There is also the question of diversity within individuals. My own background demonstrates this: I was born in Iran, moved to Armenia at a young age and have spent most of my adulthood in the UK. The question is what does someone like me really identify with? Where do I call home? In what ways am I more Iranian and in what ways am I more British? Well let me tell you, without taking the time to get to know me and others like me, the answer isn’t obvious!
However, if we were to see diversity as too difficult or complicated to address, and therefore choose simply to ignore it, there is a real risk that people with a diverse background will feel ignored too. And I truly believe that this would be a loss for all of us. Instead, we need to see diversity as something to be embraced, something that we need to get to know, because if we do, we can start to see how we can open new doors and create new opportunities, both for ourselves and for others. We need to get to know the amazing variety of different values, beliefs, cultures and languages, and use this knowledge to help people feel that they can be part of our society while staying true to their own personal narrative and identity. Equally importantly, we can use this knowledge to find common ground. By doing this, we can bring people in and bring people together and that would be a gain for all of us. Think about it this way: every piece of a Jigsaw is different but fit them together and they make a beautiful picture. This is the picture that we need to reflect. A welcoming society is one which seeks to address people from all backgrounds, and which draws on the contributions that each has to offer.
Diversity has particular significance for the pensions industry, and there are a number of reasons why this is so important. An obvious example is the progress of gender diversity. PMI’s first ever yearbook, published in the seventies, named just two female Fellows. Our current President is female, and until July 2019, so were both Vice Presidents. However, this is about far more than fairness. In 2018, it was reported that the UK’s largest private sector pension scheme announced that it would vote against or abstain from voting for members of the board’s nomination committee if a company had no female directors. Justifying this stance, the scheme stated “Diversity, in all its forms including in skills and in background, has been proven to enhance decision-making and performance. We want the best boards and that means selecting from as broad a pool of candidates as possible”.
More pertinently, the Pensions Regulator (TPR) has identified the importance of diversity in enabling trustee boards’ decision-making to be robust and effective.
Of course, diversity extends beyond more than gender: it is important to consider the topic within the context of ethnicity, culture, religion and age. This is significant if pension schemes are to engage more effectively with members. Significantly, it is important to consider how the pensions industry can engage effectively with millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996), who are not just the youngest generation of members, but also the industry’s leaders of the future.
Diversity can therefore be divided into two distinct forms: cultural diversity, which includes religion, ethnicity, sub-culture and social class, and generational diversity.
Cultural diversity is an important consideration because culture is the fundamental determinant of a person's wants and behaviour. It includes almost everything that influences individuals' thought processes. It sets restrictions within which most individuals think, act and feel. It affects consumers’ buying behaviour. For example, a picture of an elderly white British couple by the beach walking their dog does not necessarily resonate with everyone’s idea of a dream retirement: some Jewish and Muslim families might associate dogs with dirt and frown on the practice of keeping them as pets. Indians are very family orientated so they may respond better to a flyer showing a large family at home enjoying time together. Learning, understanding and responding to these differences is important, as neglecting to do so will have long term negative effects on organisations. Additionally, the industry will struggle to bring these varied communities into one of our most important social systems.
Diversification within the industry is one way of reaching out to these various different groups. Should the industry fail to address these groups, it will simply fail to respond to an increasingly large segment of its consumer market. The fact that the industry is already failing in terms of engagement is strikingly evidenced in a report from Share Action, which suggests that only 19% of UK workers are happy with their pension communications.
The pensions industry should therefore take into account cultural and social trends and understand the subculture that defines our members. We should operate within our members’ cultural context: a context that has its own values, ideologies, symbols and meanings. Culture has tensions and contradictions. Additionally, the industry must develop a value proposition that steps away from product features and benefits, and instead develops a narrative and positioning that acknowledges and contributes to different cultural norms. In other words, the industry must show people an idea of retirement that is meaningful to them and that they see the value of investing in, and stand up for things that members care for.
Generational diversity presents a different set of challenges. Millennials are perceived to constitute a distinct group for a specific reason: they share similar characteristics and have many things in common regardless of their racial background, gender and cultural differences. Between 2017 and 2019, five detailed surveys established that millennials are particularly concerned about issuessuch as social justice and climate change. In 2017, Ernst & Young (EY) reported that millennial investors are nearly twice as likely as nonmillennials to invest in companies or funds that address these specific social or environmental issues.
Whilst auto-enrolment providers already have responsible investment policies in place covering their default funds, and many of them are extensively involved in addressing a wide range of environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks on topics that resonate strongly with millennial members, providers need to do far more than just expand their ESG portfolios. In particular, the pensions industry needs to put programmes in place that address climate change. It is our responsibility to think about people’s futures and addressing climate change is a significant part of that future. The pensions industry must take opportunities to partner with organisations, influencers, brands and charities who share the same mission and ultimately promote deeper engagement with pensions, encourage higher contributions, and seek healthier long-term outcomes for UK pension members.
Let’s look at this way: if tomorrow my scheme notify me that there is a programme in place to donate money to charities, organizations and other projects that are tackling climate change and ask me whether I want to contribute a small percentage of my pension to that cause on a monthly basis which will also be matched by my employee – I would say yes. Imagine if everyone did that. Imagine if the current 17 million millennials in this country alone, all gave £5 a month from the age of 30 to retirement, which was matched by their employers. Even accounting for inflation that would yield £340bn in total - add to that Generation Z and now globalise it. Just to give you an idea on the impact that this money could have, Arizona State University estimate it will cost £80bn a year to save the planet.
In conclusion, we have noted that there are over 300 languages spoken in this country and that 17% of our population, 1 in 6, were born overseas. As an industry, we have tried to engage with people about the importance of their pension, but the message continues to lack impact. We have discussed engaging at a cultural and subcultural level and have noted that more people will be reached if the industry thinks about cultural difference and diversity. Significantly, this is the way in which the industry can address a diverse population in an inclusive manner. We have considered engaging with millennials and have noted how social engagement, working for the common good, charitable donations and sustainability can all make a big difference in terms of engagement, future investment and, yes, even saving the planet.
Let me leave you with this thought. I’m Tannaz; I’m Iranian living in Britain. I’m a woman. I’m a millennial. I have a pension, and I receive my annual statement each year. But here’s the truth: I don’t read them; I don’t care about default funds or admin charges. I don’t see myself walking down the beach with my nearest and dearest. And do you know why? PAUSE. Because I’m worried that by the time I retire, probably in my mid-70s, the beaches that are left and haven’t been consumed by the rising sea levels will be full of washed-up plastic from the oceans, which themselves will be so polluted and acidic that they won’t sustain adequate fish stocks, meaning millions will lose their livelihoods. Picture me, with my partner, walking, not in a country park, but in a desert wasteland, wearing masks to avoid breathing in the pollution. I’ll have a great pension, but I won’t have a great existence.
How are you going to engage me with the things that are important to me?
This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine January edition.
Last update: 17 September 2020