Best pension providers: Pension Awards 2015

Pound sign on hot air balloon

BEST INDIVIDUAL PENSION PROVIDER

Aviva

Individual personal pensions are approaching their 30th anniversary in 2018, having been launched by former chancellor Nigel Lawson in 1988. In 2001 stakeholder pensions were introduced as a simple, low-cost version of the personal pension.

Since then, their use has grown enormously, as individuals have taken personal control of their retirement savings. The total number of personal pensions in force today stands at 15 million, although not all these policies are currently receiving contributions, according to the Association of British Insurers.

The judges were asked to rate personal pension providers according to the range of funds offered, the quality of ready-made portfolios, range and suitability of investment strategies, quality of administration, charges, communications and website.

Minesh Patel, director at EA Solutions, plumps for Aviva as his first choice, applauding it for offering both a stakeholder pension and a platform-based personal pension, 'giving consumers a comprehensive choice'.

He describes the charges as 'competitive' and the fund choice on the personal pension platform as 'exceptional'.

Browse Money Observer's Pension Awards 2015
Introduction
Best pension providers
Best Sipp providers
Best pension income providers

He also commends the model portfolio developed by Aviva Investors, which uses external fund managers such as Vanguard and Standard Life Investments.

David Trenner, technical director at Intelligent Pensions, ranks Aviva as his second choice. Describing standards of service and communications from pension providers as 'generally appalling', Trenner hails Aviva's 'competent administrators'.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Old Mutual Wealth, LV=, Fidelity Funds Network

These three highly commended firms are all nominated first choice by one of the judges.

Old Mutual Wealth is nominated first choice by Carl Lamb, director of Almary Green, because of its 'great support, website functionality, very competitive charges and a range of funds consistent with our requirements'.

Trenner rates LV= as his first choice, saying it 'offers the extremely competitively priced Vanguard Strategy range of index funds'.

Nick Bamford, director of IFA firm Informed Choice, ranks Fidelity Funds Network in pole position due to its support team, which assists with the manual aspects of administration.

BEST GROUP PERSONAL PENSION PROVIDER

Scottish Widows

Group personal pensions (GPPs) have become the mainstay for workplace pensions, largely supplanting the increasingly rare final salary (defined benefit) schemes of yesteryear. Many employers have been using GPPs to auto-enrol employees into workplace pensions over the past few years.

A GPP is simply a collection of individual pension contracts that are set up and administered by an employer in conjunction with a pension provider, often with economies of scale on charges.

There will also be a range of suitable funds for employees to choose from, and sometimes a suite of specially designed portfolios, typically labelled 'cautious', 'balanced' and 'adventurous' to suit different risk appetites.

However, the underlying contract remains essentially between the employee and the pension provider, enabling the worker to transfer their pension elsewhere, if they wish, when they move job.

The challenge for providers of GPPs today is to adapt to the swiftly changing investment requirements of today's pension savers.

They may no longer want to purchase an annuity on retirement, but rather keep their money invested in a range of asset classes for as long as possible, as they draw on their pension pots using new flexible options such as flexi access drawdown and (excuse the jargon) uncrystallised funds pension lump sum.

This means that the previously popular 'lifestyling' technique, whereby pension providers automatically shifted pension investors' default funds into 'safer' investments as they approached their selected retirement dates, may become a thing of the past.

Scottish Widows, the winner of our best GPP provider award, is hailed by Minesh Patel at EA Financial Solutions for its 'robust technology, which is central to the establishment of new schemes and their ongoing administration'.

He adds: 'It assists me in making the assessment of eligible, non-eligible and entitled workers [for auto enrolment], and the group has responded well to the new pension freedoms by adding to its portfolio range of funds with an annual management charge of 0.1 per cent, which is incredibly good value.'

David Trenner at Intelligent Pensions also votes Scottish Widows his first choice, saying that the firm 'seems prepared to devote sufficient resources to its group offerings and this is reflected in the product support it offers'.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Standard Life

Standard Life is commended by Carl Lamb at Almary Green for its ease of administration, functionality, service, competitive charges and investment options, while Trenner also applauds its service standards.


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