Where Game of Thrones meets the world of retirement

by Hannah Godfrey

What do we say to the God of Seriousness? Not today. Sure, few Game of Thrones characters get to retire but, reckons Hannah Godfrey, there are more overlaps than one might think between the hit TV drama and the world of pensions. Warning: Spoilers ahead

Yesterday (20 May), the last ever episode of Game of Thrones (GOT) aired in the UK. To some, like this rather po-faced commentator in The Guardian, this will come as welcome relief from incessant Game of Thrones chatter, but to others – including the entire PA news desk – it will be a moment of immense sadness.

To honour the passing of a classic TV show – the season eight premier was watched by 17.4 million people, according to Business Insider – Professional Adviser has written the article nobody asked for but everybody should want to read – what do Game of Thrones and the world of retirement have in common?

Before we begin, though, fair warning to all who are watching the show and aren’t quite caught up to the latest episode: this article is dark and full of spoilers. As a not-so-likeable character once said, when you read about the Game of Thrones, you learn or you die – or at least something to that effect.

The importance of estate planning

A central theme in Game of Thrones is the importance of manoeuvring assets and family members into positions of power in order to secure a better future for the ‘highborn’ houses. We see the Lannisters do it when they ship Myrcella to Dorne to attempt to forge a marriage-alliance with House Martell. We also watch Catelyn Stark negotiate a marriage between her son Robb and one of the unfortunate offspring of Walder Frey. Unfortunately, both Robb and Myrcella wind up dead as a direct result of poor ‘estate planning’.

In the real world, estate planning need not be so dangerous. It is a practice used to prevent wealth going to unintended beneficiaries and stop heirs from losing a big bite of tax. A key part of estate planning is writing a will, which someone really should have mentioned to Lord Tywin (below) so, when Tyrion fatally shot him with a crossbow while he was on the toilet, he could at least have died in the knowledge this particular son would not gain access to the immense Lannister fortune.

If you fail to plan…

During the series, we see various characters fail to think several moves ahead. During the Battle of the B*stards, Jon Snow nearly loses everything to Ramsay Bolton on the battlefield when he fails to acknowledge that Ramsay’s army is vastly bigger, and it is not until Sansa Stark saves her .. brother? Uncle? Just good friend? … with some clever forward-planning that the good guys win the day.

Theon Greyjoy, earlier in the show, captured the previously imprenetrable Winterfell from the Starks with seemingly no plan in place whatsoever on how he might hold the castle. His land and his liberty are not the only things he loses shortly afterwards.

For PA‘s readers and their clients, good planning centres far less on preventing homes from being broken into (with few giants around these days, a sturdy door and lock should be enough) and far more on planning for financial futures.

With the growing focus on defined contribution pension schemes, there is even greater emphasis on individual responsibility and putting enough aside for a happy retirement. While automatic enrolment is certainly a step in the right direction, it is widely agreed that workers need to be contributing more than the minimum required if they are to avoid a diet that prisoners in the Red Keep might be more used to.

Older workers make up a considerable portion of the workforce

From 6 December 2018 to 6 October 2020, the state pension for men and women will gradually increase from 65 to 66. The state pension age is then due to increase to 67 by 2029 and 68 by 2039. As a result, more people are likely to be working into later life.

In the real world, initiatives such as the mid-life MOT have been dreamt up to assist working people with their skills, health and wealth. In the fictional land of Westeros, however, the Knight King uses and abuses his elderly workers. The fearsome White Walkers, the skinny and wrinkled should-be-retirees who loyally carry out the not-so-dead-king’s every wish, face a hostile work environment from a silent and deadly boss and are regularly driven into battle.

No mid-life MOT for these poor after-life GOT souls.

Good advice is the key to success

Westeros having no regulatory body that PA is aware of, the great – and not so great – leaders in the world of GoT each have a trusted adviser they turn to for guidance on their next move. These ‘Hands’ are normally smarter than their leader, and following their advice is generally considered the right move.

In the world of retirement, advice is often sought – though still not often enough. Like GoT, however, following the advice is often encouraged – research from the International Longevity Centre-UK found people who receive advice are on average £40,000 better off than their unadvised peers.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

For a decade, viewers were faced with a compassionate – albeit fiery, from time to time – Daenerys Targaryen, who claimed she was out to “break the wheel” and (we hoped) change the social and political structure of lordship and hereditary titles that governs the Seven Kingdoms. In the latest episode, however, a rather put-out Daenerys decides to burn hundreds of thousands of innocent people as she forcibly takes the throne from Cersei Lannister, proving once and for all that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

The same can be said for dodgy investments in retirement. If a stranger calls about an unregulated investment offering to pay a hefty yield to investors in exchange for a small downpayment on an exotic plant development in, say, the Bermunda triangle, it is probably best to assume it is just too good to be true and stay well away.

If you play the game of thrones, you win or you die

And for Professional Adviser’s greatest metaphorical stretch, we turn to the Game of Thrones itself. For eight seasons, decisions by the main characters have been largely driven by a belief that certain individuals should sit on the Iron Throne and rule over the Seven Kingdoms. We begin the show with a comparatively loveable Robert Baratheon ruling over the kingdoms, followed by Joffrey Baratheon (Lannister), Tommen Baratheon (Lannister), Cersei Lannister and finally what looks to be a tyrannical Daenerys Targaryen – though presumably further twists should not be discounted

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has seen a similar revolving door of personnel at the top. The DWP has enjoyed six leaders in four years – Stephen Crabb took the position following Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation in March 2016, lasting just 117 days before he too resigned after newspaper allegations he sent suggestive text messages to young women. After Crabbe came Damian Green, followed by David Gauke, Esther McVey, and the now-reigning Amber Rudd.

Fortunately for those in government, former DWP heads are more likely to be shuffled into other departments if they lose their place at the top, rather than be gored, poisoned, crushed by a huge castle …