When Barclays launched its new employee pension scheme, ‘Afterwork’, in 2003, communication was central to its successful implementation. The UK-based banking group says rebranding its pension arrangement in this way addresses the issue of apathy and establishes the product as one of its major staff benefits. Barclays says the implications of Afterwork are communicated in the context of three main areas: the low level of member contributions, where only 30% of scheme members made voluntary contributions thus taking full advantage of contributions matching by Barclays; the recent volatility of investments, which highlighted the vulnerability of pensions and the difficulties associated with planning for retirement, and money expertise, an area that saw the group adopt a long-term internal strategy to develop employees’ awareness and ability to manage their own finances.
A contributory hybrid arrangement, made up mainly of a core cash balance fund and an optional defined contribution (DC) fund, it replaces the existing non-contributory DC scheme. Barclays says the specific objectives of the communication process when it launched the product went beyond just sending out positive messages. Rather it sought to enable people to begin managing their own money towards retirement. Moreover, the group wanted to encourage its employees to make higher voluntary contributions to Afterwork as well as enhance their understanding and awareness of general financial management and saving.
Barclays says it was concerned about existing attitudes and behaviour towards pensions. It believes people’s perceptions of pensions meant they had little understanding of how the existing arrangement worked or of what they were entitled to. Furthermore, they were cynical about having to make their own contributions and were not fully aware of Barclays’ contributions or how to maximise them. Many made little provision for pensions savings. To ensure employees’ interest in the new arrangement, Barclays says it built its approach to the new product on the understanding that employees are also consumers. As a product, the group needed to sell it – something it considered a challenge given people’s tendency to ignore, find little time for or show fear of pension schemes.
The name Afterwork was chosen because it didn’t overtly imply pensions, something that might put people off, but instead plays on the idea that Afterwork is a stage in a person’s life not just an expression for going down the pub!
But the term Afterwork wasn’t enough on its own and Barclays supplemented it with a strapline – ‘got a life? Keep it’ – and a descriptor line – ‘a new Barclays pension for Barclays’. The strapline was developed to maximise interest in the product and connect with consumer desire whilst the descriptor was included once Afterwork had been launched to ensure employees knew it was a pensions product.
Barclays then used what it calls ‘pick-up-and-go’ communications, whereby employees browsed the information at hand and were ‘drip fed’ the details as the campaign progressed so that is could be focused on any individual’s needs when he or she needed to take a decision. Options were broken down into four areas for simplicity’s sake, according to Barclays, and a decision guide was drafted to give people all the answers they needed. The guide included personalised illustrations so employees could balance any contributions they could afford to make now with their retirement needs.
Barclays says it used a wide range of internal media to sell the new product, to overcome the fact half the potential members were scattered in bank branches and difficult to access. These included paper-based media sent out directly to employees’ addresses; broadcast paper, such as posters, faxes, post-cards and internal magazine articles; a dedicated website; a dedicated help-line, and face-to-face workshops.
The outcome of the campaign has seen increased pension participation, with the number of employees opting to make voluntary contributions rising by 71% and the level of the average contribution rate up from 3.5% to 5% of salary.
Moreover, Barclays claims the campaign has generated a high degree of activity and general interest within the group. Awareness about the need to plan effectively for retirement has been raised with 80% of those surveyed during the campaign feeling they were not saving enough. The helpline received an average 300 calls per day, rising to over 700 in the days just before the deadline for decisions came around. Callers generally rated this service as very satisfactory. Some 3,000 attended the workshops and overall, those interviewed believed the Afterwork communications campaign was attractive, thought-provoking and easy to understand.
Highlights and achievements
With the rebranding of its pensions products and move to treat its employees as customers, Barclays has successfully managed to turn around the idea that pensions are boring and that they can be considered ‘later’. Moreover, it has dealt effectively with the cynicism and lack of awareness people show when talking about pensions and what they are ultimately entitled to.
Its wide-reaching communications policy has shown its employees the importance of saving from an early age to a period in their life after work, when they should aspire to maintain a high quality of life.
Careful use of words and catch phrases has successfully seen its pensions membership and contributions rates increase whilst the overall message of the exercise to make people take more time and understand the management of their own finances has been achieved. The long-term nature of the communications strategy and individual customised reporting will ensure the message becomes embedded and isn’t merely a flash in the pan.