Who is going to mobilise the millions of bosses still to stage auto-enrolment?
There are not 1.3m but 1.8m employers in the UK who will need to stage auto-enrolment.Of these , all but around 65,000, more than 1,790,000 employers have yet to get going. And only a tiny proportion of those employers know anything about providing a workplace pension for their staff.
To date, the issue has been about advice, tomorrow it will be about training. Few properly understand who will be doing the training as the vast majority of payroll agents are not regulated. Even the software houses who license payroll software through these agents (known as payroll bureaux) know little about the majority of them.
They exist because of the accountants who manage the back offices of most small businesses in the UK and who are critical to the success of auto-enrolment (part II).
Training is not about financial advice
If there is one phrase guaranteed to annoy practicing accountants working with SMEs – it is “financial advice”. Accountants do not give financial advice to those who have no means to pay for it or capacity to use it. As Steve Webb used to say, people staging auto-enrolment don’t need advice, they need training.
The biggest issue facing the Pension Regulator over auto-enrolment is whether it can mobilise the silent army of payroll agents working in payroll bureaux for the legion of accountancy practices and book keepers, to manage through the auto-enrolment process till it becomes Business as Usual.
The Pension Regulator has worked out that it is this training, not enforcement, that will make auto-enrolment a success. The job of mobilising the millions of employers will fall to maybe 75,000 payroll bureaux and a hand full of organisations offering free internet payroll services (Payroo being the most notable). Beyond these organisations are those employers who operate the most basic payroll service using HMRC guidelines (and a little anticipated help from tPR).
Web-based training is now in place
The training resources at the disposal of these bureaux and to those providing software are principally web-based. The Pension Regulator has now reorganised its website into a ten step auto-enrolment process. The employer journey is better organised and it’s now possible for payroll agents to take clients from one end to the other with relatively little difficulty. If you haven’t visited the website recently, click here.
There is still one dodgy link in the chain, the infamous step 7 . We know the Pension Regulator is working hard to help employers choose a pension scheme but this remains the weakest link. If you can select and onboard your workplace pension then steps 8-10 are a relative doddle.
But it’s one thing to have a website , another to engage, educate and empower people to use it.
Training means training (not selling)
Training to help employers stage auto-enrolment (including choosing a workplace pension) should be mandatory. It should not be about selling software though promoting the obvious software solution may be a part of the training.
When I got cross with Sage a couple of weeks ago it was because of exploitation of free training resource (from tPR) to profit on the need for training. Sage ,Iris and Moneysoft (in that order) have the biggest roles to play in organising the training of bureaux staff (and the engagement of the accountants who own the bureaux). It is critical that they get training programs in place by early 2016, to train staff to help the 1.8m through.
Face to face is best- webinars will do
If you are a payroll agent and you have the opportunity to go to a face to face training session of even webinar, where the emphasis is on training not selling then go. Anything which has the Pension Regulator at it , is worth going to, though bear in mind, they are appearing free of charge to the session organisers.
Webinars are not so good , but a lot better than nothing. Again, pick webinars where the emphasis is on training.
If the seminar or webinar offers training, give them good feedback, if it’s a sales pitch, then tell them it wasn’t helpful.
In our opinion, this training should be free and offered by software providers as part of the support package. If you’ve not yet been offered training on auto-enrolment and you are a customer of one of the payroll software companies, ask them why not. If they are threatening to charge you for it, ask what you get for your money. If you aren’t satisfied with the answer , ask them to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We have a training budget and we’re not afraid to spend it.