‘Member engagement’ is one of those phrases we’re hearing more and more when it comes to communicating about pensions, because increasingly it’s not just about telling members important information we think they should hear, it’s about increasing the interaction and gaining feedback from members so they feel involved – it’s a two-way process, not a one-way street!

I’m sure we all agree member engagement has never been more important, or more necessary, against the current uncertain social and financial backdrop. Overall, financial wellbeing has become a priority for employers as they look to help their employees navigate the varied and sometimes complex financial landscape they face as they journey through life. Ensuring effective communication, and engaging members in saving for later life, is something we must continue to strive for.

When it comes to pension communications, experience tells us informed members make informed decisions and effective engagement should lead to members taking positive action in relation to their plans for retirement. However, effective engagement doesn’t just happen! At the heart of it should be a well-defined strategy – one that has to be engaging, consistent and results driven.

How do we know member engagement is needed now more than ever? Our 2018 Generation WHY? Survey gave us some clear insight into the current situation:
• 42% of respondents said building a pension for retirement was their top financial priority.
• Only 1 in 5 respondents understood their retirement choices (regarding cash, guaranteed income and drawdown etc.).
• 43% aspire to retire before the age of 55, even though the most common age band is 65-74.
• Only 12% of respondents know what funds their pensions are invested in.

The responses focus primarily on the ‘one day’, which may be some time in the future. We need to implement a cohesive plan to help members prepare for that one day, but start by managing the ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ first, to help people cope with immediate issues – issues such as uncertain and potentially volatile times. The plan then needs to evolve over time to complete the journey to ‘one day’.

So, how can we help to effectively engage members to ensure they’re getting the right information at the right time and in the right way, to empower them in their planning for later life?

I would advocate a member engagement philosophy based on Benjamin Franklin’s ‘tell, teach, involve’ philosophy. If we involve, educate and interact with members about their planning for later life, they’re less likely to take short-term, knee jerk reactions to events and more likely to make better informed decisions and take positive action towards their retirement goals. When it comes to member engagement, plan sponsors and trustees have these options:

  • Tell: Reflects a passive, ‘one size fits all’ approach, with a focus on fulfilling regulatory requirements
  • Teach: Is about starting to educate members around their choices and the implications of their actions
  • Involve: Is about helping members to think about their options and providing tools to empower them to take positive action from an informed position. This leads to active participation and full engagement.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

Regulation dictates that more ‘useful’ information is provided to members; the current cost and charges initiative are a good example, but members are ill-prepared to deal with the information given. It’s clear that ‘involve me’ is the ideal strategy for engaging members, with clear communications to support it – but how can we do this?

Understand members

Key to any engagement strategy is analysis; knowing where your scheme is now and the choices members have already made, helping to shape objectives and form the strategy for the future. Gaining a detailed picture of the characteristics of members is vital to any engagement strategy.

What do members want?

Increasingly seen as an imperative piece of the member engagement puzzle, trustees and plan sponsors are encouraged by Regulators to consider obtaining information on the views, attitudes and likely behaviours of their scheme’s members. This could give valuable insight into:
• what members value about the scheme.
• their ability to make investment decisions.
• how they intend to take their retirement benefits.
• their preferred type and style of communications.

Ensuring the engagement strategy fits with the needs of a scheme’s members is key to its success, with the communication materials and messaging being bespoke to members.

Delivery matters

The more involved an individual feels, the more likely they are to engage and take action. A variety of methods should be considered including written materials (generic and personalised), webinars, videos, face-to-face communications and digital solutions, such as email alerts and an online member portal. What works best for one doesn’t work for all though – knowing what members want is crucial to the success of any engagement strategy.

Even though face-to-face communication is favoured, the majority actually now engage with information digitally, with the use of technology extending to all ages.

This trend will continue as access to information is demanded at any time and from anywhere.

Make it personal!

Engagement increases when the message is relevant to the member. We need to target the agreed key messages, to the right members, at the right time.

Messages should be personalised, targeted to individual member’s needs, objectives and priorities. Having an online solution will help – communications can be automatic and delivered to the individual at key times to give the message the best chance of being engaged with and acted on.

Engagement isn’t a one-off exercise

To help ensure the success of the engagement strategy and the best outcome for members, it’s vital that analysis is done, the strategy agreed and planned, delivery carried out, feedback gathered and the strategy checked and measured, and then lessons are learned – effective engagement is an ongoing process not just because of a one-off event.

We want to make sure members are inspired so they can make active choices and decisions around their own savings and later life plans.

The ultimate aim should be to empower members, giving them all the information they need – whether that’s a ‘tell, teach or an involve’ – to enable them to make informed decisions today and tomorrow which will help them be ready for their own ‘one day’.

Andy Parker
Partner – Barnett Waddingham

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