Delivering TPA during COVID-19: our experience
03 Jul 2020 - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
What a difference a year makes. When I started my new role as TPA Operations Leader this time last year, I would never have imagined that the whole operation - whole Firm in fact - would be working remotely.
Every company I’ve worked for have Business Continuity Plans (BCP) and they hope not to have to deploy them. So the global pandemic caused by Covid-19 has been a real wake up call to everyone and highlights the value of preparation and investment in technology.
Having always taken business continuity seriously, Hymans’ BCP contained preparation for a pandemic, making things so much easier in the early stages. We mobilised our Continuity Management Team as soon as Covid-19 reached our shores, and we kicked straight into action. Here I reflect on our experience in TPA, and how proud I am of our team for adapting to the virtual world.
Delivering our service remotely
From the beginning, our top priorities were people’s wellbeing and the continued delivery of our service to clients and members. Following a successful BCP test on 12 March, we closed all our offices a week before official lockdown across the UK. All staff have had laptops for several years and our integrated systems meant we have always been able to work remotely, but to have all 900+ staff working remotely was a bit of step to say the least!
Not everything was straightforward. While most of our services, including running payrolls, continued as normal, there were some initial challenges to overcome. We established a TPA continuity management team and agreed some immediate actions:
- Bring forward plans to outsource everyday printing (part of a larger project due to be implemented later this year).
- Centralise post and manage all our scanning and original certificate returns from our Glasgow office. The only staff we’ve had in the office since have been two volunteers for a short period each day to allocate post to the teams.
- Agree increased bank holdings with clients and work with all major investment houses to establish disinvestment processes that wouldn’t require wet signatures. As a result we’ve not experienced any cash flow issues during lockdown.
One change we didn’t have to make was to our telephony systems. While other TPAs were closing phone lines, ours were uninterrupted. With all our telephony embedded within our laptops, members continued to be able to contact us as normal.
Keeping everyone informed
The first few weeks of lockdown were pretty frantic, like I expect they were for most! Reassuring our staff, members and clients was more important than ever. Some of the ways we kept them informed include:
- Messages within March and April payslips to reassure pensioners there would be no interruptions to payments.
- Communications with everyday correspondence to reassure members of our continued service, while redirecting them to our pensionsWEB system or dedicated email and telephone helplines.
- Regular FAQ documents with clients and third parties.
- Updated information and contact details on our website.
With a potential increased risk of Pension Scammers and Fraud, we also introduced:
- Specific guidance to staff and members on how to stay protected.
- A new Identity verification process enabling us to accept electronic documents securely from members and continue to settle benefits.
Our experience so far
Remote working - with wellbeing at the forefront of our minds, we’ve helped staff make their home environment easier for work. We provided second screens where necessary as well as other equipment as needed, such as keyboards and chairs.
Activity levels and SLAs - despite an initial drop in some activity, like transfer out requests, our new work requests and SLAs across the business, including new business, have remained largely stable since lockdown started. Some weeks have even been better than the pre-lockdown period! Our payrolls have also continued as normal throughout – so overall all our teams’ commitment and performance has been amazing.
Continued investment - we have a substantial investment programme running at the moment, with a complete refresh of our web offering allowing DB members do far more online, including obtaining a retirement quote and completing their retirement process. This project has continued with minimal disruption, with a couple of enhancements even being brought forward.
We’re proud of the whole team coming together to continue to deliver quality service to our clients and members. All while supporting each other and finding new ways of keeping in touch – from the virtual coffee breaks, quiz or bingo nights, and even desert island disc competitions. With many also having children, family members suffering with illness, or in protected groups to look after, we’ve all had to learn to deal with lockdown as a way of life and adapt to the many changes this has brought.
As part of our continuity planning we’ve started planning what our ‘new normal’ will look like. Our investment in tech and adoption of agile working for a number of years has paid dividends, and we’re functioning extremely well with everyone working from home.
Government advice remains clear that those who can work from home should continue to do so. Based on that advice, and given how well the firm has adapted to full homeworking, we aren’t planning a return to our offices until September at the earliest. Even then it will be a phased return, and in managing social distancing we expect it won’t feel like a “normal” office experience for some time. Our Continuity Management Team are working on detailed plans for a safe return, in a phased approach, which continues to keep our people’s safety and wellbeing as our top priority.
The reaction across the firm is mixed – while some are extremely keen to be back in an office environment again, others are much more cautious about returning. One thing that’s clear is that we won’t require anyone to be back in the office until the current climate has changed materially, and no one will be compelled to return if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.
So we don’t know what the new normal will look like or what will happen over the next year. It is however very reassuring to be working for a firm that has already demonstrated the benefits and importance of BCP and investment in systems. Plus, I’m so proud to be part of a firm and team where we put people wellbeing first - that can only be a good thing for all our clients.