Ethical Dilemmas in Providing Pensions Information

Is there more to pensions than meets the eye? In the latest installment of our 21st Century Professionals series, PARN CEO Andy Friedman speaks to Geraldine Brassett, member of the Pensions Management Institute.

 

‘We’re working with clients and like most we have quantitative and qualitative measures we share with them. Presenting those statistics in an open and honest way with the client is very important and I’m not sure it is always adhered to. It’s a dilemma because if you present the right information to a client then they’re probably not going to be happy if it’s not where it needs to be. It could have a financial impact for your organisation and a consequent reduction against your fees. So you might choose to justify to yourself why you might massage those figures so they look better.’

Geraldine Brassett is a client partner in a company providing services to UK occupational pension schemes. She looks after a portfolio of clients in relation to their third party pensions administration services. Geraldine went straight to work after her A levels and then in her early twenties became a student member of the Pensions Management Institute. She did the professional examinations and went on to become a Fellow of the Institute and has been on their Council.

Impacts of Industry Changes

Geraldine elaborated on the ethical dilemma she encounters. ‘In pensions administration, a lot of the measures are based around speed, such as a performance indicator to issue all retirement quotes within five days of the request. If I only issue 90% then, under the terms of the contract, I might have to knock say 5% off my fee. Some will say, “Actually we’re at 92%, but if I take into account mitigating circumstances on these cases and these cases  – ooh look, I can justify it being more than 95% and therefore tick in the box.”

I don’t know how widespread this is. I suspect nobody knows because in our industry no two work management systems are the same. Sometimes there is a good reason. If you’re acting as a professional with openness and integrity you would go to your client and say, “Look, it’s 92% but here’s why and let’s think about whether the penalty should really apply.”’

Geraldine noted that the pensions industry has changed significantly.

‘We’ve moved from something that was very much a service industry;it was all about the member and the service. Now it still has to be about the member and the service but it also has to be about the commercial position, the efficiency and the cost. And then we have a lot of regulation we have to comply with. So we have to balance all of these things. That means a lot more visibility, a lot more reporting and therefore, I think, more opportunity for people to be put in difficult positions.

Measuring Performance

Clients have been a lot more focussed on performance, probably for the last fifteen to twenty years. We started off with quantitative measures around speed. Now clients are a lot more aware that that isn’t the best measure on its own. So, it’s also how much work have you got outstanding, how old is that work, how many complaints are you getting, how many compliments? Are your members happy, do they understand the letters you’re sending out? You’ve kind of gone from no measures, to speed measures, to quantitative measures, to now something that’s much more rounded.

When I started out it was all about the employer providing a pension scheme for the individual and sometimes the individual wasn’t even interested. They just thought, “Oh well, I’m in a pension scheme my employer’s going to provide for me, I’m in a job for life.” In 2006, responsibility for managing the amount of tax efficient pensions savings, and the outcomes at the end, were put onto the individual and away from the employer. Now we have the freedom and choice initiative agenda that came in three years ago and people could take their direct contribution pots of cash into an insured vehicle. They didn’t have to go and buy an annuity. Again, it’s putting those decisions back to the member and to the employee. ’

Getting it Right

‘Quality in our industry is about getting it right because we’re dealing with real people, so if we don’t get it right, then that’s somebody who’s not getting the right pension or the right death benefit. Getting the numbers right is really, really important. Delivering those numbers in a way that people understand is equally important.’

 

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