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Pensions, Actually: Richard Curtis urges Britons to check pension – 'weapon for change'

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He’s the writer and director of British classics Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and co-founder of British charity Comic Relief. And in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, Richard Curtis and the team at Make My Money Matter have now released a new short film that’s focused on love… and pensions.

Curtis launched Make My Money Matter – a campaign designed to raise awareness around exactly where pension money is going – last year.

And, with the average relationship lasting three years, during the ‘month of love’ the campaigners are suggesting Britons may want to think about a “partner” they will have with them for their entire lives – their pension.

“This Valentine’s Day, make sure your pension is a perfect match,” the campaign film title reads.

As Craig Armstrong’s Glasgow Love Theme – a song which any Love Actually fan will be more than familiar with – plays, the film sees people describe the qualities they’re looking for. Viewers could be forgiven for thinking the topic is their dream date as opposed to a pension, at first at least.

The video may be an amusing concept, but Make My Money Matter’s mission is serious.

Around £3trillion is invested in UK pensions, and “lots of it” funds harmful industries such a fossil fuels, tobacco and arms, the campaign warns.

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Asked about founding the campaign, Curtis remembers having a conversation about the amount of money that there is in pensions.

“That really did whet my interest,” he says during an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk.

“The idea that there is this money which is our money, which could be invested in brilliant things that are trying to address all the issues of justice and gender equality and diversity, but especially climate.

“So I looked into it a bit and it really is an extraordinary subject, because you’ve got this huge tool which each one of us has who has a pension.

“What’s your pension being invested in? Initially, when most people take out their pension, they never find out where their money’s going. Which is such a strange thing because we’re all – well a lot of people are – doing what they can in terms of recycling and switching off our lights, buying less and bicycling, and eating sustainable, local food.

“And yet, we’ve got this yearly investment which could be going into brilliant companies that are dealing with all this stuff.

“I suppose I got very obsessed by the sort of different relationship between our financial footprint and our carbon footprint. Where’s the money we’ve got going? And is that affecting people and planet?”

Curtis adds: “I certainly was never aware of the fact that my pension could be a kind of weapon for change. It is just an amazing new bit of action that you can take.”

He recalls watching Dr Bronwyn King’s TED Talk, during which the oncologist warns how people could be accidentally investing in cigarette companies.

Curtis explains: “[Dr King] had her first meeting with her financial adviser when she was about 33 and she found out that three of the top things she was investing in were tobacco companies.

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“So she actually sort of thought, ‘I’ve actually in a way killed more people by encouraging them to smoke than I’ve saved by all the work I do everyday of my life’. So she started a campaign.

“So that is one side of it. That your money might be going into cigarettes, arms, fossil fuels, pornography, gambling. All these things can be found in a normal default pension.”

He continues: “We had a bit of a thing with this with Comic Relief about 10 years ago when we suddenly found out that we were investing money in order to make more money in order to spend more money on grants, and some of that was going into bad things. So we changed our investment policy.

“We actually ended up making more money, and yet what our money is doing is not in direct contradiction to what we believe in.”

The campaigner explains he’s found that when many people have discovered their pensions are invested in things they don’t necessarily believe in, an opportunity can open in their mind.

“Normally you find that people are a bit shocked by the things they might be investing in,” he says.

“And then when they hear about all the great things they could be investing in – wind farms, affordable housing, affordable healthcare, companies that really make sure that people get the minimum wage [and] that don’t have bad labour conditions, they’re watching for gender equality – it becomes a really positive thing.”

Rather than taking the attitude of “I really don’t want my money in that”, he has found the reaction tends to be, “Oh I really do want my money in this”.

Curtis is conscious that for some, there’s an assumption that a sustainable and ethical pension would mean a trade-off with its financial success.

“The big question that I asked before I even thought about a campaign is does it mean you will lose money? Because I think that’s a lot to ask of people,” he says.

“People are trying to insure their futures. But, over the last five years, these sustainable and ethical pensions have started to do equally well and now better so that you would actually make more money by doing the right thing.

“The worry is always it’s sort of ‘morals versus money’, or ‘values versus value’.

“We’re just at this moment because investment is moving particularly into renewables, that you get more money when you invest in these pensions and you won’t be collecting a pension in a world on fire. Where there’s mass migration and climate change and fires and tsunamis.

“It’s a really exciting proposition to give to people. So you do find that almost everyone who finds out about it says, ‘Oh I’d like to do something about it’.”

The Make My Money Matter campaign has three threads of discussion – with members of the public, pension providers, and the Government about rules governing pensions.

So what can members of the public do about their own pension pot in terms of sustainability?

“Certainly, the pension providers are really moving, and really moving fast,” he says.

Curtis refers to the recent Net Zero target which Scottish Widows has committed to.

Earlier this week, he said of the announcement: “Six months ahead of COP26, the pensions industry has finally reached a tipping point in the fight against climate change.

“This ambitious commitment from Scottish Widows showed what we’ve long known – that our pensions can be a hidden superpower in the battle to build a better world. This commitment almost doubles the pledges made already – that’s six million people using their pensions as a decisive tool to fund the battle against climate change.

“Now we’ve reached this crucial stage, it is critical the rest of the industry follows suit.

“That’s why we echo Scottish Widow’s call for all providers to step up and close the two trillion green pension gap.

“With net zero commitments secured from Aviva, Nest, Scottish Widows and more – the movement for pensions to be proud of grows stronger every day. This is the tipping point we’ve been waiting for; inaction is no longer an option.”

There’s other steps which could be taken too, he suggests.

The first thing – “apart from join the Make My Money Matter campaign which I’d encourage people to do because we’re working to try and make the pension companies move faster,” he adds – can begin with the pension they currently have.

“In some ways it’s quite easy, because you just have to get in touch with your Chief Financial Officer, with the person in charge of pensions in your company, and say ‘Where is my pension? Have we got a choice? Have you looked into this?’

“The idea is they will then have to reply to you, they will get an answer, and then if a group of people in a company all feel strongly about this, that will actually make the company do something about it.”

Younger employees who are joining the workforce and beginning their pension contributions will play an important role too, he says.

“People who start a new job now are compelled to have a pension. When you first get asked, you should say, ‘Yeah well I’d like a pension but I want my pension to be sustainable. I want my pension to do good for the world – not just good for companies in making more money.'”

This is the first part of a two-part series. The second part of the interview with Richard Curtis will be published next Sunday on February 21.



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