The digital future of pensions – our top 5 predictions
02 Sep 2020
This year has seen a fundamental change to the running of pension schemes, primarily the move to online. And it’s a change that’s here to stay - our clients predict that over 90% of boards will embrace more technology over the long term. The Pensions Regulator is also supportive of the digital approach in order to achieve more effective decision making (have a listen to our recent webinar for David Fairs’ view).
The move to digital has been gathering pace for a while. So how can we capture this acceleration of change to benefit the industry over the long term? Here are our top 5 predictions for the lasting digital legacy for pensions:
1. A step change in how boards are run
Decisions will be taken more frequently and more effectively (see our earlier blog that predicted the end of the quarterly meeting cycle). Most of our clients are planning for face-to-face meetings every six months; with shorter, more frequent virtual meetings in between.
But it goes further than the meeting cycle. The pace of change as we went into lockdown led to demand for having more information at our fingertips to aid faster decision-making. Digital is the foundation for running schemes in this way. Our meeting management and documentation tool, focalPOINT, has met this need with enhanced capability. We expect demand and innovation in this area will only continue.
2. Pension schemes will benefit from broader cultural shifts
There are many cultural shifts affecting our home lives. As the pensions industry moved to working from home, reliance on quality wifi and home technology has become a critical part of the working day. Again, we think remote working is largely here to stay – many large employers are announcing extended working from home, with some being explicit that they intend to keep this permanently. Employee surveys also consistently show a desire to work from home more long-term.
This will lead to the development of technology at a faster pace - just look at how Zoom had to quickly improve the security of their conference calling facilities following unprecedented demand.
There has also been an increased sense of social purpose - support for initiatives including Eat Out to Help Out are testament to this. Going digital can help the climate (no more mass printing or travel) as well as being more inclusive (parents of young children or those with disabilities are more easily able to participate in meetings). The economic downturn will also likely drive further efficiencies.
We anticipate this will all lead to the greater uptake of digital in the industry for the running of schemes, whilst still recognising the benefits of face-to-face time.
3. Pensions services will (at last) become more “user focussed”
Consumers and businesses alike were forced to migrate to the use of digital services at a staggering pace. Karate classes were live-streamed to our living rooms, restaurants launched websites for pre-prepared food boxes, and one supermarket launched an app to deliver food to our doors within the hour. Some of these new services might have you thinking “this is great, why didn’t we have that before?”
We predict the circumstances of 2020 will lead to an invigorated effort to create more of these convenient, user-focussed services more attuned to the “user experience” (UX). Pensions are no different, although our UX team might argue the industry is somewhat lagging!
Trustees will demand technologies that make their governance and decision-making easier, quicker and more effective; while members will want to interact with their pensions and other financial services in a much easier, more accessible way.
We urge the pensions industry to innovate with users at the heart of the design processes. Explore the client-centric design approaches that our own UX experts are using here.
4. An invigorated focus on data, data quality and analytics
We’ve all become attuned to interpreting charts and statistics detailing the progression of COVID cases. Vast quantities of human and technological resources are being poured into this huge data collation and analysis exercise. Along the way, the general public have even built an appreciation of very common but pesky data issues around integrity and relevance of data (e.g. care homes and hospitals have different practices for recording deaths).
Providing for pensions is itself a very data intensive activity. Actuaries and administrators have harnessed data issues for many years, settling on the triennial cycles and norms of service provision as we see them today.
The modern disciplines of data engineering and data science can have a real impact on this. For example, the triennial cycle has fostered services that mean actuaries take only an occasional look into pensions membership data. We predict this false construct, largely limited by technological hurdles of the past, will gradually dissemble.
At Hymans we are in the business of rethinking pensions. We’ve built our Club Vita business to focus exclusively on longevity “data science”, whilst our on-demand valuation processes have reduced the data refresh frequency to 3 months. We’ll continue to improve services based on the insights we’re deriving from our ongoing work in these areas.
5. Consolidation of administration providers
Our final prediction is that there will be further consolidation of third-party administration providers. Anecdotally, we understand some providers have experienced real difficulties in moving to remote working - likely due to low investment in digitalisation of processes and data onboarding over the years.
The future hurdles will be higher than ever – it is difficult to modernise without significant organisational changes and outlays. We make it an imperative to continually invest in our people and the adoption of the latest technologies to drive our processes. In the short term this has meant our quality of services to members has been maintained or improved throughout lockdown. In the long term it enables us to continuously innovate our member services and deliver brilliant experiences to the pensioners who depend on us.
When selecting or reviewing a TPA provider we urge Trustees to explore how their shortlisted providers are investing for the long term.
We’re excited for the future. Increased demand for digital means a greater pace of innovation. This will ultimately benefit pension scheme members - whether through a better experience interacting with their scheme, or through the enhanced governance helping to safeguard their retirement income.