Building engagement with members

Ellie McKinnon, Chief Executive of the Cheviot Trust, was an expert panellist at the PMI’s Roundtable on building engagement with members.

The decisions members make, or don’t make, can have a huge impact on their retirement outcomes, both good or bad. There can be a fine line between being empowered and having too much responsibility, and that’s assuming you can grab their attention in the first place. The Pensions Management Institute’s panel discussion took a look at the issue of member engagement, asking what success looks like and what, if anything, schemes need to be doing differently.

Ellie McKinnon agreed it is important to focus on what schemes want to get out of engagement and what the output of such engagements look like, but said consistency and simplicity are also key. The Cheviot Trust tries very hard to keep messages simple, avoiding jargon and focusing on only one or two key messages per communication.

McKinnon added that trust was also important and a really key objective, noting that “communication becomes much easier as trustees build up member confidence by explaining what they are doing for members over time”.

Commenting on what engagement success might look like, McKinnon said a very basic measure could be people simply opening the communications they are sent and completing a certain action but noted that real engagement with pensions is still a long way away.

We really need to get to where Australia is, where they talk about pensions over the barbie and it’s a real topic of conversation,” she said.

Using those times in people’s lives where they are perhaps most susceptible to messages about pensions – such as when they move job, get married or have a child – could be invaluable in this regard.

The panel also felt the pensions dashboard would help engage people with pensions but warned against trying to do too much too soon. McKinnon explained: “If all we did in the next three years was to provide people with a list of their pensions alongside links to where they could find out more information, that would be a massive step forward from where we are now.

On the issue of advice versus guidance, and how much employers and trustees can actually tell members – a big talking point for panellists and the audience – McKinnon highlighted that “people are nervous about saying anything that could be construed as advice”.

McKinnon concluded with her belief that the first key step the industry needs to take is to normalise pension communication. She explained: “Things like apps are great; but if people don’t understand the terminology, you’re not going to engage them.”

In summing up, McKinnon emphasised her thoughts on member guidance, noting that “trustees have to be brave and take decisions for members. And that means that we need the government to be clearer about advice and guidance”.

The other participants in this event were Anna Copestake, Partner at Arc Pensions Law, and Michelle Darracott, Chief Strategy Officer at Smart Pensions.

PMI and Arc Pensions Law co-hosted the event, which was chaired by Jonathan Stapleton, Editor-in-Chief at Professional Pensions.

The event, held in March, was covered in the May issue of Pensions Aspects Magazine

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