Two people helping each other in times of need

I want someone to help me

18th October 2018

First appeared on Pension Funds Insider on 12/10/18

Life just keeps getting harder. I’m sure it isn’t meant to be like this, but somehow progress, improved efficiency and technology haven’t made my decisions any easier.

My Mum, now in her 80s, talks fondly of shopping experiences in her youth when the shop assistant was just that, an assistant. Someone to help you express your need, introduce you to the things you knew nothing about, and guide you through your options. The assistant was experienced, knew their stuff and helped you narrow down your choices. You made the final decision, but the assistant assisted.

I haven’t bought a new pair of jeans in over two years because the process is just too hard. There are so many options in the shops, even more online, but there’s no one telling me “these are the right ones for you” or “skinny jeans aren’t quite your style”. And I am scarred from previous mistakes. Heading off on holiday in 2015, I bought some denim shorts that I proudly wore on day one, only to be met with a wave of ridicule from my teenage daughters, “Dad, you can’t wear those!” Apparently, they weren’t ‘age appropriate’!

But where was the help and guidance when I needed it – at the point of decision?

I have since been tempted by a tech solution, an online fashion guidance app. Sadly, I don’t feel they know me, and their recommendations don’t feel personal – everything seems to lead to the “sale”. Life choices are hard, and if I’m struggling to buy a pair of jeans for fear of the consequences, how am I ever going to make decisions about my pension?

Most members are financially fearful. They are in default strategies because they don’t have a sound basis to make their own choices. They believe the trustees will do a better job. So, when they actually need to make a decision – pension change consultation, retirement, redundancy – how can we best help them?

My recommendation is to start with personal, face-to-face help in the workplace. Someone who can speak their language, outline the options, knows the scheme and the work context, can give guidance and answer questions. Someone to give enough understanding and confidence so the member can make a start.

Workplace pension sessions may sound a bit low-tech and per head, more costly than most member engagement tools we use today. But if you want something that is effective, a face-to-face conversation can make the difference, just like the picture on a jigsaw puzzle box.

In my experience, with the confidence that comes from effective conversations, members will make better use of all the decision-making tools we offer: websites, mailouts, personalised videos, animations and gamification. They may, if necessary, go on to comprehensive “advice” options like IFAs or robo advice. In fact, I would argue that these tools and advisers become most effective once members have a level of understanding of the choices in front of them.

I’ve often said that as long as there are people who don’t understand their pension, we have a business. Yet at the same time, the joy of what we do as communicators, comes from the moments where understanding is created, and we help someone make a positive decision. Conversations can create those inflection points.

I know my life would be better with a new pair of jeans – can someone help me?

Peter Nicholas
Strategic Advisor – AHC

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