No AE A&E for SMEs

I used to have my own business as a plasterer, but it went to the wall.

The business stories were much more positive speaking to the small firms who joined the excellent Thrive for Business networking lunch in Glasgow the other day. While they face all the challenges of any small business at the moment, they appear to be doing ok. Innovating their way through the downturn and looking forward to a bright future.

The discussion was around automatic enrolment, and I had the pleasure of co-presenting with Russell Davidson of Davidson Asset Management. Russell walked us through how his business had evolved and their particular focus in helping employers in a specific industry sector get their pension scheme up and running.

During the ensuing discussion, someone asked for more detail around the experiences of employers in another industry sector and what they could learn.

It struck me that this is an important point. There are many thousands of employers staging from April onwards and we tend to talk about them as one homogenous group, when in fact they are each unique. Where there will be some degree of commonality, though, is between different employers in similar sectors. As so many advisers have told me, “setting up the pension is the easy bit; it’s getting everything aligned to that within the employer’s processes that requires more help.” And of course, the pension offerings – while offering choice – will be fairly standardised if we’re setting one up every six minutes (as I’ve previously talked about).

This makes me think about why the provider and adviser play such important and distinct roles here. The provider focussing on scalability and efficiency of the pension proposition, but the adviser offering more tailored services to suit the needs of the employer. Or as suggested above, perhaps offering a packaged solution that is tailored to a particular industry sector.

I used to have a margarine business. It was ok, but sales could have been butter.

It was very apparent from this discussion that the conversation is moving on with employers. Not just those staging in 2014, but beyond. My sense is there is a growing acceptance that getting people saving through the workplace is a decent thing to do.

Don’t get me wrong, when we talked about some of the costs involved, no-one in the room was doing a jig, but there is a sense of acceptance. If my perspective was glass-half-empty then I’d perhaps think that this is simply indicative of the glass-half-full employer that joins the Thrive network (invariably forward thinking, progressive employers). But I don’t think such optimism merits such pessimism.

In April, we will see the first significant spike in SMEs reaching their staging dates. I realise there are already some issues with employers being late to the table, but I also sense there is a will to make this a success. It’ll be a collective effort to keep SMEs out of AE A&E.

I once had a summer temp job building the world’s largest kite – but I couldn’t hold it down.

I’ve never had a job as a comedian.

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