BEST INDIVIDUAL PENSION PROVIDER
The individual pension provider award is growing in importance as more people in the UK become self-employed and obliged to fend for themselves when it comes to retirement saving.
Deprived of access to a company pension scheme with an employer's contributions, today the 4.6 million strong army of the self-employed can choose between a personal pension plan, a stakeholder personal pension (designed to be a simple, low-cost pension), or a self-invested personal pension (Sipp) offering greater investment choice and control.
Since the launch of personal pensions in 1988, the number of plans in force has grown to over 15 million, according to the Association of British Insurers, although not all these policies are receiving contributions.
The judges were asked to nominate providers based on a number of criteria including transparency of charges, consumer accessibility, website functionality, range of funds and quality of service and research.
Minesh Patel, director at EA Solutions, nominated Aviva as his first choice, for giving consumers access to discretionary fund management and also for a website that enables consumers to view valuations and assess investment performance.
He also liked the way Aviva allows consumers to consolidate all their investment products (i.e. pensions, Isas, unit trusts and investment bonds) on the Aviva platform.
Aviva's fees fall as a percentage as the value of assets held there increases, so 'the more you have invested on the platform, the lower the relative cost'.
Aviva was also rated top-notch by Justin Modray, founder of consumer website Candid Money, for its 'all-round blend of reasonably competitive charges, good investment choice and online servicing'.
Royal London was ranked in pole position by David Trenner, director of independent financial adviser Intelligent Pensions, who said the company shines out for having 'competent administrators' and for 'the strength of its technical support and use of technology'.
Mark Polson commended Royal London for its 'market-leading end-to-end solution that covers both the accumulation and withdrawal stages, which is not as common as you might think'.
Polson said its full governance service, together with its 'great service reputation' and relatively low pricing, make Royal London 'the complete package'.
BEST GROUP PERSONAL PENSION PROVIDER
Group personal pensions (GPPs) continue to be one of the options employers can use to provide workplace pensions for employees.
Although a GPP is set up by the employer, in practice the underlying personal pension is a contract between the pension provider and the employee.
The advantages of GPPs are that economies of scale may (but don't always) result in lower charges, and that workers can transfer their current GPP to their next employer's GPP, or any other personal pension contract such as a self-invested personal pension (Sipp).
Most GPPs offer a wide range of funds, with some offering 'target date' or 'lifestyling' funds that are invested in such a way as to dovetail with the employee's selected retirement date and (in the case of target date funds) choice of retirement income.
Others provide packaged portfolios, typically labelled 'cautious', 'balanced' and 'adventurous', as a way of helping workers pick a group of funds which roughly match their risk appetite and investment horizon.
When workers come to retirement, they may not want to buy an annuity that provides a guaranteed income for life.
Instead, they may well want to access to the new pension freedoms, such as flexi-access drawdown or uncrystallised fund pension lump sum (UPFLS) - options they may be able to access within a GPP.
Mark Polson of Lang Cat rated Standard Life his first choice for the 'breadth' of its GPP proposition. He explained: 'Advisers tell us the service is excellent, and its staff are knowledgeable and technically competent.
'It has a good default range, pricing is competitive and its communications - well-tailored for the different audiences of employer and scheme member - are well thought-out, clear and helpful, especially through the introduction of pension freedoms.'
David Trenner selected Scottish Widows as his top pick, for good service and for having ploughed resources into the product. He added: 'Those who wanted out of the market have achieved this easily, by providing appalling service.'
Minesh Patel of EA Financial Solutions, commended Scottish Widows for its 'excellent brand, combined with good value'.
'One of the stand-out features is access to "Money Works", which helps consumers organise their own financial planning. The administrative support is of a high level, with dedicated support for employers and consumers,' he said.
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