A "National Wealth Service" should be set up to help people stay financially fit throughout their lives as the Government's retirement savings revolution rolls out, a leading pensions expert has suggested.
Ros Altmann, a former Downing Street adviser, said that a national system of retirement guidance could be put in place in time for radical changes due to come into force next April which will free people up to take their pension pots how they want.
The Government has already promised that people will get free impartial guidance to help them decide what to do with their pots, and the pensions industry has urged ministers to decide soon exactly how this will be delivered.
Writing in a report sponsored by financial services provider MetLife, Dr Altmann suggested that a national network could be put in place by next April, which could involve several bodies, such as the Pensions Advisory Service.
She said: "Much of the guidance could be based on technology, with flexible access to multi-channel choices, including webchat and Skype to offer education, information... and a signpost to full financial advice for those who want it."
But the service could then be expanded to create a much wider system of financial education, which
could also focus on people's property wealth, savings and how to manage debt.
The service could be integrated into workplace pension reforms as people are automatically enrolled into workplace pensions, providing regular "financial wealth checks" for all savers.
Dr Altmann said: "To make the new freedoms work for individuals, a revolution in the provision of financial education, information and advice is required. There is a massive opportunity to be grasped by financial advisers and the industry."
Research among more than 1,000 workers for the report, titled Flexibility In Retirement, found that the pension reforms announced in the Budget have sparked a greater appetite for saving. Around one quarter (24%) of people said they plan to start or increase pension saving following the announcements in the recent Budget.
Free pensions guidance will be launched alongside radical reforms being introduced from April, which mean people aged 55 and over will be given the freedom to take their pension pot how they want, subject to their normal marginal rate of income tax. Previously, people have been charged 55% tax if they withdraw the whole pot.
The shake-up is expected to spark a flood of new, more innovative retirement products on to the market and lead to fewer people converting their pension savings into an annuity when they retire, which gives them a fixed yearly income, usually for life.
The Government is still fleshing out details of exactly who will provide the guidance, but pensions minister Steve Webb recently said it will be to a requisite standard and content. The Government has been discussing the plans with independent advice bodies like the Money Advice Service.
A recent survey by consumer group Which? found 65% of people would not trust the pensions industry to deliver this guidance, while 63% said they would have faith in such guidance being put in the hands of an independent body such as the Pensions Advisory Service.
The Association of British Insurers and the National Association of Pension Funds sent a letter to Chancellor George Osborne last week, pressing the Government "to make some fundamental decisions quickly" to ensure that the guarantee can be delivered in time to meet the April 2015 deadline.