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Is your member communication fit for purpose?

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PTL's Keith Lewis encourages providers and trustees to consider whether they can improve their communications to members. 

Over the last twenty years, daily newspaper circulation in the UK has nearly halved. There are many reasons for this, but the use of technology and how people access information is undoubtedly a primary cause of this dramatic change. Today people generally expect communication to be widely accessible, more flexible, and available in bite-size chunks.

Technology is responsible for fundamental changes in our lifestyles, and not just in terms of how we access information. But for those yearning for some stability, worry not. There is always pension communication to remind us of days gone by. While there are some good and noteworthy examples, much of the communication coming from our industry remains stodgy, boring, and largely unintelligible. Indeed, many pension communications look very similar to how they did twenty years ago.

Although the use of technology is widespread in the pensions industry, when you look at most member communications its impact is not obvious. Is it surprising then, that member engagement is so low? It may be a sweeping generalisation, but most pension communications are too long, delivered too late and not widely read.

I would encourage all those involved in pensions provision – including employers, providers and trustees – to consider whether they can improve their communications to members. Do members generally understand and appreciate your key messages? In pondering this issue, I would suggest asking yourself whether you are utilising technology effectively and efficiently.

From my trustee perspective, there are a number of immediate issues that pension schemes and providers could address to improve pension communication.  These include:

Focus on objectives – perhaps the first question worth asking is what are you trying to achieve with your pension communications? Then it is possible to assess whether are you achieving these objectives.

Length of communications – are your communications too long? Could you achieve the same outcome with a snappier message? (You can always suggest that members contact you, or visit a website, if they want more detail.)

Communication channels – are most of your communications still posted to members? Could you use email, text messages, websites, apps or social media to create a more efficient communication strategy that members can access when it suits them?

Clarity – members increasingly have more choices, particularly at retirement with the introduction of freedom and choice. More options and greater flexibility place a greater onus on schemes and providers to ensure that members understand their options and can make decisions that best suit their circumstances. Can you achieve this with limited communication in the few months prior to retirement? Should you consider signposting some of these issues at an earlier stage?

Proactive versus reactive – as members have more flexibility and demand more regular communication, some schemes are getting on the front foot and being more proactive. The pensions dashboard may lead to more questions from members, as they are reminded of historic benefits. Will it be more efficient to proactively communicate key issues to members rather than address these reactively on an individual basis?

Who is your audience? Evidence suggests, not unreasonably, that members at different stages of their careers have different priorities. You should factor this into your communications and consider whether some tailored communications could improve member understanding and engagement.

What other barriers are there? Some schemes and providers will inevitably face challenges in trying to improve communications. These might include cost, historic systems, or poor data. These challenges shouldn’t be insurmountable, however.

In the context of defined contribution schemes, it has been suggested to me that member engagement of around 15% is good. Is it? This still means that 85% of members are not engaged with their pensions.

I mentioned earlier that there are pockets of improvement. Some schemes have already introduced new communication strategies, and successfully improved member engagement by helping members to better understand their benefits and the options open to them. As an industry, though, we still have a long way to go. The good news is that there is ample opportunity for all of us to improve our communications considerably, for the ultimate benefit of scheme members.

Keith Lewis, Client Director, PTL