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Dashboards - the lighthouse in a fog of fake news?

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Kim Gubler explores the lead up and anticipation for the pensions dashboard, and how schemes should be preparing to ensure that members are met with a product they have confidence in.

TRUST: the firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something.
We can’t make people trust us. We must behave in a consistent, reliable and understandable way. Trust is earned and engendered, it can’t be assumed.

Trust starts (and ends) with Truth. In a #FAKENEWS or an ‘alt-truth’ world, the modern consumer is overwhelmed with information and increasingly doesn’t trust it. The 2019 Edelmann Trust Barometer has two stark findings: only 47% of people trust the media and 73% worry false information or fake news can be used as a weapon. We’ve already seen pain in our industry, as scammers have proven they do a much better job of engendering trust and communicating with our members. Although you’d argue it’s much easier to do it when you don’t have to observe minor irritations, such as the Law!

There’s hope in Edelmann’s 2019 results though. Financial services industry trust ratings are the highest they’ve been in five years (admittedly from a pretty low base - 57%), and an impressive 78% trust firms in the technology industry. If you couple that with the 75% of people who trust their employers, then Pensions Dashboards should be sowing into fertile soil.

BUT we can crunch the numbers all we like. People simply don’t engage with statistics. They engage emotionally before they engage rationally. Relationships only work where there’s trust, so how do we create that? Strong relationships exhibit:
·       Truth
·       Openness
·       Comfort

For the first time in this industry we have an initiative built on openness, the Dashboard. It’s critical we deliver the truth and we live up to our promises. Trust isn’t a ‘one and done’ process, it’s the consistent delivery of truth.

We could take a more systemic interpretation of those three key behaviours and see how they more readily apply to the Dashboard:

Truth:  data integrity, benefit accuracy
Openness: accessibility, inclusivity
Comfort: security, availability, usability

There’s one more aspect of ‘comfort’ we need to address - understanding. We’ve wrestled for what seems like forever with its major hurdle, which of course is the complexity of the subject matter. People need to be willing to find time to understand something. We can help by reducing the time they need, and by being better communicators to reduce the complexity.

Dashboards are the perfect vehicles to help understanding. We immediately reduce people’s time by searching for their benefits and collating them in one place. It’s incumbent on us as an industry to facilitate the smoothness of that transaction. If we make it difficult, we don’t earn back anyone’s trust. We will not exhibit openness. People will already feel vulnerable exploring a topic they probably know little about; making it difficult won’t help. Online safety is of course a crucial first step, but Dashboards must also be genuinely usable to help members achieve better outcomes.

Pension providers, trustees and administrators will need to play their part – as custodians of the truth. They’re responsible for both data integrity and benefit accuracy. They also need to be ready to make that data accessible. The more data providers get involved in Dashboards the more members will be included.

It’s fair to say we lack certainty over such things as member coverage and the exact data items required, but this mustn’t hold schemes and providers back from their essential preparations. We know Dashboards are essentially a new, automated, way for our members to find us and ask for a benefit statement. So all schemes and providers can examine their data, processes and calculation coverage to see where work is required to bring coverage up towards 100%.

If you need to prioritise anything first, it should be your identification data (names, dates of birth, addresses, NI Numbers…). Security of the Dashboard infrastructure depends upon schemes and providers matching requests from Dashboards to their own member records accurately and with zero doubt over identity. Online safety in combination with accessibility and inclusivity will be crucial. There’s a very real risk Dashboards will be dismissed as ‘something else that doesn’t work properly’ if any pension benefits appear to be missing. Perhaps the bigger risk is a member, unsure of whether they have benefits at all, sees a short list of benefits and believes it to be complete when it may not be. Either way, trust erodes.

It’s for this reason PASA has been championing a message of ‘breadth over depth’, at least for the early iterations of Dashboards.

There are many other trust-eroding factors in pensions: complexity, scandals, scamming, poor investment performance, costs and charges, mistakes, slow service, lack of automation… Dashboards don’t resolve them all on their own, but if they help understanding and demonstrate the industry is pulling together to improve the outcomes for its customers, then we’ll start to re-build trust. Once we have trust, we can resolve these other issues out in the daylight.

We don’t have to get everything perfect, but we must deliver a useful Dashboard community from the start. Thereafter we can maintain this trust by continuing to deliver on our promises. We can add new information, we can address new issues as they arise, shine our light of transparency into other dark corners. As we grow member trust and increase understanding we can also evolve the mission of Dashboards, bringing more information into the light and building members confidence as we go.

Dashboards are the industry’s opportunity to rise above the clamour and miasma of fake news and be the lighthouse guiding our members towards the safe harbour of truth.

Kim Gubler, PASA Chair