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Pope John XXIII

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was Time Magazine “Man of the Year” in 1962. 

Angelo became  Pope John XXIII at age 76 (fuller working life!) after 11 ballots. His selection was unexpected; Angelo himself had come to Rome with a return train ticket to Venice. He was responsible for saving Jewish people from the Nazis in WWII by delivering “immigration certificates” to Palestine through the church diplomatic courier.  He also eliminated the description of Jews as perfidius (Latin for “perfidious” or “faithless”). He put aside the normal papal use of the formal “we” when referring to himself, such as when he visited a reformatory school for juvenile delinquents in Rome telling them “I have wanted to come here for some time”. The media noticed this and reported that “He talked to the youths in their own language”. His frequent habit of sneaking out of the Vatican late at night to walk the streets of the city of Rome earned him the nickname of “Johnny Walker”, a pun on the whisky brand name. He is affectionately known as, “il Papa buono”, the “Good Pope”.

He was made a Saint in April 2014, the time when pension freedoms were announced by the Chancellor. Like his ascendency to Pope, the Pension Freedoms were unexpected. In 2015 and still, defined contribution pension pots are a very small part of people’s retirement savings. However, this is starting to change as we will start to see the first cohort of people reach age 55 who will have to rely on their DC pension pot to provide a significant part of their retirement income. The question is “What do we need to do to make “il Pension Freedoms buono”?”.

Based on our experience at The Pensions Advisory Service, our short list would be:

  • Pre-emptive actions – individuals are now required to take on much greater levels of responsibility for their retirement income; we need to prepare them for these decisions before they see the numbers;
  • Supporting interventions – making important decisions about your pension is a new phenomenon so we need to put friction into the decision making process in order that people are informed about their choices;
  • Ongoing support – the retirement decision is no longer once and done with people working longer but possible at a lower income and choosing drawdown where there is a continuing need to make decisions – we need to make sure that people have the support to make these decisions;
  • Simple language – in the words of the Good Pope, we need to speak to people “in their own language” not in the financial services speak;
  • Understanding people – and most importantly, we need to think about what makes people tick so that the help, support and infrastructure are set up to take into account behavioural bias.

As an aside, my favourite quote from Angelo was “Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.” Let’s make sure that we continue to work together on the new post pension freedom environment so that it “improves with age”.

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