From ‘Wild West’ to stand-out success: How the pensions industry has changed in the past 30 years

Insight shared by:


Article by

Entrust, our professional pension trustee company, has just celebrated its 30th anniversary having opened for business in February 1994. Here, Patrick Kennedy, pensions partner and founding director at Entrust, looks back at how three stand-out success stories have transformed the UK pensions landscape since 1994 and how the industry can continue to build on these in the future.

Robert Maxwell scandal

It is almost impossible to look back to the 1990s in the pensions industry without talking about the Robert Maxwell scandal, which helped to shape the industry as we see it today. In short, Maxwell was a billionaire businessman who, when his business empire ran into financial difficultly, started to deploy pension fund assets as collateral to prop up his business empire.

The fallout from the Maxwell scandal led to the Goode Committee Report, led by Professor Roy Goode, the ‘father’ of UK consumer protection law, conducting an enquiry into the state of the UK pensions industry. The Goode Committee Report resulted in the Pensions Act 1995 which is seen as a turning point in the pensions industry. The Act introduced regulatory and compensation schemes in response to cases like Maxwell’s and protections meaning that members’ benefits were protected and could not be reduced without member consent. It also brought about the birth of the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority (OPRA) which was the statutory regulator for occupational pension schemes in the UK and had a role in educating trustees with the running of schemes, with a view to ensuring they understood their responsibilities and complied with the legislation.

OPRA replaced by the Pensions Regulator

Fast forward to 2005 and OPRA was replaced by the Pensions Regulator, whose role is to protect workplace pensions in the UK, making sure employers, trustees, pension specialists and business advisers can fulfil their duties to scheme members. The Pensions Regulator has been an outstanding success with around 3,750 of some 5,000 or so defined benefit schemes now in surplus.

2005 also saw the introduction of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) which was set up to protect people with defined benefit or hybrid occupational pension schemes when their employer becomes insolvent. Like the Pensions Regulator, which is affectionately known as TPR in the trade, the PPF has been an outstanding success now holding more than £1.50 for every pound of pension compensation it is liable to pay.


The next major event in the pensions industry came in 2012 when auto-enrolment, or AE, of workers into workplace pension schemes became mandatory, whereby an employee who meets certain requirements is automatically made a member of a workplace pension scheme without the need to ask to be enrolled. The largest employers were the first out of the stocks with AE, followed by medium-sized and then small businesses with the result that some 21 million people were in the type of workplace pension arrangements AE encouraged (defined contribution or DC schemes) in 2019 compared to just 2.1 million in 2011 before AE was rolled out.

Where we stand today

Moving further towards the current day, the Pension Schemes Act 2021 significantly increased the Pensions Regulator’s powers to protect pension scheme members and the Pension Protection Fund, with up to seven years’ imprisonment as the most severe penalty for anyone breaking the rules. The powers are geared towards applying criminal sanctions for those who knowingly increase risk to pension schemes.

Meanwhile the Government is consulting around using the circa £225bn surplus (on one measure) sitting in the UK’s pension schemes, thanks to the prudent regulation of the last 30 years, in a manner which meets wider economic and societal needs.

The past 30 years has moved the pensions industry from what could be considered the ‘Wild West’ to a highly regulated environment with three stand-out success stories, TPR (the Pensions Regulator), PPF (the Pension Protection Fund) and AE (auto-enrolment).

Here’s to the next 30 years, we’re excited to see what the future holds in the industry!

Would you like to receive our pensions updates directly to your inbox? 

For more information regarding the latest developments in pensions law, please contact our experts or visit our pensions regulatory support page for more information on the services that we offer. If you would like to receive these updates directly to your inbox, please subscribe below.

Visit our pensions regulatory support page Subscribe for pensions updates via email

Got a question? Get in touch.