Rosie Crowley – 14 July 2020

Will COVID be the driver for change in how we communicate?

It has felt like we have been in lockdown for an eternity and yet COVID only really came onto our radars at the beginning of the year. But in that short time, the impact and change the pandemic has had on our lives and how we communicate has been drastic.

New terms such as furlough, social distancing and R rate are all new to our vocabulary and yet we use them more times in a day than we say our own name. Likewise we have also changed how we communicate. In the absence of being able to physically be together, more often than not Friday nights consist of a Zoom call or a game on Houseparty, rather than a chat down the pub. Mediums like Zoom and Houseparty have become ever more popular due to the desire to continue communicating, so much so that in March 2020 Houseparty downloads were up 2,902% compared to the month before [1]. Astronomical growth.

We’ve also observed a change in how the pensions industry is communicating with members and in this blog we want to talk about what we’ve observed, but also our view on how the industry can continue to communicate with members throughout (and beyond) the pandemic.

Reassurance. Reassurance. Reassurance?

It was incredibly positive to see TPR publish guidance to pension schemes on communicating with members during the pandemic [2]. This guidance focused on providing members with reassurance during these uncertain times.

Many pension providers have followed the guidance, and reportedly “half of UK pension schemes have sent ‘reassuring communications’ to members during the COVID-19 pandemic” [3]. How these communications have been sent to members has varied between providers from videos, to traditional letters, but one thing has remained the same, the focus is reassurance.

The industry has been quick to respond and the intention to provide reassurance is something to be respected. However, some members have commented that they don’t quite see the communications as “hitting the mark”. And to understand why some members may feel this way we need to look at the example of the pink elephant.

The psychological theory for ironic process states that deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts can make them more likely to surface [4]. This is the theory behind the pink elephant, if someone says to you “don’t think of a pink elephant” all you can do is think of a pink elephant.

And unfortunately in some cases this has been the impact of the “reassuring member communications”. Some members have found the messaging lacked explanation and relevance to them as an individual. For example, where communications are in essence saying “it’s gone down, don’t worry” without any further context or explanation, all you can do is worry – worry is the pink elephant!

What can we learn from the pink elephant?

As the pandemic continues, more and more data is becoming available on how it can have a drastically different impact on groups of people. Take age for example, COVID has financially hit younger workers more severely than older workers due to the combined effect of the sectors which are dominated by younger workers and younger workers having less financial resilience [5].

This is the reality of the situation for many and if we want to learn anything from the pink elephant and provide real reassurance we need to take this into account when communicating with these members. We need member segmentation and personalisation in communications.

Now this goes further than using a member’s name, we need to use the power of data to draw assumptions on individuals to help segment and personalise how we speak to them. This is not a new concept. Social Media platforms do this incredibly well to drive engagement with products their advertisers are paying to get in front of the right people. And more often than not, it works.

It’s probably safe to assume the pensions industry has not fully capitalised on the power of data analysis given the industry’s current levels of engagement. But why is this? There are likely two culprits; archaic systems and a lack of cognitive diversity. Member segmentation and comms automation is almost impossible to perform efficiently if the data is not well structured and incomplete, and as we know, pension data often contains gaps, errors and is poorly modelled. Likewise the right expertise to execute these data strategies might be difficult to come by in the industry.

The real need to support members during the pandemic could be the driver for change. Forcing the industry to look at how they use their members’ data to communicate, driving the right sort of engagement and providing effective reassurance when it is needed most.

Coming next month

Found this interesting? Look out for Part 2 where we’ll be discussing if COVID will be the driver for change in overhauling what we traditionally think of as a pension.






Pink elephant on a pink background