Imagine . . . a world where pensions and music meet

Pensions, savings and music have a lot in common . . . so much so that Barnett Waddingham have even chosen to build an entire event around it.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m as passionate about the defined contribution (DC) pension space as I’m passionate about music. I think these two seemingly disparate things are highly emotive.

I wonder, can we ever get to a point where pensions are able to prompt the same emotive uplift as music?

Imagine all the people

In the beginning I was pondering diversification in the workplace – how all the different age, gender, race and religious cohorts present such enormous diversity - and it struck me that it’s much the same as the huge diversity we have access to in music genres.

As I pondered some more, the analogy began to really intrigue me.

I knew that I could take it further and suggest that behind such a wealth of diversity, the component parts are all pretty elemental – peoples’ basic needs are all very similar (finance, health etc), in the same way that music is built from a set of simple notes.

It’s easy if you try

Composing a piece of music involves putting the right blocks or notes together in the right order, at the right time to create something meaningful that resonates with individuals – and that’s a lot like making sure the savings journey is in tune with each and every employee.

You may say I’m a dreamer

The way that we all engage with music is deep-rooted - it can transport us instantly to different times and places, and provoke a profound emotional response in just the first few strains of a melody. Unfortunately, the word pension elicits just as strong a reaction, sadly one of complexity, mistrust and often worse.

However the structure of music is actually very similar to a pension if you think about. The creative aspect being in direct alignment with engagement, composition being akin to the analytics and mood as the behavioural science.

Looking at these three strains in more detail:

  1. Engagement/creative

I’m of a certain age and still remember my emotional response to seeing beautifully created album covers. It wasn’t just the music or the artist that enticed me to buy the album – it was the work of art on the cover that engaged me. We now have these works of art in our cultural consciousness – who can’t instantly bring to mind St Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or Andy Warhol’s banana for The Velvet Underground? In 1967, the year of my birth, Bowie’s debut album however, woefully missed the spot though he more than made up for it.

  1. Analytics/composition

Of which there are two distinct aspects.

Firstly, Value for Money which requires a granularity of look-through to ensure that solutions – in terms of design, administration and investment – are really adding the value to the member that we believe they are. It’s much the same idea behind independent record stores – only an independent truly has the ability to meet your unique needs.

Secondly – from an investment perspective – musical notes are like assets which need to be put together in the right order at the right time in order to create something harmonious and meaningful or, more specifically, the right investment journey for its members. With the introduction of pensions freedoms this is even more imperative – where before, there was a known end point, it’s now more like a line from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - in a boat on the river floating away under marmalade skies . . . with no visible end in sight.

  1. Behavioural science/mood

Developing the idea that music puts you in a time and a place, and that while beauty is harder to find in the science of the financial landscape than in the musical landscape, its importance is becoming clearer and clearer.

I’ve recently come back from a trip to Chicago, which highlighted the tendency in the US system to err to default default default – default in, default increase and default investment . . . it’s using the behaviour of apathy which we could easily hear as elevator music – something that’s going on in the background that we are increasingly unaware of.

But I’m not the only one

Are you still with me?

On a simplistic level, it’s easy to see that one type of journey - whether financial or musical - is pretty similar to another. We can draw all sorts of comparisons, but it’s the nuances and tangents that challenge how we think about things and help us to achieve new perspectives.

I hope someday you’ll join us

We’re aiming to challenge all those who come along to our DC Conference in October, as well as deliver some new ways of thinking about the complexities of our industry.

And if all else fails, we’ll have a thoroughly unconventional talk from Bill Drummond – the former producer turned artist who burned the equivalent of the lifetime allowance ...

Damian Stancombe is partner at Barnett Waddingham.

This article was supplied by Barnett Waddingham. 

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