It’s a real delight speaking to micro businesses about pensions. You might think a simple question like “which one do you think is best?” would become boring, now we’re closing in on 5000 employers who’ve asked us it. But that question isn’t boring to the person who’s asking it, and the closer we get to the ground floor of the auto-enrolment skyscraper, the more personal that question gets.
Because when people ask that question – and they generally ask it to us on web-chat, we are being asked to think about the employer, and that employer is often little more than the person representing it – the person asking the question.
I know that offering financial advice to an individual is as taboo as syphilis but when people take decisions on behalf of their current and future colleagues, what touchstone can they have other than their own feelings?
We do not give personal advice but people take personal decisions. We cannot ignore that.
If you are a mega-corporation you will take decisions collectively and follow some ordered process that’s right for all stakeholders. But when you are a small business, you take the decision for you.
Outcomes not process
The insight we bring to the pensions market in this blog , is one so blindingly obvious that I tremble to write it down. People are buying workplace pensions these days because they want them to transfer money saved today into pensions paid tomorrow.
They are not buying workplace pensions to retain staff (why should they – everyone else has got one).
They are not buying workplace pensions to satisfy regulations (AE is BAU for micro employers)
They are not buying workplace pensions to demonstrate their technological aptitude (no matter what the geek in us might think!)
People are buying workplace pensions to transfer money saved today into pensions paid tomorrow and they want to get the best deal.
A delight to do business
I bought a new suit yesterday, I spent an hour chatting with my tailor (McAnns in Shaftesbury Avenue – highly recommended). As I was leaving I thanked them for their time and they thanked me “for my interest”. They like to talk to me about their business, the wools, the weave, the cotton that ties up the panels, the designs, the sales. They love business.
A friend of mine with whom I do business asked for three words to sum up our relationship (I think this was part of a 360 degree assessment) , I thought of all the business words and they did not work, the way I feel about this person has to use emotional words “intelligent, sincere, sensitive”. It’s a delight to do business with this person because we are dealing with each other at an emotional as well as a transactional level.
This is why brands succeed or fail, Branson- Virgin, Musk-Tesla – the brand is the product of your perception of the emotional intelligence behind the business and that is driven by the connection that business has with you personally.
This emotional attachment with your business partner- no matter how impersonal it gets (we seldom talk to our customers even on the telephone) is what makes running pension playpen so delightful.
It works two ways, my tailor likes to see me as I delight in his workmanship and I love to visit my tailor as he delights in dressing me well.
Not just the strategy – the delivery
I have always known that Pension PlayPen would only really become useful when we could delight small and micro employers. Bigger employers want strategy, smaller employers want delivery. My strategy was to deliver a delightful experience and I hope we are doing so. The feedback we are getting from our business partners suggests we are but we know that will only continue if we perfect things.
Right now, I’m working on the weightings we give to the various aspects of the decision making process. We have in the past weighted the process driven metrics (payroll integration, AE support) more highly than the outcome driven metrics (member charges and investment). These weightings are being re-balanced as we get more personal with our customers.
It is very hard to quantify the scale and timing of this adjustment, it is a gradual process but each tick of the calibration feels like a cliff-edge when we see changes it creates in the results pages we give to employers.
This is where three years of close analysis of workplace pension providers (and careers working in this market) begin to pay-off. We can see which providers are delivering on outcomes and which are simply satisfying process. It is the providers who will deliver better pensions who will prosper, this is no longer just about efficient process.
Delivering results comes from establishing a good strategy, the strategy of the underlying provider – we call it their “durability” is still critical to their capacity to deliver over time. But delivering delight in the months and years ahead is something that we can measure much more closely, we can use the feedback of the employers, advisers and even the members we serve.
As we beaver away, adjusting our algorithm to the new types of customer that the auto-enrolment process is throwing at us, we delight in the problems and our capacity to find answers (oops-solutions) to them!
This is what business is about, why being there with your customers is so important. I wish I could know more about the people who do business with, many only know us through our website , some – who use business advisers – only know us from the reports and certificates our websites generate.
It’s pretty hard for someone who doesn’t know you – knows only of you through a website or report, to call you sensitive or intelligent or sincere, I don’t expect that feedback! But we see those qualities in the behaviour of our customers and our business partners and we want to thank them from the bottom of our algorithm!