Given the introduction of the concept of the lifetime pension pot system, what does the future hold for the UK pensions system? Let's take a leaf from the book of Charlie Brooker, and take a Black Mirror-esque leap forward . . . 

The world a decade on

Truss is back, and Trump has taken it upon himself to abolish the two-term presidency rule. Society is fully cashless, physical bank branches are a distant memory and crypto is king. The NHS collapsed at the turn of the decade, the Westfield centre is social housing, and kids think terrestrial TV was something to do with aliens.

Drastic changes have also been made to the UK’s pension system, and we have now adopted the lifetime pensions pot model. But how does this look – and have we learnt anything from the Australian system?


The role of the employer has changed seismically in a decade. The lifetime model essentially removed employers from the pension decision-making process, putting the onus entirely on the employee. Employers still have to choose the right default in the absence of an employee decision, which keeps a level of fiduciary responsibility, but their governance has plummeted; at the basic level, employers just need to pay their contributions and facilitate employee contributions.

However, the workforce is increasingly made up of workers over 50, providing businesses with a challenge to recruit and retain older employees. Pensions are at the forefront of people’s requirements when considering remuneration packages. As a result, good employers see pension provision more as a strategically important employee benefit and pay higher contributions as a result, and the best use auto-escalation – that is, an automatic increase in contributions with length of tenure - which we took from the success in the US.

Alongside this natural shift, there’s far greater regulatory pressure, which has made employers address pension gaps, across gender, ethnicity, disabilities, and anything that could be a discriminating factor. As a result, contributions are higher for things like parental leave.


The DWP and the regulators have finally got their wish of a more simplified pension system. The 2035 lifetime pots landscape now consists of a handful of behemoth master trust providers, which qualified to receive contributions through the clearing house. Over the last decade, these trusts swallowed up many smaller ones along the way and essentially all look very similar – consisting of similar admin systems, investment solutions, operating models and products.

"There has been a huge increase in direct-to-consumer marketing activity, as each provider spends millions on advertising, branding, and sponsorship – Liverpool FC has one master trust on its kit, and Manchester City another."

Savers are as loyal, and divided, as sports fans. While this spend is regulated, it brings an opportunity cost, with less money to spend on innovation to improve member outcomes. 

We now also see providers doing more – beyond financial performance and marketing – to hang on to clients for as long as possible. Virtual reality retirement communities have launched, where people have access to forums and advice, and can interact with other users and experts. Retirees have access to flexible benefit schemes via their pension plan membership. Master trusts have taken advantage of economies of scale to source insurance and other benefit products at competitive prices, so people can continue to be covered after they leave employment.

Beyond master trusts

There have been considerable implications for retail pension providers. Looking around the market, there are only a handful of group personal pensions, and the SIPP market has become even more regulated. Retail providers who spent a decade focusing on innovative products and finding smart ways to deliver value successfully drew members away from the master trusts. 

SIPPs offer a place for people who like to invest outside of the homogeneous master trust market. SIPPs still have a role to play, due to the loosening of shackles which previously bound workplace pensions to employers. They are largely attractive to affluent individuals and people looking to invest on behalf of their family, especially where platforms allow individuals to manage wealth holistically across tax wrappers. 

However, this is predominantly in the at-retirement space; SIPPs have far less traction with members in the accumulation phase. The exception here is the self-employed - as casual working patterns have evolved, SIPPs provide an invaluable outlet to self-employed savers looking to build a healthy retirement pot. 


In this new world of bigger consolidated pots, 2035 has offered pension funds a better opportunity to invest in illiquid assets like infrastructure without unreasonable risk to members. As a result, we have seen a dramatic improvement in infrastructure investment opportunities. A decade ago, UK infrastructure was an international playground – slowly but surely, UK schemes have been buying back UK assets, but there’s a long way still to go. 

Separately, we’ve finally seen the “death of ESG” – no, not the way the wealth managers have been hoping for. It’s no longer talked about as a ‘concept’ - it’s the bare minimum industry norm. Default funds all have ESG foundations that have to comply with stringent regulations. ESG investment solutions make up a significant proportion of funds, and increased visibility on a smaller group of pension providers has left nowhere to hide. 

These are of course positive shifts, but they come with a cost – literally. The days of defaults running with a sub 0.3% annual management charge are a distant memory – given the added complexity and higher costing assets, we’re looking at annual fees of 1.2%+ across the industry. But at least this has come with better measures of value for money; individual consumers have, mostly, been happier to bear the higher charges because these have been commensurate with the long term returns the illiquid investments produce. 

At retirement

"The ‘at retirement’ landscape in the UK in 2024 was a mess and required radical change. The lifetime model has been one of the key catalysts of that change."

Solutions at retirement are now a lot more sophisticated as well as user-friendly, putting the consumer at the forefront of thinking. With the pensions dashboard launched and embedded at last, we’ve seen much more effective, transparent, and accessible ways developed for people to visualise their income shape. Medical testing at retirement is commonplace, giving people indications of their longevity.

And the State Pension … the current format is now untenable, and the Government has introduced a purely means tested system. 50% of the population is ineligible for the full amount.

Tech and regulation

Technology continues to be at the forefront of change, and increased use of open banking has become more prevalent in the pensions sector. As a result, consumers now have much better visibility, and AI is well-adopted into financial services, helping people make better, faster decisions as well as offering easily accessible advice. 

As part of this, and as a result of the Advice Guidance Boundary Review, we now see loosened regulation on guidance versus advice, although this still needs to balance with Consumer Duty. Pensions information is now much more accessible for all users, with a focus on what retirement means from an overall perspective (health, wealth and purpose), not just limited to specific products. This requires more flexibility and easy access to all relevant communications material, as well as better safety nets for people unwilling or unable to make decisions without support. Information is provided in real time and people who want to make changes simply need to speak instructions into their phone - gone are the days of staring at incomprehensible graphs on screens.

Of course, some more confident - or less informed - savers have delegated planning for their future entirely to their AI assistants. Financial services providers are equipped to have decision-making conversations entirely in virtual reality, and with AI-driven avatars. Only advisers who have innovated to operate in that space have survived; laggards have been replaced. 


In the lead up to 2035, we saw a raft of new products enter the market. An uptick in longevity pooling products has effectively replaced annuities. There has also been a major increase in people drawing income from their homes, so more home equity products now fall inside the pensions framework. 

And in good news, pension schemes now include more creative benefits for members at retirement. For instance, corporate life insurance and critical illness policies are usually lost when employment ends, but these often now come included as part of new inclusive pensions products. As a result, the select providers in the lifetime model have had to massively ramp up scale in order to provide the best and most competitive insurance costs for customers. 

We also have more inclusive default investment funds. Gone is the sole option of default funds built as a catch all, which assume a linear working pattern for all - now funds better serve people on lower-incomes and those who take career breaks. There are even default vegan funds, LGBTQ funds, and FIRE funds - high risk, high reward. The use of alternative assets providing stable, longer term returns without the need to de-risk is much more prevalent, ideal for those having fewer regular contributions and an unknown retirement date.

Has it worked?

There’s no doubt that the lifetime model has brought seismic change. It quite simply had to if it was going to work. But unfortunately, no Government in the last decade has been bold enough to fix the right problems with the right solutions. 

"Even with the right clearing system, new products, worthy providers, and better investments, the ‘pots for life’ model hasn't tackled the core issues which made up the UK’s looming pensions crisis."

DC contributions are still much too low, by several percent per person. Huge numbers of people in their 40s and 50s are still renting, leaving them set for extremely high costs in retirement and no home equity to lean on. People are starting to retire on a DC pot of next to nothing, and we still suffer from apathy in the face of the ticking time bomb that is mass pensioner poverty. 

The ‘pots for life’ solution has directly solved none of these problems – and the Government has no real moves to solve them independently either. There was an opportunity in 2024 to go all-in with pension reform. To regulate for higher contributions, including auto-escalation as standard. To ensure that people could afford homes, and be able to afford to save in retirement; this was no mean feat with the cost of living crisis barely cooled. And to inspire a solution to apathy, creating genuine engagement and enthusiasm about saving for retirement. 

Alas, despite putting many eggs into the ‘pots for life’ basket, the decision-makers of 2024 failed to put a stop to the ‘ticking pensions timebomb’. The timebomb has exploded, and the industry is asking the same question: will the 2035 Government Budget legislate at last to increase contributions? 

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