Could your pension fund manager put you out of a job?

Many of us are becoming more concerned about sourcing food locally. We’re buying locally-made artisan bread and coffee, and thinking about our carbon footprints when we travel.

But how many of us give any consideration to these issues when we invest? More to the point, if you have a company pension, do you even know how your retirement savings are being invested?

Is your hard-earned cash being used to support UK growth businesses which pay tax and create jobs in the UK? Or are overpaid pension fund managers simply plugging your money into a standard selection of FTSE heavyweights, many of which avoid paying tax here and contribute little to the UK economy?

A very average performance

I’m afraid that in many cases, your cash is probably being invested in a fairly predictable selection of FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 stocks. These will provide average returns, with little effort required, but they are unlikely to beat the market.

Worse still, they include heavy exposure to controversial and dated industries such as oil, banking, tobacco and coal mining. For example, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, British American Tobacco, HSBC Holdings and Lloyds Banking Group account for 20% of the FTSE 100.

The biggest three miners — BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Glencore — have slipped out of the top ten, but are lurking a little further down. Collectively, they account for another 5% of the index.

There’s a good chance that a fair chunk of your retirement savings is tied up in these companies. And let’s face it, many of them have not exactly been star performers over the last couple of years.

Profits and share prices have plummeted across the commodity sector. HSBC has fallen by 28% over the last year, while Lloyds has dropped by 17% over the same period. Cost cutting — known as job cutting to the rest of us — has been rife. Earlier today, Shell announced a further 2,200 job cuts, including 475 UK jobs in the North Sea.

You may even have been unlucky enough to be affected yourself.

Can’t we do better than this?

If your pension is invested in funds, rather than individual shares, then your choices may be limited. You may be able to choose funds with a focus on smaller companies or ethical shares, but you may still be surprised at how large and unethical some of these stocks are!

A better option might be to consider investing some of your retirement savings directly in shares. Identifying individual companies with the potential to deliver real long-term growth give you the chance to beat the market, not just follow the index.

Stock picking also opens the door to personalised ethical choices and the opportunity to invest in UK businesses generating real jobs and tax revenues. Backing the local option could actually help support the UK economy!

Stock picking could also improve your chances of retiring with a decent pension. Over the last five years, the FTSE 100 has risen by just 5.3%. During the same period, no fewer than 28 current members of the index have risen by at least 100%.

Of course, identifying these big winners does require a little effort. The FTSE has also seen some big losers over the last five years.

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Roland Head owns shares of BP, Royal Dutch Shell, HSBC Holdings, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. The Motley Fool UK has recommended BP, HSBC Holdings, Rio Tinto, and Royal Dutch Shell B. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.