Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Dear Next Government.....

I’m not sure that pensions will be one of the major battle grounds in this election, and if it is, it may tend to be around the ‘triple lock’ headlines.

That would be missing the point. We need clarity form the next government in terms of the communication of pension plans. I appreciate the initiatives towards one design for future benefit statements, but the sooner the better.

Clarity on the future management and promotion of auto-enrolment is key. As is confirmation of state pension benefits and ages.

All this should lead to a harmonised approach to communicating pension benefits. Too many benefit statements have reams of small print. Most of it is legislative. Some of it is pension lawyers having too strong a say in the look and feel of communications.

It doesn’t help that we have the dreaded statutory money purchase illustrations. Loads of caveats. Tons of small print. So unhelpful.

Dear next government…. Please simplify communications. Cut the small print. Clarify the main figures. Help people understand.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

With apologies....

With apologies to my actuarial and marketing friends......

Two people are flying in a hot air balloon and realise they are lost. They see a man on the ground, so they navigate the balloon to where they can speak to him. They yell to him, "Can you help us – we’re lost."

The man on the ground replies, "You’re in a hot air balloon, about two hundred feet off the ground." One of the people in the balloon replies to the man on the ground, "You must be an actuary. You gave us information that is accurate, but completely useless."

The actuary on the ground yells to the people in the balloon, "you must be in marketing."

They yell back, "yes, how did you know?"

The actuary says, "well, you’re in the same situation you were in before you talked to me, but now it’s my fault."

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Mergers - Who Really Benefits?

One of the things that intrigued me about the 20 year anniversary edition of Professional Pensions was the article by JonathanStapleton looking back at the names of the companies that were advertising in that very first issue.

Names that have now disappeared: Hill Samuel. GAN. Dibb Lupton Alsop. Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander. Capel-Cure Myers. Gartmore. Abbey Life. Hogg Robinson. Morgan Grenfell. Hewitt. Norwich Union.

All gone- and mainly forgotten in a plethora of mergers and takeovers over the years.

And now another one. Aberdeen and Standard Life are to merge.

I suspect the name Standard Life will survive. But then I thought that of Norwich Union before it gave way to the clinically globalised name Aviva.

Pensions Age Magazine quotes the marketing gobbledygook: ‘[the] merger would harness Standard Life and Aberdeen’s complementary, market leading investment and savings capabilities which would deliver a compelling and comprehensive product offering for clients covering developed and emerging market equities and fixed income, multi-asset, real estate and alternatives.’

They mention synergies. And surely there will be. In the way of job losses for the back-room functions mainly. But what about the investment managers- the individuals tasked with making the strategic decisions? Changes are not always welcomed to the people that do the work. They are used to a system, used to a style. When that style changes, so might their appreciation of the job they do. This in turn can affect returns for clients.

Synergies? Cost savings more like. And cost savings don’t always mean benefits for clients.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Daily Mail Fabricates News - Not so new news

The news out today that the Daily Mail fabricates news is not such new news. Working in the pensions industry, their regular pension headlines have been the bane of many a pensions manager.

The Mail had the ability to pick up on a half-truth and fabricate a complete story out of it. The results were usually concerned members of pension schemes panicking that they have the right plans in place.

The negative Mail headlines for pensions caused unnecessary grief and may well have stopped employees from joining a pension plan they should have been part of.

The poor journalism on display at the Mail has found them out.

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Video Clip Every Boss Should Watch

This blog is mainly about pensions and communicating pensions. It's usually a short piece with a few links for the more interested. It's short because we don't have the patience to read or listen- especially if we are accessing this at work.

So this is different. It's a 15 minute video from Simon Sinek and it relates to  hiring 'Millennials' - ie those born in 1984 and later.

There is so much sense in what he says. If you're an employer, a department boss, you work in recruitment, or in HR, I recommend you take the time to view it. I appreciate it's longer than something you'd normally watch in work time, but you will be rewarded with some excellent insights. Enjoy.


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year Wishes

There will be a lot in the pensions press over the next few weeks relating to the New Year. A New Year goes along with New Year resolutions and wishes.

In pension terms, wishes are likely to revolve around simplified administration, easier investment access to difficult products and a plea to the politicians to be left alone. Some wishes may get granted- the current initiatives relating to data management are both welcome and likely to succeed. Investment products will simplify. And possibly – possibly – the Chancellor has enough on his plate not to interfere further in pensions.

The missing wish, though, is always there. Every year. Better communications. Too many people don’t know enough about their pension. Too many people without a pension are not concerned enough to do something about it.  

About now, with New Year resolutions in mind, the pension manager is returning to work and budgeting to communicate more efficiently. Maybe some focus groups. Maybe a survey. Maybe different methods of communicating including print and electronic.

Somewhere around mid-February, reality and the new budget process sets in and the dreams are forgotten. Another year of ‘doing what we’ve always done’ at as low a cost as possible.

So here’s a New Year wish. Please keep communications in your new year budget. Budget to use some pension communication experts. And change next years’ wishes.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Barrier of Words

As passionate pensions people we want to communicate well. We want people to understand their pension and appreciate its value. But we are often stopped from communicating well by our own blind spots. In fact our words can be a barrier to getting the message across.

The Technical Barrier

Too often we assume we are being clear with our pension communications when it is nothing but gobbledygook to the recipient. We are so wrapped up in the industry we work in, we are not aware of the pension jargon we are using. Glossaries help, but better to write plainly and assume the reader knows nothing about the subject. If you talk about ‘hedging’ your investments, people are likely to be thinking of a green bush in the garden. If you speak of commutation, people will think you are talking about travelling to work…. You get the picture!

The Cultural Barrier

This is a more subtle communication issue. Not all companies are the same. Many may be UK companies and have a certain style of communicating. Others may be US companies- generally the business language is sharper and more to the point.

I work part time for a community based charity. Here the language is very different to anything I have experienced in the commercial world. You can’t just dive in to the issue you want to email on, for example. There has to be a bit of a ‘how are you’ and a conversation would typically end with ‘blessings’ rather than ‘cheers’ or ‘yours sincerely.’

So when you’re speaking about pensions – typically a ‘foreign language’ to any organisation, it’s important to first asses the culture of the company you are working with.

The Functional Barrier

As an occasional consultant for Pension Geeks, it’s interesting pitching business. No matter what the potential client may say, you are being assessed against the incumbent communications company. And, sometimes without the client being aware of it, they are expecting you to be the same, and possibly to charge the same. (As we’re smaller with fewer overheads, the fees are usually a good conversation to have).

That same functional barrier can work in presenting pensions to a non-specialist audience. They have an expectation that they won’t understand it, sadly based on earlier pension events or (often inaccurate) articles they have read in the press.

Words can be a barrier. And there’s the challenge!