Young scheme sets out to engage with membership
Communication for pension funds is never easy, especially when it comes to making them easy to understand and interesting for members who often have a preconceived idea that the subject is boring and complex.
This was the challenge facing the winner of IPE’s Country Award 2005 for Switzerland, the Media Markt pension scheme. This is a young fund with a value of €20m and just 965 members.
Media Markt’s retirement provision was originally run by an insurance company with a collective benefits programme for the whole Media Markt Group. The idea to go it alone in Switzerland and create an independent pension scheme was nurtured in 2001 by the then finance director and current chairman of the board. Media Markt in Switzerland soon grew big enough to warrant its own statute and the German parent gave the green light for its Swiss subsidiary to create its own pension scheme.
The management boards were set up and by 1 January 2004, the Media Markt pension scheme was up and running. Part of the scheme’s statute included an extensive communications concept. The management board and company representatives visited each of the 15 Media Markt plants in Switzerland to ensure the scheme’s members were familiar with the new pensions set up.
The presentations were designed to be easily digestible and supported by plausible examples of what policyholders could get. The examples showed how much a member needed to contribute to ensure a pension of Sfr1m in 20–50 years at a return rate of 5%. Young members were astonished to see this was possible with low contribution rates. The presentations also revealed how the role of the management board is essential in half of all the current net savings in Switzerland. Media Markt accounts for some Sfr31m of the total Sfr600bn Swiss pension fund assets.
The scheme used various means of communication to advertise itself. It published an article in every issue of the company magazine. News was posted on bulletin boards and a dedicated area for pensions was established on the company intranet for scheme members. This was divided into two areas. The first dealt with office managers and was easy to administer, as they already had basic knowledge of occupational pensions cover.
The second was for the other members, who had very little or no knowledge at all of pensions. As a result of their lack of knowledge, Media Markt went to great lengths to make sure members understood in detail how the Swiss pensions system had become established as well as the benefits of a company running its own pension scheme.
Members learned the difference between saving for old age, and invalidity and death benefits. They came to understand how serious illness and wider social security issues are covered by their pensions benefits.
Subsequently, the members knew through the various communication channels where to find essential information about their pensions, what management choices they could make for their assets and how to read and understand their statements.
To consolidate their knowledge and ensure the members understood, Media Markt ran a competition with Sfr4,500 worth of prizes up for grabs. The members simply needed to answer three easy questions to participate.
Next to the significant work the board has to undertake, Media Markt has succeeded in communicating to its members the advantages and usefulness of a company having its own pension scheme. Despite the fact members still care little for the technicalities of pension funds, the management has succeeded in at least rousing their interest.
With its comprehensive pensions communications concept, Media Markt has won the trust of its members and successfully rolled out its new pensions model to its employees.
Highlights and achievements
Brightening the image of pension funds is a challenge few tackle with the fervour and dedication that Media Markt has.
In gaining the confidence of its members, this young scheme has broken the tie its members had with the collective insurance scheme it replaces, which required very little understanding.
It has successfully shown its members that pensions is a lot more than simply money for old age – something some schemes in mature pension fund markets have yet to achieve.