Panorama response: "All this programme did was paint less than half a picture"

Panorama response: "All this programme did was paint less than half a picture"

05 October 2010 / by Rachel Mason

George Ladds, head of investment and pension research at Fair Investment Company, comments on the Panorama programme broadcast last night:

"Having watched the programme last night I am disappointed. Although it raised some interesting points, it wasn't clear enough in its explanations and was pretty unbalanced.

"With the examples provided, it focused on the annual charges but seemed uninterested in the other side - performance. The ABI's Maggie Craig was only given a few minutes to put across her point about the performance of funds before the focus was back on charges.

"Before rushing away from this point we need to consider that performance is a crucial element, there are many trading platforms which allow you to invest directly in funds through your pension, and a fee of 1.5% may not seem high if the fund out performs the benchmark it is tracking.

"You also need to consider that the performance shown by the fund managers reflects all these charges. The programme also implied that you only invest in one fund, when in reality most people spread their investment across a range of funds to build a balanced portfolio; this means some funds may have lower charges than others.

"Moving away from performance we cannot forget the now infamous raid by Gordon Brown on pension funds which is estimated to have cost investors at least £100 billion when he scrapped tax relief on dividends into these funds. And then of course people are living longer and so annuity rates have fallen.  All of these are factors the programme failed to consider.

"Yes, 20 years ago (perhaps even ten years ago), many pension plans had high initial charges, yes some insurance companies had a poor choice of funds which have tended to perform badly and yes there has been a culture of high commission fees to advisers, but as always we are looking at the past.

"Consumers are much better informed now, there are many good companies out there who clearly disclose their charges and don't take kick backs from the fund houses, instead, ensuring these come back to the investor. In many cases financial advisers clearly disclose their fees. Consumers can take control, and many don’t go directly to financial advisers and the programme did nothing to expand on how the market is changing.

"Although I appreciate that sectors like pensions do need to be examined, and I am very much in favour of this – we have to accept there are rogues in every industry, and culture of high commission and fees needs to be stamped out - but people need to remember they are not the norm and by suggesting they are, this programme has the potential of destroying any movement to encourage people to save for retirement.

"Panorama is a consumer facing programme that has access to industry experts and could be the people’s champion to drive forward change in the pension industry, but instead of using its position to try and improve the industry, it seemed happy to criticise.

"What disappoints me with programmes like this is that they paint less than half a picture, focusing on the past and failing to focus on the future and looking at possible solutions to every growing crisis, for example, a simple system, with an ISA style pension. The industry experts should have been given a chance to drive this kind of change, but they were given very little chance to do so."