Most pension people trying to project manage auto-enrolment have found themselves out of their depth. Whether you are an actuarial consultant or an IFA the issue is the same- you know little about HR processes and less about payroll. Integrating workplace pensions into established HR and payroll processes is one thing, but the complex ratiocination that is needed to mesh auto-enrolment is beyond us!
I write as a former IFA who works in an actuarial practice and runs a website www.pensionplaypen.com that helps SMEs source workplace pensions. I know my limits and those I work with, we work with a number of IFAs and know theirs! There are times when only a dedicated project manager will do.
Here for instance is an excerpt of a post from Russell Bavington, a Leeds based IFA who runs auto-enrolment middleware for some 2,500 employees.
“Our experience to date is that employers need someone to project manage pre AE assessment and implementation. Provider Hubs will access but that’s about all they do – they do not offer a straight through process. SAGE modules and the annual maintenance cost money for a starter but do not recognise the concept of an adviser. Advisers cannot see the data nor can they interact with it – all payroll systems are flawed if the data is not clean.”
IFAs historically have competed rather than collaborated and unfortunately IFA middleware solutions tend to compete rather than collaborate with payroll. IFAs see themselves as good at communicating but so does HR. Often HR would do well to outsource communication (especially over pensions) to IFAs but too often IFAs, providers , HR and payroll end up with an uneasy standoff with data issues unresolved and auto-enrolment deadlines missed.
IFAs need to resolve these problems by developing a new skillset which enable them to manage HR projects. In the meantime they need to work with specialists who can train them and manage the projects as they get up to speed.
As actuarial consultants, we are used to working with HR and payroll departments to manage corporate pension problems. But our skills are pension related, we don’t have the inclination to become HR or payroll experts (other than to manage pensioner payrolls). So like IFAs, we are not the people to turn to manage auto-enrolment. To our surprise, we were recently voted one of Payroll World’s top 50 most influential specialists, on further enquiry it turned out we were commended for wanting to work with rather than against payroll departments.
This is perhaps the message that pension people from IFAs to consultants, should be learning. Pension people need to collaborate with payroll and HR departments, who may know best. Where they don’t know best we need to work with specialist HR project managers (of whom sadly there are far too few). Fortunately we know Fiona Cowie of HR Essentials and – fortunately- she likes us.