Information revolution

This month's Off The Record survey asked pension funds in what ways they communicate with their members or participants. Over a third (38%) of respondents felt that postal correspondence was still the most important form of communication. Some 26.5% found their website to be the most important method, while only 9% favoured e-mail and 20% used a combination of methods. A Danish fund said: "E-mail and the website are becoming more important, but it is still the annual statement from the pension fund which is read most carefully by our members."

Just 11% of respondents stated that future communication between their fund and members would be made available only in an electronic format. "In the foreseeable future there will be too many members without access to electronic information," said a UK fund. A German fund added: "High member satisfaction requires maintaining conventional channels of communication."

The importance of continuing with traditional methods of communication is reflected by the majority opinion on new communication channels, such YouTube and social networking sites. A total of 59% either thought they were a bad idea or were indifferent. A UK scheme said such methods "lack professionalism", while a Dutch fund said they are "much too informal, and will not reach serious participants". Only one respondent said they used this form of communication, while 38.5% felt that it was a good idea for the future.

However, four respondents (9.5%), said their fund had already phased out postal correspondence, or were in the process of doing so. "[Newsletters] are published on our website and members notified by email," said a Danish fund.

A total of 25% of respondents said they communicate with their members bi-annually; 20.5% quarterly, 18% annually and 13.5% monthly, and 9% communicate with their members daily.

The respondents were split as to whether they had increased communication with their members after the financial crisis, with a small majority stating they had not. A UK fund said: "Volume has not increased. We did see it as essential to communicate specifically about the financial crisis and to reassure as far as possible, so in this sense there was ‘special' communication, but no other action was needed." A Dutch fund explained: "We have informed everybody about how the crisis influenced the assets, that this might influence indexation and that we have made a plan to overcome the bad financial results due to the crisis."

The main reason why communication with members is considered important was summed up by a Cypriot fund: "transparency". A Swiss fund stated the reason was "to help employees understand what a pension fund will and will not do for them. To prevent unrealistic expectations about future benefits, and to make them aware they will still have to save privately to maintain their living standard after retirement." A German fund agreed they should "provide transparency and improve understanding of what members can do on their own for their retirement." A Dutch fund went further, stating they have a "moral obligation to inform members about where their money is going. After all, they trust us with their money and we are acting on their behalf."

In terms of member communication with pension funds, the majority (39%) stated it was done via the phone. This was followed by 29.5% using traditional correspondence, 23% using e-mail and 15.5% via a website. Some (63%) said their members had not contacted them more often since the start of the financial crisis, compared with those that had (37%).

The majority (72.5%) said that regulations in their country affect communications, while 27.5% said they did not. Over half (56%) also find communication to be expensive for their fund.

Some 85% said it is very important that they communicate with their fund members, with one UK fund referring to it as "vital", while only one respondent thinks they are not important. The majority (55%) were either indifferent about communication with the public in general, or felt it was fairly unimportant. Only 13.5% said it was very important.

Opinion on communication with the media was quite evenly spread - for 34.5% it was important and 40.5% unimportant, with 25% indifferent. In terms of communication with the authorities, 70.5% of respondents felt this was important and 11% unimportant.

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