Problems? Is AE technology an end or a means?

Problems 4

It’s something of a joke in the Pension PlayPen that if anyone is going to break our systems and processes , it will be the Pension Plowman. I have an uncanny knack of finding weaknesses on our development site and getting stuck. Far from regarding me as a problem, our developers have come to rely on me to demonstrate what is likely to go wrong in the future.

I take no credit for my utility, my genius is my incompetence and my consistent ability to press the wrong button and miss the support that is staring me in the face from “help” on our web-pages.

If mine is the user experience, it is not until I can choose a pension consistently, that the user experience is credited with being pushed live.

Nobody will ever build a user experience that isn’t capable of losing some customers. I am reminded of Johnny Rotten’s pithy couplet in “problems”

Bet you thought you solved all your problems – but – you – are the problem

Problems? The problem is you – what you gonna do!



Talking with a leading pension provider yesterday, I asked what his main concern was for the future. His expressed belief was that his insurer were relying too heavily on intermediaries to answer questions from ordinary users of his pension and the technical support services.

Talking with NEST’s CEO last week, I asked how she would characterise the difference between NEST’s approach and that of rivals such as NOW and People’s. Helen Dean’s answer was that NEST require a degree of sufficiency from their users.

On both occasions I was tempted to sing the Sex Pistols lyrics out loud!

PRoblems 3


The responsibility of our Providers

It would have been unfair. The insurer in question is busy insourcing its customer support and reducing its reliance on third parties to answer the questions that it considers are its proprietary problems. NEST make no bones about it, the cost of supporting employers through NEST, will be higher to third parties than if the client has access to NOW’s or People’s support centres. That cost is not overt (yet), but it gives the lie to any sense that NEST is free.

Support is required because no matter how good you make the user experience, people like me will f**k things up.

Problems 2

When I talk about the responsibility of our providers, I mean their responsibility to make clear the level of support available to users – whether employers or members and to be clear what the limits of that support will be. I do not think NEST irresponsible in offering limited support, but I think people who suggest that NEST should be the default offering to employers, without offering the support necessary to meet the user’s needs are being irresponsible.

One of the things we try to do with is point out the true costs of using each provider- not just in overt fees, but in care and maintenance. If that care and maintenance is not paid for overtly, then it needs to be accounted for on someone’s P&L.

“I will look unto the hills- from whence cometh mine aid”

Help is needed and is being provided. Typically at a cost. Both NOW and People’s Pensions charge for support, NEST don’t charge or provide the same level of support. Most insurers are now charging for support and those that don’t (such as Legal & General) are making clear the parametres of support will change.

Fully understanding what you are getting from differing providers, and how sustainable that support is over time , is critical to making a decision on which workplace pension provider to choose.

It might be argued that the issues of “inter-operability” and “member support” are the most critical to get right and should be the primary drivers in pension choice. I think this wrong, they are critical to a successful implementation- but a pension is for life and not just for staging!

If not from the provider, where can an employer get help? I have written this week about what a responsible IFA looks like, I know many firms of accountants who take the business of supporting clients through payroll very seriously. I know software suppliers, big and small who are peopling their contact centres. I know TPAS and TPR who above all other Government agencies are gearing up to provide support to members and employers respectively.

Understanding how to tap into these support services is part of offering enrolment support. If you are looking unto the hills, this is where your aid will come from!



Technology can only reduce the need for support – not eliminate it.

When we were planning the Eagle Star (to become the Zurich) DC platform in around 2000, my wise boss David Lynch set out a vision for a service that was 100% self-service, where we needed no contact centre because our customers could access everything over the web.

We were very far from delivering on this, though I think we went further than others both in ambition and delivery. I see similar visions from the technology players in the pension and payroll space around auto-enrolment. They can get further towards that goal, but they still cannot reach it. So long as there are humans , there are bugs.

Guess you thought you solved all your problems but- I – am your problem

Problems – the problem is me- can’t you f*ck*ng see!



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Problems? Is AE technology an end or a means?

  1. Duncan says:

    Agreed “A pension is for life not just for staging” but can the same be said of the Provider? Are we just heading back to the days of churn, but with UX based drivers for it?

  2. henry tapper says:

    I think we’ll see more merging than churning!

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