Occupational Pensions – Mass Communication, misinformation and missed opportunities

2nd February, 2012

  • Recently, I happened to be relaxing before bedtime watching News at Ten, only to be shaken into complete disbelief as a public sector employee stated that “we’re being robbed of our pensions and it’s the bankers’ fault”.

    Obviously blissfully unaware of the last two decades of decline in Defined Benefit pension provision in the private sector. Or indeed the fact that Britain’s retirement ills cannot be justifiably blamed on Sir, perhaps soon to be plain old Mr, Goodwin, or indeed his successors’ handsome bonus.

    It served to highlight in simple terms one of the biggest problems in the pension industry and a continuing source of frustration for pension trustees and members alike – communication.

    As the belief spreads that public sector pensions are being cut as a result of corporate excesses and budget deficits, rather than more mundane and less headline grabbing reasons such as improved mortality, it simply exacerbates the need for simple and effective member communication.

    So how do we do this?

    We live in the social networking era, where minute by minute updates on Facebook and Twitter now govern the lives of many. Such platforms offer the opportunity of instant and convenient ways of receiving information on a 24/7 basis.

    In addition, webcasts and managed conference calls can prove effective ways of quickly spreading the message en masse at a convenient time.

    More importantly however, these do not dispense with the need to have good quality and highly trained staff available to answer members’ questions. Many people simply prefer to discuss their queries on a one to one basis, no call centre waiting, endless button selections to make and incidental background music for four minutes to drive even the mildest mannered individuals to the point of insanity.

    Too often, pensions communications on important issues such as scheme closures and benefit reforms have involved lengthy letters issued to members which simply serve to either baffle, switch off or mislead. This can often lead to resentment, confusion and as we have seen recently, strike action affecting thousands – not an inconsequential outcome!

    Convention dictates that snail mail and envelope stuffing continue to have a place, but the number of channels of communication that reach into our daily lives has grown dramatically. Not all offer secure information sharing but the opportunity for education and engagement does reach across all platforms.

    As Professional Trustees to schemes where frequently members face uncertain times and sometimes complex issues, Dalriada clearly understand the communication challenges faced and are expertly placed to assist in such situations. Sadly, we can’t affect the outcome of interviews on the nightly news; only spread the gospel of effective communication in the hope that others may see the light!

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