Treating pension scheme members like customers - what can we learn from retailers?

By Stuart Bradbury

Communications is big business, with UK retailers leading the world at grabbing the public’s attention and making it easy to take action (in their case, to purchase their goods and services).   

In contrast, the pensions industry has long grappled with the difficulty of effectively communicating with pension scheme members – people that often have little interest in pensions and sometimes actively avoid having to think about their retirement savings.

Communicating new member options, particularly at retirement, suffers from information overload because of the wider range of choices and the risk of loss if individuals make the “wrong” decision.  However we shouldn’t shy away from engaging on these options because all members can benefit from checking their retirement benefits fit their needs.

So what can we learn from retailers and how can we get it right?  Here are three critical aspects of designing a successful communications exercise.

Grab attention and make actions easy

In recent years, a key part of retail success has been harnessing the ability of the internet to visually present products and provide a smooth and easy way to make a purchase.  

The pensions industry can learn from the way retailers engage the public and, with daily internet use well above 90% amongst under 65s, it’s becoming increasingly clear that all communications strategies should include a digital element.  

There are obviously accessibility advantages offered by digital communications – smartphones mean you can reach your audience almost anywhere.  But the real value comes through in the ability to use videos to visually explain difficult concepts with personalisation used to tailor the message.  It is often time-consuming and difficult to encourage members to return forms – online portals allow them to take action with just a few clicks.

Small is beautiful

Studies have shown that “bite-sized” learning approaches can yield significant improvements in information retention, with both retailers and education providers increasingly adopting this style.  So we should move away from send out a thick pack of papers with lots of text to read.  

Splitting up the communications process into brief but regular messages can help build up understanding and increase the confidence of a member to make a decision.  Simple ideas like using a postcard instead of a formal letter can help get your messages through.

Tailor the message to your target market

No workforce is exactly the same, so it’s critical to tailor your message and communications approach to maximise engagement.  Building up a deep understanding of your audience is possible for all levels of budget, with options including face-to-face or online surveys and focus groups.  The key is to design a survey process that provides you with actionable insights. This knowledge can then be used to tailor a communications strategy that works best in your circumstances.

PwC have a range of pensions communications specialists that can help you maximise engagement from your members or workforce.  Our communication techniques will maximise engagement through written materials that stand out from the crowd and online functionality that makes pensions engaging and easy to take action on.  If you want to know more, please contact Stuart Bradbury ([email protected]), Amy Hemmett ([email protected]) or your usual PwC pensions contact.

Alex Bertolotti

Stuart Bradbury | Senior Manager
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