Two minutes with Steve Bee, director at WorkLife by OpenMoney: we get the lowdown from the pensions guru on why getting proper benefits for employees matters now more than ever, and his alternate life as a cartoonist
- Tell us about your involvement with WorkLife by OpenMoney?
OpenMoney has a number of different businesses and WorkLife is the employee benefits arm. I joined the OpenMoney group last year when it acquired my business, Jargon Free Benefits, which has evolved into WorkLife.
I am excited about where we are now because of the relationship with OpenMoney. The fact that we’ve got to a place where we can offer employee benefits alongside OpenMoney’s access to financial advice proposition is a real step forward for the industry.
It’s also an opportunity for employers to offer their employees better, improved benefits that are far more flexible.
I’m old enough to have retired now, but I can see there’s a chance here to create a properly structured solution that delivers financial advice and important benefits to people who need it the most.
- What are the key issues facing the pensions landscape now?
For me, the major piece of pensions legislation passed in the last decade was the decision to scrap the State Second Pension (S2P) and introduce auto enrolment.
Auto-enrolment is what we should have had 60 years ago, rather than the quasi-solution of S2P. I started Jargon Free Benefits in 2009 in advance of these changes because, in the wake of this legislation, we had a situation where half the workforce was denied company pension schemes, so we effectively had two “classes” of pensions.
Half the country got proper benefits via their company pension scheme, while people working for smaller companies did not.
Over time, by effectively getting lots of small schemes together, we managed to get people working for small firms access to the same benefits that bigger schemes were getting. Now, via WorkLife, we have the chance to create something special by combining that with financial advice for all.
- How has the current situation changed working habits, either on a personal or industry level?
From a business point of view, we were remote working anyway, so we were never tied to an office. But what I think has changed is peoples’ views of work and how it fits around their lives.
- Once lockdown is over, what do you think will change/what will stay the same?
I think there has been a re-evaluation of what is important, and I don’t think it will go back to the way it was. Plenty of people prefer it this way.
- What positives on a personal/industry level have you taken from the experience?
As an artist and cartoonist, the lockdown has given me the chance to focus on another business I had established – called Artithmeric.com – to print comics, and it’s certainly given me the time to focus on what I want to do more of.
- What does financial services get right in the UK? What is its biggest flaw?
I think the expertise we have in the UK in the financial services sector is amazing, and it’s absolutely there to help people with their lives.
However, it’s only focused on those with lots of assets. As a result of the pandemic, a lot of people are going to have even less, and that’s why we have – with WorkLife and OpenMoney – introduced the notion of things like financial advice for all, to try and help more people with their finances. The future must be about taking our knowledge out to people more widely.
- If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of financial advice, what would it be?
I’d have told myself to carry on cartooning and not to worry about money. I’d have been happier if I’d just concentrated on that, but in the end all my drawings were done in stolen moments.
- What three things would you do if you were Prime Minister for the day?
Firstly, I would apologise to all WASPI women for not publicising the 1995 changes properly, and then I would undo the 2011 acceleration of that process. I would also look to recompense those who had been impoverished by it.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but it would also restore some trust in our pension system.
I would also have made the S2P more like a company pension scheme.
- What is the one column or website that you read every day?
I used to read every financial paper every day, but nowadays I read Expecting Rain which is a website about Bob Dylan.
- What would you do if you received a windfall of £10,000?
I would give it away to my six grandchildren or buy a low-grade copy of Fantastic Four issue no.1 and put it in a trust for them. It would teach them that they should invest in things they love, because then you get something out of it beyond its intrinsic value.