Auto enrolment is approaching a tipping point. Where it was once the burden of the big businesses who were the first to comply, it’s now affecting business leaders up and down the country with over 10,000 businesses staging this month alone, says Creative Auto Enrolment’s David White.
As business owners try to digest more than 500 pages of guidance from The Pensions Regulator, now is the time for accountants to act.
Getting to the crux of the challenges employers are facing is key in order to take advantage of this huge business opportunity. The sheer size of the job is a challenge in itself, with AE preparation involving 33 different administrative tasks. But as businesses start making their way through the AE maze they are uncovering hidden responsibilities, especially when it comes to the crucial task of choosing a pension scheme for employees.
We have seen that this is proving to be far more complex and time consuming than many businesses initially expect, but deciding where to invest employees’ money is also a huge responsibility burden. In fact according to our recent research, two thirds of businesses say that choosing a pension provider and plan for employees is one of the AE tasks worrying them the most.
So why is the task such a challenge? We’ve identified the top four of these hidden responsibilities to help you support your clients:
- Capacity crunch - according to TPR, 1.2 million businesses are approaching their staging dates and most of them will be setting up their first pension scheme. This huge increase in demand is leading to unprecedented pressure on the industry. Many pension providers are already struggling to keep up, with some even closing their doors to new customers. It is vital that businesses get going as early as they can so they are ‘in the queue’ and can meet their compliance timetable
- Responsibility burden - selecting the pension provider that will look after the financial futures of an entire workforce is a huge responsibility. But most employers are business people – not pension experts. Many won’t know where to start when it comes to even identifying pension providers, let alone choosing the right one. Employers are worried about the responsibility that comes with that decision – especially as some will be all too aware of what can go wrong, in the wake of the Equitable Life collapse
- Investment strategy - once an employer has chosen a provider they must then set the default investment strategy. What does your average employer know about investment theory, asset allocation, risk management and so on? Businesses must then identify the right combination of funds to deliver that strategy and provide the best returns for the risk profile over the next 40 years. Financial advisers have to take lots of exams to advise on these issues, and employers with little or no knowledge of pensions are expected to do this themselves. While you may not feel best equipped to have those conversations either, your clients will expect you to have the right people in your network to provide support and advice
- Cost control - you might think that now that the government has announced a price cap, costs shouldn’t be an issue. However the price cap announced earlier this year still allowed for providers to use various different pricing strategies. Different strategies will have very different impacts on employer and employee costs and the amount of contributions ultimately making it into the employee’s pot
It’s crucial that accountants are aware of the AE pain points for employers. Our research shows that almost half of businesses staging over the next year plan to consult their accountant on the legislation. But they might not come to you. Up to 30% of employers who should have staged in April and May are yet to select a pension plan according to Aviva and the regulator has already launched at least 590 investigations into potential non-compliance. Your clients may be struggling in silence, or may not even be aware of what they need to do.
It’s also important to remember your own business. We found that almost a quarter of accountants don’t yet know how they plan to meet their own responsibilities under the new legislation.
AE is here and it’s a big challenge for businesses to overcome, with hefty fines for employers who get it wrong. Make sure you are aware of some of the ‘hidden’ tasks involved that may lead to questions coming your way. Take control of AE so that you can deliver the right guidance and add real value to your clients.
David White is managing director of Creative Auto Enrolment.
AccountingWEB has launched the No one gets left behind campaign to alert as many accountants as possible to the obligations implied by auto enrolment. Read our simple eight-point statement which sets out the auto enrolment facts you need to know.
About Robert Lovell
Business and finance journalist