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Lost in translation

30 January 2017

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Peter Nicholas stresses the importance of clear communication to pension members and their families.

Today my Dad would have been 85. Sadly he passed away almost 10 years ago after a brave battle with prostate cancer. He was a great Dad and a wonderful role model. He was curious, enthusiastic, understanding, accepting and non-judgemental. He made a difference in the lives of those who knew him.

When he passed he left a big hole in our lives, particularly that of my Mum. For her, there was also a loss of understanding of all things pension. Dad had made reasonable provision throughout his life to make sure he and Mum could enjoy a comfortable retirement.

My reality was rocked when I sat down with Mum to discuss her pension and how things would change as a consequence of Dad's death.

At the time I was working for a large financial service company in Australia that provided Dad's pension, which had a reversionary benefit for Mum. The product brochure for the pension was produced by my team. It was excellent – technically superb, legally compliant, outstanding print quality ? but totally and utterly useless in providing understanding for my Mum.

The brochure did nothing to easily explain to Mum what it was, how it worked for her or even why she should be in it.This brochure is not unusual in its opaqueness.

Today, in the UK, I receive statements from a large financial services company about my own retirement savings that are full of meaningless investment codes and provide very little connection as to why I'm putting money in the plan, and how it will/or will not provide the outcome I'm expecting in retirement.

Now don't get me wrong I want and need any communication to be compliant. Actually I think I expect that as a hygiene factor, but what I really want, just like my Mum, is understanding.

One of the fundamental rules of communication is know your audience. This is far more than simply their name and their address, it's knowing their hopes and fears, knowing what they need to know and knowing how to provide them with the information in the way they will understand.

The pensions industry is full of wonderful people, passionate about the jobs they are doing but sadly cursed with the knowledge of pensions. As pension experts it's hard to see how others can't understand what we understand – but my Mum just doesn't.

As an industry a test of our effectiveness of providing pension outcomes for our members must be our ability to create understanding. Does meaning translate to my Mum, or to Bob in the boiler suit or to Rose in retail?

Written by Peter Nicholas, Managing Director & CEO, AHC.