Understanding your pension statement

Recent headlines about investment market volatility may have prompted you to take a fresh look at your pension savings. A good way to start is to look at your annual pension statement. This article will explain what you can learn from understanding your statement.

Before we go into the details, it’s important to note that the recent heightened volatility in investment markets could be reflected in some of the values quoted in your annual pension statement. In considering these values, it’s important to keep calm and remember the long term.

Investment decisions made in a rush are rarely good ones, and you shouldn’t let short-term market movements dictate long-term plans. For more information about how to manage your investments during periods of heightened volatility, read our quick guide

Are you saving into a defined contribution or defined benefit pension?

If you’re saving into a defined contribution pension, as most people are today, or you’ve saved into one in the past, your pension provider(s) must send you a pension statement on an annual basis. You should be sent a statement for every defined contribution pension you hold. 

In summary, a defined contribution pension is one where your fund at retirement is primarily linked to how much you save.  If you’re not sure if you are saving into a defined contribution or defined benefit pension, ask your pension provider, or employer if applicable.

If you haven’t been receiving your statement(s), it may be because your provider(s) records are out of date and they don’t have your current home address. If this is the case, you should get in touch with your provider(s). You can ask them to send you your latest pension details at the same time as updating your details.

Given that the majority of pension savers are in defined contribution pensions, these are the annual statements we’ll focus on. 

However, it’s worth noting that for the declining number of people in defined benefit pensions, it’s not mandatory for these statements to be sent on an annual basis. If you’re in a defined benefit pension, you do have the right to ask for one, regardless of whether you’re still building up defined benefits or not.

If you think you have a defined benefit pension, you can contact the administrator concerned, and they must supply you with your defined benefit pension details within two months of asking. The defined benefit statement should outline the prospective income it’s set to provide when you reach retirement.

What does the annual pension statement tell you?

The statement will include lots of valuable information such as:

  • The amounts paid in over the last year by you, your employer (if applicable) and by the government in the form of tax relief
  • The value of your pension pot at the start and end of the statement year
  • Details of any charges 
  • Details of the fund(s) your money is invested in

The statement should also include a projection of what you might get back at retirement. You should consider this projection as a rough guess rather than an accurate expectation of what you will actually receive. No one knows what future investment returns will be as they depend on a huge number of different economic factors. But, regardless, this projection can be a helpful indication upon which you can plan.

Three ways to use the statement to take control of your pension

The information contained in the annual statement can be used in a number of ways. Here are three top tips.

Planning

Firstly, you can use the statement(s) to see whether you are on track to receive the amount of income you need at retirement. You can use retirement planning tools to input the current value of all your pensions to estimate what you’ll get back at retirement, in total. There are many of these tools freely available on the internet. For example, Aviva’s free Retirement Planner tool can be found here.

Tools like this also make assumptions about future investment returns. Like the projected values on annual statements, the projected values on these tools should also be regarded as a rough guess of what you’ll get back at retirement. But by reviewing your pensions annually, and by paying in what the tool suggests, you have more chance of achieving your desired income in retirement.  

Charges

You can also use your annual statement to review the pension charges you are paying. Charges can make a difference to the eventual income you’ll receive in retirement. Understanding the charges will help you, for example, to consider the merits of transferring your savings from one pension to another, if you believe the current charges are too high.

However, you should consider more than just charges if you’re considering a transfer of your pension savings. In addition to the differences in charges, you should also consider the differences in benefits between different pension products. Higher charges could be justified if they carry with them greater benefits for the saver, such as possibly a guaranteed income in retirement. 

When considering a pension transfer, it’s important to get financial advice, so please speak to your financial adviser. If you don’t have one, we can help put you in touch with one

Investments

Your annual statement can also help you review your investments. Most pensions offer a number of funds into which you can invest your money. By understanding where your money is invested, how these investments have performed, and the charges associated with these investments, you are better placed to consider maybe switching some or all of your investments elsewhere.

As with transferring from one pension to another, switching investments from one fund to another will benefit from careful consideration. Typically, pension providers do not charge for such a switch, and typically a switch one day can be reversed the next. But, as with transferring, you should seek financial advice before switching to be sure this is the right decision for you.

These three actions - planning, reviewing your charges, and reviewing your investments - can be three positive steps towards better management of your pensions.

But you might not need to wait for your pension statement to arrive - it may be possible for you to monitor and manage your pensions online, whenever you want. 

Get to grips with the pension basics

Find out more about the key things you need to know on your retirement journey.