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Everyone craves a bit of normality
6 January 2021

Everyone craves a bit of normality

When the Department of Work and Pensions announced plans to use the Simpler Annual Statement as an industry standard, some schemes insisted that their whizzy, innovative communication was better. But maybe a predictable vanilla flavour of communication is what members really need.

We need normal. Predictability, patterns and repetition all help us make sense of the world. We like it that the clutch is always on the left. We hate it that the petrol cap is on the left in some cars and on the right in others. Consistency makes things easier. The omnipresence of the phrase ‘the new normal’ reminds us of how keen we are to establish what normal looks like, even if we liked the old normal better. We need to know the rules for the world we’re living in.

So, if normals are helpful, it seems odd that the pensions industry hasn’t established more of them when it comes to communication. In some ways it’s understandable – companies want to stand out from the crowd and their communication can help them do that. But doing things differently isn’t always what’s best for our members. If we really want to help people understand what they have across all their different pension pots and make good choices about their future, then establishing a way of talking that’s common to every pension scheme may be better than trying to do things differently – even if the things we do are a little bit better than the things our competitors do. After all, members never ask for whizzy communications. They just ask for it to be simple and short and helpful.

The first challenge was to make statements shorter - many schemes send out nearly twenty pages of impenetrable copy and intimidating charts. Even people in the industry confessed to being baffled and bored by the piles of paper that clutter up their doormat. So you can imagine what scheme members had to say about their statements. If you can’t, have a look at the research Janette Weir from Ignition House carried out for the project – 1 SASIgnitionHouse. As a taster, one woman in her thirties said “it’s like a book, full of legal jargon, so it’s quite boring to read, so I just look at the first page with the basic information.”

Ruston Smith, Chair of the Tesco Pension Fund, led the team that delivered the Simpler Annual Statement. I led the team at Quietroom that wrote and designed it. So, cards on the table here, I’m not pretending to be a neutral bystander. The challenge Ruston gave us was to turn these hefty tomes into something that would fit onto one piece of paper. He allowed us, somewhat reluctantly, to use both sides of it. And it had to be something that any scheme could use. So, practical and deliverable – not perfect but unattainable.

To make sure that every scheme could adopt and adapt it, and that it could evolve to changing circumstances and legislation, we developed a statement that was principle-based rather than prescriptive. We established structural, design and language principles that schemes can use to produce their own versions of the statement – each one with the clutch and the petrol cap on the left.

Structure principles include:

  • Presenting information in 3 member-focused sections:

1. What you already have

2. What you could have in the future, and

3. What you could do to have more

  • Ending every section by offering members actions they can take – like increasing the amount they save or finding out more about how their money is invested
  • Showing money in and money out in two columns, like a bank statement does. So, if schemes need to add new items in the future – like charges – they can slip right in.

Design principles include:

  • Presenting each of the 3 sections in its own box, so information is in small logical chunks
  • Using a different colour for each of the 3 sections, so navigation is instinctive
  • Helping people see the big picture at a glance, by showing them the most important numbers — the total amount in your plan and the income you might get — in big bold circles
  • Eradicating small print – everything here is worth reading.

Language principles include:

  • Using everyday words that resonate with people and removing jargon that might intimidate or confuse them – so they ‘save’, they don’t ‘contribute’
  • Using positive language that makes saving for the future feel attractive and achievable – so we talk about ‘what you already have’, not just ‘what you have’
  • Talking about ‘you’ – what you already have, what you might have, what you can do
  • Writing the big headlines and the tiny details in the same language and with the same tone
  • Using short sentences and bullets.

Members said they liked what we produced. More importantly, after being given just two minutes to read it, people knew where to find all the important information. Most even said they would read it if it landed on their mat. It’s free to download at www.annualstatement.co.uk and it’s free to use – Pension Bee and Smart Pensions are among those who already do.

Schemes can add extra information around the statement if they have stories they want to share and messages they think are important. But the statement gives members an instantly recognisable two pages that matches what they get from every scheme they’re a member of. It’s a new normal. It means they can look at the big numbers in the big circles and see the big picture.

Notes/Sources
  1. SASIgnitionHouse: https://quietroom.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Simpler-Annual-Statement-The-Member-Perspective_Ignition-House_FINAL.pdf

This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine January edition.

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Last update: 27 January 2021

Vincent Franklin
Vincent Franklin
Quietroom
Founder and Creative Director

Client Director

Salary: £80000 - £110000 pa

Location: Home based

Actuarial Analyst

Salary: £30000 - £50000 pa

Location: UK Wide

Pension Consultant

Salary: £40000 - £55000 pa

Location: West Yorkshire

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