Respondents to this month’s Off The Record survey were evenly split on the
most important form of communication with their members or participants. Some 30% believed postal correspondence to be most important, while the same number favoured their fund’s website. When asked this question a year ago, a majority of 38% stated that postal correspondence was most important, compared with 26.5% for website communication.

Several funds said that they had a legal obligation to communicate with their members via post. A Dutch fund said: “Post is most likely to arrive and some data regulatory authorities oblige pension funds to inform members by post. Besides that, internet and email are not yet common amongst a big group of our members.”

A Latvian fund favouring website communication said that it made it possible for members to “regularly find useful new information, to ask questions and get answers, [and] to see their individual accounts”. Just 15% felt meetings were the best method of communication, and 10% thought email was best.

Most respondents (87.5%) considered it important for their fund to communicate with members and participants. Just under a quarter believed communication with the public to be important, and 32.5% with the media. A larger proportion (65%) felt communication with government and political/regulatory authorities to be important.

Respondents gave various reasons as to why they felt communication with their members was important to their fund. A German fund commented: “As one of our self-defined objectives, it is important [for] us to maintain a high level of trustworthiness, reputation and service quality to our members, not least to generate additional voluntary payments.” A Dutch scheme added: “Members are the backbone of our fund. It’s their money we’re investing for their future income, [and] they should know what’s going on and what to expect. In times of crisis it’s extra important to inform members, [as] we don’t want them to lose confidence in the pension fund.”

Some 80% of respondents stated that regulations in their country affected their communication. In 2010 just over 70% were affected.

Just 15.5% of respondents stated their fund had phased out methods of communication, such as postal correspondence. This was an increase on 2010 when it was 9.5%.

Three-quarters of respondents said that they did not plan to change their future communication to an exclusively electronic format. A Croatian fund stated: “In spite of the fact that web and email information [is] more and more important, we still feel a need to enable our clients [to have] direct communication by phone. It is partly because not all our clients are online, but mostly [as] there are some situations which require direct communication.” Several respondents stated that not all of their members currently had access to electronic information, or that they preferred to receive hard copies. A Danish fund added: “Post will, from time to time, be a way to emphasise the importance of information.”

Pension fund opinion of new forms of communication, such as postings on YouTube or social networking sites, has improved since last year. In 2010, 59% of respondents either felt these methods to be a bad idea or were indifferent, whereas now 52.5% believe them to be a good idea (although they might not be implemented in the near future). However, many respondents still felt them to be inappropriate methods of communication. A Spanish fund described them as “not a serious approach”, while a Dutch fund stated they “do not fit our culture”.

Some 22.5% of respondents said they communicated with their members annually. This was followed by 17.5% bi-annually, 15% monthly, 12.5% quarterly, 7.5% daily and 5% weekly. Over 80% of respondents said that levels of communication were back to normal following the financial crisis.

The majority of member communication with their pension fund was via telephone (41.5%). This was followed by email (26.5%), traditional correspondence (21.5%) and website communication (10.5%).