Next stop retirement readiness, aboard the Widows pensions bus

With stops in Edinburgh, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, London and 28 employers nationwide, the Scottish Widows Pension Awareness bus is finding differing pensions priorities in different corners of the nation. So what has Scottish Widows corporate pensions relationship specialist Robert Cochran been asked most on this retirement roadtrip?

Q. What struck you most about the sorts of questions you were asked around the country?

RC.What came back particularly strongly was the way there were clearly different priorities, and attitudes to pensions, from the people who came on board in different places.

In Edinburgh we had lots of people asking questions about final salary pensions, which is perhaps not surprising given the number of people who work in financial services there. People have been turning up with their benefits statements asking whether they should transfer out. Obviously we can’t give them advice but we can explain to them what their options are.

In Birmingham there were questions from people from ethnic minority backgrounds asking about whether they would be able to take their pension overseas when they retire, and also whether their state pension will be safe post-Brexit.

In London, as well as a lot of curious tourists, we got an uptick in people asking about tax-free cash and how they can access their pots through pension freedoms.

Q. Do some areas of the country seem more retirement-ready than others?

RC. For some reason, Leeds definitely stands out as a place where lots of the people who came to see us were very happy about where they were in regards to preparing for retirement. There were lots of rich pensioners, who were so happy with their final salary scheme benefits.

They were particularly empathetic towards how they compare with younger people. That said, there was one 35-year-old in Leeds who was paying 15 per cent into his pension, even though his employer was only paying in 1 per cent. To say the young aren’t engaged in pensions isn’t borne out by the feedback we have had on this tour.

Q. What level of understanding have you encountered from the people you have met?

RC.Some people have been completely on top of every detail. But others are really in the dark. We had one guy who was complaining that he hadn’t received his free bus pass yet. It turned out he’d been entitled to state pension for four months without realising, and hadn’t claimed it yet.

Q. Do you meet much anti-pension sentiment?

RC. There are always some – in particular those who say they are going to do property instead. Some obviously do go into buy-to-let, but you also come across those who say they are going to, but haven’t got round to it yet, what you might call pension prevaricators. Ask them ‘how long have you been planning to build a property portfolio’ and the answer is often quite a number of years.

Q. Is the feedback you are getting from round the country influencing your overall proposition offering.

RC. Definitely. We are gathering all the questions asked and making short videos that answer the most frequently raised issues.

Q. Which of the engagement tools on the bus is the most popular?

RC. We have been interacting with members of the public through pension quizzes, pension question leaderboards and simply talking to people. But probably the most popular is the Age Me tool, which takes a photo of the individual, asks them their current level of contributions and size of pot, and presents them with an aged image of themselves at the age when they will be able to retire on their target income at their current savings rate. That really makes people stop and think.