A pensions technician assists the administration and advisory teams of a pension consultancy firm with the interpretation and deployment of working doctrine in accordance with pension governance and legislative requirements.
The pensions technician ensures that sales teams and advisors are issuing policies in accordance with the ever-changing rules of pension law. Whilst larger firms employ one or more of their own technical staff, some technical consultants choose to freelance to smaller firms who do not have this capability in-house. Whilst it is the pensions administrators who ensure the client-facing operation runs smoothly, it is the technical staff which makes sure that the teams stick to the rule of law and operate methods of practice which are within the regulatory framework of current government demands.
The role relies on the pensions technician’s ability to interpret changes in the law which affect the issue, management and cessation of pensions policy. It is a legal requirement that firms who sell pension plans do so in accordance with current legislative demands, and the consequences for not doing so are severe. In this respect, it is a dynamic role which requires the candidate not only to be versed in the current requirements of law, but also to be adaptable enough to recommend changes in operational policy when the landscape of HMRC doctrine alters the process of scheme deployment and management.
Some reports put the average salary for a pensions technician working in the UK at around £105,000 (source: Barclays Finance) but crucially, a candidate working outside London with less than ten years’ experience can expect a figure much lower than this. Because many of the larger consultancies are based in central London, the regional deployment of earnings potential is unbalanced. For example, a technician with five years’ experience working for a firm on the outskirts of Birmingham may expect to receive remuneration of around £35,000-£45,000.
Career development within the pensions industry favours those who are prepared to take regular exams and continually seek to improve on their interpretative capability. As a general rule, advisors outside London will typically be earning £23,000 to £35,000, whilst a move to a more technical role could add an additional £7,000 to £12,000 to this figure.
- Advise on and provide support for scheme, legislative and technical issues arising through the rule of practice.
- Interpret legislative requirements and communicate to the advisory team.
- Understand the pensions policy and its potential impact on pensions policy administration.
- Provide guidance and interpretation of active scheme ruling.
- To ensure the requirements of HMRC, DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) and TPR (The Pensions Regulator) are met.
- Support the provision of technical training to the administration teams.
- Attend project meetings and assist with project planning.
- Consult with outside bodies when issues or complaints arise.
It is possible to join a pensions management firm as a pensions administrator, and this requires no formal academic qualifications beyond GCSE Maths and English. Administrators often elect to become pensions advisors, so the role then becomes client facing, albeit mostly telephone-based. Again, it is possible to find placement in this position with GCSE qualifications alone, although employers are now keen to seek candidates with A levels in business or even English language, or an equivalent GNVQ.
As the role of pensions technician is seen as a middle-management type job, a recognised certificate in business management or business law will put the candidate in a better position to be considered over unqualified but experienced placement competitors. There are many business schools throughout the UK which offer courses which are deemed to be suitable, and it is worth consulting with the candidate’s local college of further education. Due to the changing nature of pensions legislation, employees with a pensions firm will be expected to participate in further learning courses and even exams as part of their in-house development.
- Excellent communications skills, both written and verbal.
- Strong knowledge of pensions administration requirements and legislation.
- Ability to stay up to date with the constantly-changing requirements of pension law.
- Keen interest in taking a more technical focus towards project management.
- Detailed understanding of retirement, transfers and death calculations.
- A broadly capable head for figures.
A majority of advisors and technicians are office-based, so this would be classified as a low-risk profile in terms of potential workplace hazards. It is worth noting, however, the usual trip hazards and lifting hazards which can sometimes claim victims of the white-collar world.
Some technicians will be expected to make visits to client sites, so it pays to take a considered interest in any potential site hazards which can vary considerably, as a site could be a warehouse, quarry, or area of heavy industrial manufacture. Brief health and safety warnings will be given on site, and high-visibility clothing and hard hats should be provided where necessary.
Because very few people of school leaving age have a desire to work immediately in the pensions management industry, most enter either at an administrative level, or on an advisory team but in a lower, telephone-based customer service role. As a well-developed sector of corporate industry, the pensions services allow for rapid and fulfilling promotion and personal development for those who are prepared to invest the time and effort, take exams and stay up to date with the ever-shifting pensions legislative landscape. As a general rule, firms advertising for a new pensions technician will normally demand at least five years’ experience working within the pensions industry, so it is a role best considered as a career target rather than an intermediate stepping stone.
Also known as…
- Pensions technical consultant
- Senior technical administrator
- Pensions technical manager
- Independent Financial Advisor
- Mortgage Advisor
- Tax Advisor
- Pensions advisor
- Pensions consultant
- Pensions sales advisor
What’s it really like?
Gordon Deuchar-Sinclair started his career in pensions from the bottom rung, and now works for a large national pensions administration company.
What made you decide to choose to get into this sort of career?
You will find that not many people choose a career in financial services when they are young. I took on a role as a receptionist at a financial advisers and my career developed from there. As I gained more experience and knowledge in pensions, I decided to specialise, and that has led to me being a senior administrator and then a senior technician. I have focused on building my expertise in the self administered sector of the pension market.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise’?
My job entails a lot of quality controls, so much of my time is spent checking administrators’ work to ensure that it is correct and is to the high quality standards we expect. Other major responsibilities involve ensuring that we are compliant with any legislation that affects us. This is usually written by H M Revenue & Customs or the Financial Services Authority.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry you must attend to?
The most common problem I encounter is scheme trustees and financial advisers misinterpreting or not understanding complex pension legislation. To be fair to them, from what I understand, we have the most complex pensions legislation in the world!
What do you like most about the job?
Every day is a school day. With the ever-evolving pensions and tax landscape, I have to keep up to speed with the challenging shifts of changing legislation. This keeps you on your toes and makes the job much more interesting.
What do you like least about the job?
Being held responsible for legislation written by HMRC / FSA. Some parties assume that when we say that you cannot do something, we are just being awkward, when in fact we are only letting them know what the legislation says and ensuring their pension scheme is compliant.
What are the key responsibilities?
To ensure that what we are doing is in line with prevailing legislative requirements, and to ensure that we deliver a quality, client-focused service.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?
Nothing formal is required to be an administrator. A strong analytical and problem-solving mindset is a must though, as is a good grasp of mathematics and written English. Although not a pre-requisite, it is a good idea to get the Corporate Finance qualification (CFq) as it will give you a sound overview of the financial services environment. If you decide you wish to move into the advice side of the business, you will need this to become a qualified financial adviser.
What is the starting salary and how does this increase over time with promotion?
It all depends where you start. As a trainee administrator, you would expect to be paid in the region of £11,000-15,000; however, this does increase as experience is gained. Contrast this to a senior administrator, who can expect to be paid £25,000-30,000. If you venture into the world of advice, then the salary will increase significantly, depending on the number of clients you have and how much new business you write. This does also vary depending on the geographical area and sector of the pensions market you are working in. It seems that the further north you go, the lower the salary, which may be true for other careers too.
If you left this position, what else would you consider/prefer doing?
Definitely a police man. It’s what I wanted to be “when I grow up” and still something that interests me now.
How far is it possible to progress within the organisation?
The sky is the limit. If you work hard and are seen to be an asset of the organisation, a move into middle and senior management is possible.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Work hard, be aware that it will take a significant amount of time to get your head around the UK pension system since, as previously alluded to, it’s complex! Be prepared to “think outside the box” as you may be met with requests and challenges which involve you coming up with solutions to problems and, on occasion, challenging HMRC legislation.
What are the most important qualities an applicant should possess?
The ability to use common sense, being pro-active as opposed to reactive, willingness to learn and adapt and good communicative skills.
Any closing comments/thoughts?
The pensions world is always changing due to successive Governments trying to “simplify” the pensions landscape and encourage more people to save for their retirement. Pensions are an extremely important part of a person’s retirement planning and it’s a growing market. There are good opportunities out there for intelligent, forward-thinking people.