Claire Trott: Public still has it wrong on pensions versus property

Latest statistics show personal pensions, in particular, get a bad rap

The recently published preliminary estimates from the Office for National Statistics’ Wealth and Assets Survey make for interesting reading with regards to how people view pension savings and how safe they are.

This survey has been run numerous times in recent years and it is always clear those questioned see employer pensions and property the safest way to save for retirement. They have actually attracted an even greater share of the votes in the last two rounds of the survey than previously.

The fact employer pensions saw 40 per cent of votes is a good thing but it does not tell the whole story. I wonder how much of this increase is because of automatic enrolment.

What is disappointing is that only 13 per cent thought that personal pensions were the safest way to save. With the move from defined benefit schemes to defined contribution schemes, there will be very little difference in the two. The fact employer schemes should at least have some additional contributions may make them more popular but it does not make them any safer.

It will be interesting to see if this becomes more aligned in future when DB schemes become even rarer.

On the flip side, when looking at which method of saving for retirement will make the most money, employer pensions came in a poor second, with 22 per cent of votes.

The top spot went to property, with 49 per cent. While this is no surprise, it does begs the question as to whether this is the right way for the public to consider it.

I know that the question put to the voters was not about what they had actually invested in but it is clear that those looking for bigger returns consider property to be the best option.

Of course, this is often not the case.

As we know, pensions offer tax relief and tax free growth while invested, whereas property has ongoing costs, costs when finally sold and tax on profits.

And personal pensions? 6 per cent of those surveyed believed they would make the most money. This is the most disappointing finding. We all know they are able to invest in the same, if not a more diversified, range of assets than the employer schemes and even property in some cases.

The need for education about retirement options is still clear. Retirement is not a single investment at a single point in time. All the options in terms of saving for the short and the long term need to be considered. All savings can work for retirement; clients do not need to put all their eggs in one basket.

As always, advice is key as they progress through life.


Claire Trott is head of pensions strategy at Technical Connection