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Getting the message across
9 October 2020

Getting the message across

It is one of the verities of the Covid-19 pandemic that it has accelerated existing trends – in technology, home-working, internet shopping and so on. We have all had to learn new skills, or hone existing ones, to master Zoom meetings etc.

And as we emerge from lockdown, of course trustees will be engaged in urgent discussions about scheme funding and investment. But we should not forget communicating with anxious scheme members. They really want to know the strategies for repairing their Defined Contribution (DC) pots, or securing payment of their Defined Benefit (DB) accounts.

This had me wondering why the pensions sector still lags behind others, especially retail, when it comes to modern communications. Even political parties go in for ‘micro-targeting’ these days.

There are, of course, some noble exceptions. For example, there are some ground breaking tech platforms in the master trust sector. But many schemes still struggle with poor data and old-fashioned methods, especially when it comes to the use of technology. By now, it really should be commonplace to have a smartphone app for scheme members. Younger members especially regard this as routine in their banking and shopping. Why not for something as crucial as their pensions?

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors are rightly near the top of most trustees’ agendas. But a key component of responsible investment is member engagement. This is a particular challenge for master trusts, where members have been auto-enrolled and not had to make a conscious decision. Inertia cuts both ways, but even polls of members’ views often produce a pathetically small response. People have busy lives, and we trustees need to accommodate that in our approach to member communication.

The traditional solution has been to send members long wordy letters (and I confess as a busy young lawyer in the City at the start of my career, I didn’t bother reading this stuff either).

A good start is to segment the membership by age (clearly members have different interests and priorities near the beginning and the end of their careers), and gender – we found in my previous master trust that a high proportion of female members were doing one or more part-time jobs, and, sometimes, women are likely to have career interruptions due to caring responsibilities.

A single common message for all members is not the answer.

And we can tailor messaging to significant life events – marriage, having a baby, divorce, moving jobs, bereavement, and so on. These could all trigger an appropriately tailored communication from the scheme. My fellow professional trustee Michelle Cracknell has recently written eloquently on this subject. Pension scheme data, if (and sometimes it’s a big if) it’s accurate and up-to-date – is a veritable treasure trove of information about members’ lives.

I recently qualified as an Accredited Professional Trustee. Given my years as both a politician and as a trustee; why bother? We can all benefit from updating our skills and knowledge. I found the PMI process rigorous, relevant and I believe it is flexible enough to respond to ever-increasing demands on trustees in the future.

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Last update: 23 October 2020

Nigel Waterson
Nigel Waterson
Independent Accredited Professional Trustee

Pension Administrator

Salary: £34000 pa

Location: Currently home working then Hampshire

Senior Pensions Lead

Salary: £40000 pa

Location: Home working now, later mix of office (Kent)/home

Pensions Administrator (FTC, 11 Months)

Salary: £30000 pa

Location: West Yorkshire

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