YouTube not yet the communication star
On The Record How do you communicate with members?
Head of communications
• Invested assets: DKK121bn (€16.1bn)
• Participants: 240,000
• Hybrid scheme based on DC but with a certain level of guaranteed pensions
• Funding level ratio: approximately 500% depending on which pension fund
• Date established: 1954 (when first PKA pension fund was founded)
As membership is mandatory in a labour market pension fund we feel we have a particular obligation to make a supreme effort to engage with our members - not only to make them aware of their pension saving needs but also to provide them with the best possible basis for the choices and options they have.
We communicate with our members via post, e-mail, the website and meetings, however the web-based media is our primary dialogue tool.
Danish legislation still requires certain information to be pushed to members in a permanent media form. The combination of permanent and push can sometimes be hard to obtain without the use of paper-based media or the post. But in the future we may end up with electronic communication only. Until then our mantra is: relevant information at relevant times via the member's preferred channel.
Unfortunately, in 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis we were in the middle of a campaign about new possibilities in the pension fund, meaning we had no choice but to push out information about the financial situation much more frequently than we had done before - just to reassure members that their actual choice had nothing to do with the financial crisis.
The best way of communicating is to combine push and pull media. It means we can, for example, push an overview, via e-mail or through the post and create the urge for the members to log onto their own personal site and find more detailed information. And it seems to work: in 2009 there were 745 daily visits to the PKA website and just under 400 times every day an individual logged onto their personal site. In total, 104,000 of our members have so far activated their own individual log-on system.
We are currently analysing the pros and cons of internet-based social media. On the one hand, social media is useful because news travels very fast, but for the same reason it is also dangerous. Trying to control a media - such as social networking site Facebook - whose nature is the uncontrollable, is not advisable. What we are likely to do is attempt to establish such media for a limited number of members, a limited campaign or a limited time. We could make a decision on this in 2010, but I am not sure we would be able to implement it this year for technical reasons.
Currently, we are also trying to develop some kind of web TV or video-blogging to give our communications strategy a third dimensional space.
Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW),
• Invested assets: €88bn (€15.7bn)
• Total members: 2.1m
• DB (Dutch industry-wide pensions scheme)
• Solvency ratio: 109% (Dec 2009)
• Date established: 1969
Communication is in the first instance about accountability because we want to be fully transparent about what we do with investor's money. It is also about raising awareness that we will try to provide a good pension upon their retirement.
The main form of communication comes in the shape of our magazine, which we send out three times a year. This is complemented by communication via our website, call centre, e-mail and correspondence. We also hold presentations at members' workplaces.
Dutch regulations prescribe that we have to communicate official figures with our members by post. We are only allowed to change this to an electronic format when the member explicitly asks for it. That is why we still use written communication, for instance, sending out the annual pensions statement to all our active members.
The internet is becoming increasingly important. We have plans for a more self-service concept on our website so that participants are able to enter their own information electronically and get a response. But that is something for the future.
Last year we made a film for YouTube, which aimed to explain what the financial crisis meant for pensions. However, only a small amount of people watched the video, leaving us to conclude that at present it is not an important medium for us. As we have a rather young membership, we will probably try video again in the future but there are no plans to repeat it currently.
Apart from the YouTube video, we also stepped up communication during the financial crisis with a special edition of our member magazine and four big meetings held across the country where members could ask the fund's experts and investment managers questions about the crisis.
The face-to-face meetings were due to the special circumstances only, but we are currently considering more intensive contact with inquisitive participants other than merely by telephone. We are thinking about organising pensions days where participants, experts and investment managers can come together. This is a rather expensive way to communicate therefore it is not ready for execution just yet. In 2008, PFZW spent around €12 per participant per year on communications. This sum could be higher for 2009 because of the extra meetings we held.
Daily Mail and General Trust plc, DMGT Pensions
Manager communications & policy
• Invested assets: £1.5bn (€1.7bn)
• Members: 22,500
• A closed DB scheme and a number of DC schemes
• Date established: 1950s
Communication with our members is important as pensions tend to be very complex. One of our objectives is to make them as understandable as possible. We have actually been awarded the Crystal Mark standard from the Plain English Campaign for some of our pensions literature.
We also communicate to help our members realise the value of the pensions we offer.
For our DC schemes, we have an external provider who communicates directly with the members, although we are still involved in a lot of the communications.
We communicate with our members through face-to-face meetings, via e-mail, correspondence and our website. We also use audio slides, which are used as at-desk presentations.
UK regulations require us to send certain documents via post, for example, the summary funding statements for the DB scheme. A new consultation document has been published recently containing proposed regulations, which would allow us to e-mail more documents in the future instead of using the post. But as for now, while we try to communicate more via e-mail and the website, our hands are still tied in certain areas.
This year we will be launching an online financial awareness programme for all of our UK employees, not just the pension fund members. For this, we will be sourcing videos from YouTube and encouraging people to take part in discussion forums and blogs. The programme will be covering eight financial topics - from borrowing to retirement - and realising that people respond differently to various types of media, we wanted to include as many of them as possible, for example video.
But for the moment we have decided not to use social networking sites, mainly because we feel members would not sign up to them for what the product is offering. However, we are aware that these sites are gathering momentum so we will be able to slot them in easily, when necessary.
During the financial crisis we decided against a knee-jerk reaction and did not step up our communication efforts, although existing channels such as the website and DC newsletters contained information about it. We also had a surprisingly low number of queries about the crisis from our members. Going forward we will use our new financial awareness website to post articles relating to the market conditions.
Interviews conducted by Nina Röhrbein