over iPhones. The new application is written in Adobe Flash so no iPhone users here please. Having found my way to a PC to view the service I soon realised that iPhone users are not missing anything.

In essence what you get is a simple one page calculator which for some reason asks the user’s age at 1st April 2009 and their year of birth, captures their gender, preferred retirement age, asks a single question about pension income keeping pace with inflation, another about if a spouse’s pension is required and a third about if maximum tax free cash is to be taken. Users are then asked to enter an aggregated value for their current fund value existing personal and individual contributions and the amount any new contributions from either source.

This then produces a simple summary projecting future monthly income and tax free lump sum based on the current contributions, the same detail for any new contributions as well as brief numbers to illustrate the effect of saving more or retiring later. No mention is made at any point of any growth assumptions being applied either in real or absolute terms.

Some of the design is so poor that I can only assume that whoever built this site has never seen any other web sites before. For example there is an icon to print the page. In virtually any other site I can think of clicking this would bring up the print dialogue box from your PC, but not for the ABI and FSA. On their sites you get a message telling you to right click anywhere in the calculator and select print. Equally an option is given to e-mail the report. Naively I thought this might send me a copy of the report, no it sends me an e-mail saying a friend thought I might like to look at the calculator on the Money Made Clear site.

The words of John McEnroe kept ringing in my ears, “they cannot be serious”. But of course worryingly they have no doubt spent a fortune of both organisations members’ money producing it.

If the FSA and the ABI would like some guidance on where to find a powerful pensions calculator that can give citizens valuable insight into their future benefits they could do worse than visit pensionschampions.co.uk where the TUC’s pension calculator enables consumers to enter details on a wide range of benefits. These include state benefits via a link to the DWP’s e-service online forecast, occupational pensions both defined benefit and defined contribution schemes and private pension schemes. Not only does it allow the user to add a full range of pension products but the level of detail captured is vastly superior to the offering on Money Made Clear site and the depth of detail captured is far greater.

Even the “quick calculation” tools offered as part of the TUC version is vastly more sophisticated than the FSA/ABI effort, allowing users to enter the period they were employed with an employer, starting and leaving salary and employer/ employee contributions for multiple different schemes.

Am I the only person who believes it is utterly shameful that the TUC pension calculator service is vastly superior to that delivered by the joint efforts of the chief financial regulator and the trade body for the UK life assurance industry? Money Made Clear; to me this is more like Money made as clear as mud. I would strongly urge the Advertising Standards Authority to have a good look at this site as it is gross misrepresentation. This service demonstrates how out of touch both organisations clearly are with both consumer needs and what can be achieved with current technology.