An interesting new advertising campaign from Fidelity kicked off in the personal finance sections of the newspapers this weekend.Â As so often with Fidelity campaigns, you can’t help wishing that the execution was just a tiny bit less rubbish, and on this occasion, perhaps more unusually, you can’t help wondering what exactly they’re on about:Â the ads are complicated and what we creative directors sometimes describe as “unfocused”.Â (Others tend to use the word “incomprehensible.”)
But even if the details are hazy, the general outline is clear enough:Â Fidelity is having a pop at pensions, and proposing some kind of fund or funds as an alternative.
Quite frankly, the way consumers feel about pensions these days, Fidelity is pushing at an open door.Â You could propose crack-dealing, stamp-collecting orÂ begging on the streets as alternatives to pensions and plenty of people would give you a hearing.Â Millions and millions of peopleÂ truly, madly, deeply hate pensions,Â with what is increasingly a rather scary automatic andÂ unthinking new kind of hatredÂ – a hatred that, since it has no obvious cause, is likely to prove particularly difficult to argueÂ with.
I’m pretty sure that it goes back to the stock market crash of 2000/2002.Â But in the five years since, the fact that the market has recovered its losses and people with stock market based investments are generally doing fine again hasn’t made any difference.Â Somehow, millions of people’s attitudes have transcended the original issues, and now exist pretty much as articles of faith: Pensions Are A Rip-Off.
One of the reasons for this is that in the minds of most of the same people, there is an obvious alternative which isn’t a rip-off and which indeed au contraire is a Licence ToÂ Print Money.Â Â This is of course investing in property, and God knows what’ll happen to people’s overall feelings about long-term investment as and when this crashes.
Meanwhile, I don’t really think the pensions industry has got its headÂ round quite how much it’s hated and distrusted at the moment.Â Â Â The other day I gave a talk about communication with members to an audience of trustees of group schemes, and made what seemed to me the fairly obvious point thatÂ many of themÂ were communicating with people who, these days, viewed them with deep suspicion at best and intense antipathy at worst.Â I might as well have accused them of being drunk drivers or pickpockets.Â A distinct froideur settled on the room.Â It had simply never occurred to this audienceÂ that in recent years they’ve been been repositioned from heroes to villains.Â But I’m right, all the same.Â And all those organisations – from the Treasury downwards – planning initiatives of one sort or another in the field of pensions need to start by understanding that they’re starting not at Square One, but at Square Approximately MinusÂ 500.Â
Against this background, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fidelity do well with their new campaign.Â It may be creatively barren, unclear and overcomplicated.Â But at least it isn’t for pensions.