Daniel Blackman talks to Jack Jones about the projects that helped his scheme win the top prize for communications at our DC Awards
Communications play a crucial role in DC pensions. Because the amount of money people get in retirement depends so heavily on the decisions they make, schemes have a full-time job making sure their members are well informed.
Then there is the task of keeping everybody up to speed with the seemingly never-ending rounds of legislative change.
So it’s no surprise that the communications team at Telefónica – winner of the Best communications strategy at this year’s DC Awards – has had a busy year. But how did they make sure their messages really cut through to members?
“The key point for us was developing a consistent theme for our communications so our employees could relate to the messages that we were sending,” says Daniel Blackman, pensions specialist at Telefónica. “For example we used images such as a squirrel collecting nuts, or a bird building its nest egg.”
Blackman says these themed campaigns hit home with members, and they clearly impressed the DC Awards judges, who singled this approach out for praise. Another element of Telefónica’s approach that went down well with the judges was the firm’s use of the full spectrum of communications media.
“We do try to use the whole range of communication styles,” says Blackman. “For information updates for deferred members, for example, we typically send out A5 postcards and letters in the post. But for the recent budget changes, because it was a more complicated area, we ran a series of face-to-face seminars and online webinars. We also made video recordings of the seminars for those who may not have been able to attend.”
This education push around the budget was complimented by an e-learning module and followed up with an email campaign.
The scheme has also honed its ability to send targeted messages to groups of members. Earlier this year Telefónica sent a series of different communications to employees that contained three simple key messages. The messages varied depending on the employee’s current pension status. For example, those who were active members were reminded how their colleagues were taking advantage of additional employer contributions by making a small increase to their own pension contributions. There was also a reminder to encourage employees to make sure their ‘expression of wish’ forms are up to date.
”For non-members a lot of that communication was geared towards letting them know the great tax advantages of paying into a pension, and encouraging them to start saving now because even a small amount can make a big difference on retirement. We tried to really personalise the message and make it as relevant as possible for that audience. We also heavily use ‘nudge principles’ while making sure our messaging is associated with positive connotations as opposed to scaremonger our employees.”
It helps that the contribution structure on offer at Telefónica is extremely generous. “We’re not a company that is trying to penny pinch and encourage our people to opt-out or reduce their contributions to save money for the employer. We’re very much about getting members’ to contribute as high as possible to build their retirement savings - we’re quite paternalistic in that respect.”
Moving up the bands
At the top end, employees who put in 9% of salary get a hefty 11.5% back through employer contributions. But not all members were making the most of the matching band structure in place, so the team sent personalised letters to everyone who was at the top of their contribution band.
These members – who were contributing either 5% or 8% themselves – could get a significant boost to their employer contributions by moving into the next band.
Blackman explains: “There were only a few hundred people in that situation, so we wrote to them all individually. We pointed out that if they increased their contribution by just 1% they would increase the employer contribution by an additional 3% and 2.5% respectively.”
More than one in five people opted to increase their contributions as a result. “It took quite a long period of time, but the results were fantastic,” reflects Blackman.
Simplicity is key
One reason for this impressive engagement rate is the team’s focus on using simple language. Blackman says this is a key part of making sure members value and understand their pension.
“We don’t want to send our people messages that go into massive technical detail about the intricacies of how an ‘uncrystallised pension fund lump sum’ may work as this language turns people off and they will simply become disengaged with the communication,” he says. “When we have to use a technical term we will always explain what it means by providing a short and clear definition.”
But this is an area Blackman would like some help from the wider pensions sector. “Some of the messages that are going out to individuals become so confusing,” he says. “There has been lots of talk recently about the new Lifetime ISA being introduced, if I put myself in the members’ shoes I would be thinking ‘would I want to invest in a LISA’? Or should I contribute to my company’s auto-enrolment? Should I focus on getting onto the property ladder or prioritise getting my student loan paid off?’ There are so many considerations for individuals, and the challenge for us all is to keep things simple and be clear on the message we’re looking to communicate.”
Don’t stand still
The team have not been resting on their laurels since winning their award in October. They have refreshed the Telefónica Pensions website and have already launched a new modelling tool for their members, which will allows them to explore how much they need to pay in to achieve the retirement they want.
And looking ahead to next year, Blackman is keen to capitalise on the fact that Telefónicas auto-enrolment minimum contributions will rise in January. The scheme will have to write to those members to inform them their contributions will be rising from 1% to 2%. But they will also emphasise that this is a great time to review their contributions and consider paying in more than the minimum.
Blackman explains: “We have a huge pool of people who are auto-enrolled. It’s great that they are part of the plan, but is a 2% contribution rate going to be enough for them to build a big enough retirement pot for their future?
“A big communications challenge for us is to get those individuals to realise that they could be gaining significantly more employer contributions by going outside of auto-enrolment and electing to join the pension scheme.
“We have to communicate the fact that their contributions are going up so why not take advantage of that communication by making it a really positive message?”
Blackman says the timing of this campaign is fortunate as well, as he can cash in on the fact that many people will take the New Year as a chance to review what they want from the year ahead, and beyond.
For the pensions team at Telefónica it looks like being another packed 12 months. On top of the auto-enrolment messaging, they also plan to promote the firm’s bonus sacrifice scheme that allows members to convert their bonus into pension contributions. They also have a newly launched flexible benefits system and an education programme to help people understand the wider set of benefits on offer.
Blackman says gaining an award will help his team’s efforts.
“It’s great to get endorsement and recognition for all the hard work that the team has done throughout 2016,” he says. “We put an article on the pensions website to promote the fact we won, and publicised it on social media websites such asLinkedIn. It’s a great recognition and both the trustees and the company are very proud of the award – it helps to show members that we’re doing a good job for them.”