To get pensions communications right scheme managers must think about everyone they know (and what they care about in pensions), says Hannah Lewis, director of Behave London

Hannah Lewis will be at Pensions Communications Forum to talk about what Behave London’s research has uncovered so far, and what that means for the future of defined contribution. To hear from her and other speakers register here.

As part of our Make-DC-Better research, we looked at over 17,000 enquiries sent to The Pension Advisory Service (TPAS) between April and November this year, since ’freedom and choice’ blew its chilly winds up pensions’ proverbial skirt.

The enquiries are a brilliantly rich set of data, covering age, gender, marital status, regional variation – and what people’s concerns are about their pensions.

What we found surprised us on two fronts. On the one hand the data reinforced some stereotypes, but on the other hand we’ve picked up new trends.

It’s worth noting that TPAS has seen contact volumes roughly double in the last year. Considering they don’t advertise, that alone tells us that all the changes to pensions, and the wave of press about them, have served to make the general public twice as aware.

1) Married, separated or divorced – the most engaged.

If you’re married, I expect you’ve had the cheery conversation a few times about what would happen to your money if you died. Sometimes that conversation is even about pensions. Those who were attached (or had recently de-attached) were overwhelmingly the most engaged – and made up around 70% of the enquiries.

Although there are a large chunk of people who “prefer not to say”, those identifying as single made up just 16% of all enquiries. It wasn’t that the single people were especially young, either. It could be as simple as the single simply care less (because no one is affected by their pension other than them, unless they happen to be a parent). It’s definitely an area we’re looking into further.

2) Men outnumber women.

For every six women who got in contact, 10 men did.

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This isn’t unsurprising, given that for those currently in their 60s and 70s, it was much more common for married women to work part time or or stay at home.

When we analysed the content of the enquiries, the most common two words that came up for the over 70’s was “Wife” and “State”. Men were enquiring what would happen to their wife in respect of their state pension when they died.

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However, men overwhelmingly make up more of the online enquiries, regardless of age. We suspect that this is purely down to more of them having pensions, but we’re investigating this further, using other data.

3) People are leaving it late. Very late.

The mean age of people contacting TPAS is 57 and that should raise alarm bells.

We’re conducting research right now in to how to get people to engage, and we’re testing a range of innovative tactics that can be used in pension communication.

By looking at the real enquiries that are coming in to TPAS, and then analysing the pension communications that were submitted to us by pension funds all over the UK, we’re forming new ideas.

As 45% of people contacting TPAS were aged 55-65, it certainly seems we need to get members engaged earlier!

Why testing?

Experiments are the only clean way to know what drives behaviour change, whether positive or negative.

You might want to re-write all your member communications in one go. You could put a whole host of behavioural “nudges” in the text to get people to engage.

The issue is that if you do several at the same time, you won’t which ones were effective! That’s why we’re doing testing scientifically – so that we can check what helps drive engagement, and build clear communications. It’s very often not what you think.

Think you can ask members what they want? In focus groups?

Think again! Be wary of asking your member about their preferences, instead of conducting experiments. What people say they do and how they really act are not always the same. Just think about, well, everyone you know.