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Pension scams: making the message to members clear
5 February 2021

Pension scams: making the message to members clear

Pension scams aren’t new, yet we’re still fully focused on tackling them. Why? Because we’re losing the battle of communications. Across any industry, success is not about the superiority of a product or service. It doesn’t necessarily matter how good it is; it’s how well you sell it. It’s merely a battle of perception. And the scammers are winning.

An estimated £30m has been lost to scammers since 2017. The continuous threat of scams growing in sophistication is very real. There are multiple initiatives working in tandem to look at the whole picture of scams – from operational protocol to trustee knowledge, understanding and power. However, like so many changes to anything pension-related, there isn’t a single, straightforward solution. The complex nature of our products and systems makes trying to prevent pension scams an enormous, multi-faceted project.

Two sides of the same fight

When it comes to stopping scams we need a two-pronged attack. We need robust processes and communications to raise awareness with members.

When member engagement and understanding of pensions is as low as it is, we absolutely have to be making changes to our processes to protect our members. We should continue to make it harder for scammers to wreak havoc with people’s retirement savings; the consequences of scams are devastating. Not to mention the ongoing mistrust in pensions that it fuels.

The key to scammers success

There is no secret formula to what the scammers are doing – successful communications followa number of logical and predictable steps:

  • understanding the audience; what problem you are solving for them
  • creating engaging content, focusing on benefits
  • having an incentivised offer
  • delivered through channels familiar and trusted by the audience
  • continuous re-targeting and follow-up.

Ultimately they are creating better marketing communications. How? By developing content which resonates. Sharp designs, clear language and concise calls to action.

Stuffing a generic flyer in an annual statement is no match for a targeted marketing campaign.
A tricky balance

I’m a fan of making communications scheme and member specific. Targeted messages are always more impactful because they can be clear and concise. However, as an industry we don’t hold the trust of the general public. Pensions aren’t synonymous with security as it is: so it’s important there isn’t a sudden barrage of pension scam headlines creating fear and doubt in a scattergun approach. We must work together on these communications and share results, insights and best practice.

This will help to create consistency and reinforce recall without detrimentally impacting trust.

For trustees, providers and administrators making The Pensions Regulator’s pledge to combat scams, they’ll need a determined focus on member communications. Some will look to utilise different approaches and go above and beyond the minimum. Excellent. As long as scams and pensions aren’t the only words remembered.

What’s the overarching objective?

To stop members falling victim to pension scams. This is hard – as marketers one of the key things we learn about human psychology is that we are irrational decision makers. We’re taught about cognitive and conative messaging to target both emotive and rational reasoning (and you thought we just make the words sound good!). Joking aside, ultimately, this means that if you’re skint and someone tells you they can help you get your hands on a wad of cash, your behaviour can be easily swayed. And, believe it or not, we don’t like to hear that we’re wrong – so the timing of our warning messaging about scams is everything.

Forewarned is forearmed

We want to raise awareness and provide members with knowledge and simple steps they can easily recall and follow to prevent a scam – without causing alarm. There are tried and tested methods to help with this:

  • Simplicity – of both language and idea will help your members understand and digest your message. Remove any jargon; easier said than done. We know pensions, the risks and the ‘obvious’ steps, but your members probably don’t. Go back to basics.
  • Credibility – of your source and story. Create this by using authentic case studies and details which will help with recall. You don’t need to jump through GDPR hoops to re-tell an anonymised story. But if you’re able to use real life stories, ideally positive, that are concisely told, they’ll resonate.
  • Achievability – of your instructions or call to action. Don’t make steps complex, time consuming or unachievable. You can layer messages to help with this. 

Memorability – of the message. Use tried and tested literary devices – acronyms, the rule of three or alliteration. Creating a concrete and repetitive reference point to your message will make it memorable.

Using all of these elements – you can find a ready to use flyer at www. and you’ll have spotted the subtle SCAM acronym in the steps above!



This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine February 2021 edition

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Last update: 4 February 2021

Karen Quinn
Karen Quinn
Untamed Marketing

Senior Communications Consultant

Salary: £38000 - £48000 pa

Location: London

Lead Communications Consultant - London or Yorkshire

Salary: £50000 - £60000 pa

Location: London

Senior Pensions Administrator

Salary: £31500 - £34000 pa

Location: Birmingham City Centre

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