Lucy Kerley – 3 August 2020

Like many others in the pensions industry, I seem to have arrived here by accident.

“It’s quite hard to explain – take a look at their website and read up on what they do” the recruitment consultant told me casually. Half an hour of reading later I was still unsure of what a pension scheme trustee actually was and what being a ‘scheme secretary’ really entailed. But I felt optimistic at the prospect of joining a new industry and hopeful of finding a strong career path. I was only 19, yet had already found myself at a dead end. Struggling to find an industry in which I belonged, for the first time I began to wonder whether I should have studied for a degree.

Three years later (spoiler: I got the job!) I’m no longer just hopeful – more confident – that I’ve found the industry where I want to build my long-term career. I’m still optimistic; optimistic at the opportunities within pensions and at the positive change NextGen aims to bring to the industry.

A career off the radar?

Why do so many of us end up in pensions unintentionally? Is it because the pensions industry is not well known to careers advisers or is it just an after-thought, a career not considered until it presents itself?

Is the lack of young people in the industry a symptom of this lack of awareness? I rarely see or meet those my own age at seminars or networking events. Is that because there are fewer young people or is it more to do with the roles they undertake which do not allow them to join such events?

Can we change perceptions?

Over the last three years, I have noticed one of two responses when telling people that “I work in the pensions industry”. Those in their twenties and thirties tend to say “Oh, so you call people about their pension?”, whilst the over-40s usually think I’m a scammer! Changing these attitudes will be no easy feat – believe me, I’ve tried!

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince my friends to take an interest in their retirement, but I haven’t had much success there either. Who can blame them – I’m asking them to care about something they don’t understand, and in their mind is about 45 years away. But I’m undeterred and will continue to champion long term planning and saving.

An absence of education

I have witnessed many trustee boards discuss member communications, often with an emphasis on member education, and debating how to convince members to even open a newsletter. Isn’t it crazy how challenging it is to interest someone in their own money! What I find even more absurd, is the lack (or complete absence) of pension education in schools. We are living in a world with an increasing elderly population, and your pension may be your sole income throughout a third of your life. So why was this subject never covered during my twelve years of schooling? I will not accept the answer of ‘teenagers won’t be interested’ – they aren’t interested in algebra either!

I’m sure that teaching basic pension knowledge (amongst other aspects of financial education) in schools would inspire more interest in the industry as a whole. Perhaps more adults would open their pension newsletter if they felt confident that they would understand the content. I’m certain that a comprehensive financial education would lead more young people to pursuing a career in pensions, rather than accidentally joining the industry. The way I see it, you can’t look for a job you didn’t know existed.

On the other hand…

Something else I’ve noticed – and perhaps this is just personal experience rather than a common denominator – is how overwhelmingly nice everyone in pensions seems to be! From the Inside Pensions office, to networking events, to trustee board meetings, everyone I have encountered has been a pleasure to talk to, pension-related conversation or otherwise.

Looking forward

Despite 2020 being a very difficult year for many of us, I’m pleased to say that I have reached a couple of milestones during this time. As of June of this year I was promoted from Trustee Administrator to Assistant Trustee Executive, and in May I joined the NextGen Research & Insights Sub-committee. These achievements have shown me that there is a lot of opportunity within my sector, even within the current climate.

I’m still stunned at how far I’ve come in three years – from having never heard of a trustee, and assuming hedging was a horticultural procedure, to joining NextGen and being part of a movement that promotes fresh ideas, perspectives and diverse thought.

The next three years will be very interesting for sure – I’m keen to see the impact the COVID-19 outbreak has on not only the pensions industry, but working practices more broadly. I’m also looking forward to the rest of my career and future pension sector milestones, from game-changing legislation to landmark court cases. Is there a scandal on the horizon? How will Generation X fare in retirement? Will auto-enrolment save my generation?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but one thing is for sure – my so-called ‘accidental’ entry into the pensions sector was the best mistake I ever made!

Lucy Kerley