For all we talk about innovation, how well would we cope without face-to-face interactions? And how would our much-vaunted business continuity plans stand up to the sudden closure of offices across the industry?
It was time for firms like First Actuarial to show their mettle but it couldn’t have been a worse time for pensions administration. With less than three weeks before annual pension increases for most schemes, and with our administration team suddenly adjusting to home-working, this was a perfect storm.
So, what did we do? Well, we certainly didn’t furlough our staff. We were far too busy for that. Instead, we managed to process pension increases across 105 schemes, all ahead of deadlines. That wasn’t the only critical issue we faced. Making payments, processing deaths and handling routine work remotely were all challenging. But we forged ahead, and quickly worked out how to run pension schemes in the new normal.
New technology and communications for the pandemic era
Member communication was an urgent issue. Traditionally, most members want us to correspond by post but, in a pandemic, this was laden with risks. Yet many members were worried about their benefits being paid, and as job losses loomed, we anticipated growing demand for early access to pensions.
Firms promoted their online member facilities. Specialist printing services which involved no human contact came into their own. Sanctioned by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), members issued instructions using email and photos, rather than original documents, although they did need guidance on encryption. And online verification reduced the number of certification requests.
Some firms already had a remote working infrastructure and had issued all staff with laptops. Others made provision as quickly as possible, buying remote-access solutions and laptops from the ever-decreasing supply.
Firms used telephony software to forward calls from empty offices to mobile phones and, of course, utilised Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
We are the champions
Wimbledon may have been cancelled. The Olympic Games may have been postponed. But for pensions administration, 2020 was as close to business as usual as you can get in a global pandemic.
The month of March was when we put the technology in place to pay members’ pensions and give millions of members the security they needed in troubled times.
This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine October edition.
Last update: 19 January 2021