Opinion: Members need more attention
The implications of COVID-19 are wide ranging. Pension schemes’ immediate focus has been securing operations and the financial impact of the crisis. But attention should now turn to supporting members. Particularly while some may be at their most vulnerable, concerned about their financial security, and isolated from family and friends.
With the shock of the crisis schemes have rightly focussed on keeping the lights on and the financial impact on scheme assets and the sponsor – all critical issues for members. But so far many have given relatively little thought to members as individuals, what information and support do they need and when?
That doesn’t mean writing to all members is appropriate – that might divert much needed operational resource, and there might be very little to tell some members. In any case, Schemes are unlikely to want to encourage more mail correspondence given the challenges of processing post.
Schemes are already prioritising their administration activity, focussing on the payment of retirement benefits and handling bereavement processes sensitively and quickly. This often requires tough decisions around delaying or even pausing non-critical activity. A case in point – many administration teams have had to cease telephone contact for members.
That same thinking can be applied to communications. Different groups of members should be assessed - what do they need (and want) to know and when? Which actions are most critical and should be prioritised? Targeted communication is much more effective.
The diagram below illustrates an example of this segmentation and communication priorities. Members approaching retirement are likely to be a priority for most schemes, as are any furloughed employees. We have seen schemes with badly affected sponsors see major spikes in transfer value requests.
You should set your own priorities, specific to your membership and circumstances. Data and insights from your membership will help shape your responses – our review of the performance of Master Trust default funds over the first three months of 2020 will help you understand the potential impact on your DC members. If telephone lines are closed, tracking failed call volumes provides useful information. Similarly website analytics if you’re explaining new communication channels online. For DC members, monitor closely what switching activity is taking place.
Once you have made the initial changes to working practices and priority communications, thoughts should turn to the next steps for your members. We may be in for a prolonged period of uncertainty before recovery. Planning ahead will help you deal with this. You will need to determine how any backlog of requests will be dealt with, and anticipate when you expect service to return to normal. Some schemes will take the opportunity to shift to more electronic communication, supporting faster and better targeted messages in future.
In summary, the communication challenge is only just beginning. A vacuum may eventually lead to concern, and members need targeted and relevant information provided to maintain confidence in their scheme through the crisis.
If you would like to discuss this further, please contact us.