It’s always been about the member
These blog things are more fun than I thought they would be, you know. Given that my move to EBC involves a big change in focus for me (to consultancy, from some sort of in-house role), I thought I’d think about how that impacts what matters to me – the member.
A common thread running through my career has been my focus on the member. My first proper job was with Prudential, working in their Belfast call centre dealing with PPs, RAPs and FSAVCs. I learnt many lessons in telephone customer service there. But it was really my mum who taught me about how important compassion and respect was, when I worked with her after school in a small local petrol station/shop. She also taught me the value of hard work. I’ve genuinely never met anyone who worked harder than she did. Ironically, the owner – a close family friend after all the years my mum worked there - was the real-life Irish version of Arkwright from ‘Open All Hours’. Working a shift with him was interesting as his lessons covered such things as how to rub off the best before dates on the dustiest cans of food he sold!
When I moved to England, I got my first job in occupational pensions working in an in-house pension team. There, I learnt about empathy - in bucketloads - about putting the member first and taking time to find the right answer. As a company, the message I heard loudest was to always put the member first.
My history degree wasn’t wasted there. I could bury my head in old versions of Trust Deeds, member booklets or actuarial factor tables whilst trying to make sense of a benefit promised to someone 30 years before that had somehow become confused with the passage of dates and files from administrator to administrator. I loved being able to find the right answer for someone, though sometimes that was not the answer they wanted; it often shocked me how many people ‘forgot’ that they had been given a contribution refund on leaving the company.
I learnt how horrible death and ill health cases were and how to hold that lump in my throat when hearing about the circumstances and of those left behind. I remember my first death in service and serious ill health case; we all have our own memories of the saddest cases we dealt with. As awful as those cases were, I knew I was helping people who needed it and there was a great sense of satisfaction, even if it came with a sadness at how alone some people were. More than once, I’d be happy just to sit and chat with the elderly lady who’d lost the man she’d spent her life with and who was lonely and had idea what to do next.
I always imagined I was speaking to my mum in those moments.
Administration felt like the poor man’s relative to the other areas of running a pension scheme and I could never fathom why that was the case when the service was so vital to so many people.
Fast forward to more recent job roles, no longer an administrator but always in some function where the intention was to ensure the member had the right level of service, in a reasonable timescale. In some roles, the ‘member’ became the ‘employee’ when working for an employer rather than Trustees. Same focus, different names.
My last role was a mixture of the employee and the member, but in all honesty, I enjoyed working for the employee more because I could more directly influence their pension experience. My perception of occupational pensions (pensions with a trustee board overseeing them) is that all the regulations, processes and scheme rules makes for a slower journey for the member. I’m not saying it’s wrong, it’s just harder to feel you’re adding value to a member’s life when you’re no longer working in a member facing role.
In my last role, I liked working within the business to make the pension enrolment journey smoother (my favourite part was delivering the monthly induction session for new employees!) or helping HR refine the ill health process so HR and line manager could better support the employee at the hardest of times. Even in this role, I still dealt with death in service cases, so I was never too far away from speaking to real people facing real problems.
And then I jumped ship to my current role, where I’m working for a consultancy. I’m no longer part of one business supporting their employees, but support many businesses - our ‘clients’ - in supporting their employees. I thought this would be a massive shift for me, but it’s so much more familiar than I expected!
The constant for me is the member/employee and ensuring they are at the heart of any work we do. Yes, of course I’m helping my employer bring in revenue but that’s much less obvious to me because we don’t do timesheets and I don’t have any pressure in keeping my costs down or working to sales targets. I find it hard to draw a line in the sand and hold out my hand for payment before doing the right thing. I suspect that if I worked in one of the big consultancy firms, I’d be unlikely to say the same and I’d probably end up with extra focus on the work I do to ensure the time I spent on a client matched the income we expected from them.
One of the things I’ve been pleasantly surprised about, is how quickly everything moves in this type of business. If we think a client and their members are paying too high a price for their pension, we move quickly to fix that. If we recommend to a client during our governance process that we should try to tackle low numbers of members completing a death benefit nomination, we quickly recommend various ways to tackle that and help that where possible. If a client tells us they want to move their pension scheme elsewhere, we can often achieve that in a surprisingly short period of time, relative to occupational pension schemes. It’s so rewarding to see things change – for the better! – so quickly.
Another pleasant surprise is around the relationships I’m building with pension providers. And even more surprising to me is that some of them appear interested in my feedback. I’ve given some very strong feedback on processes to my current pension provider (who some of our clients also use) and find myself using the phrase ‘if I don’t get it, how is the average user supposed to get it?’ I’m not sure if that feedback will make a difference, but I feel like I’m being listened to now when before I’m sure I just was shouting into the wind with things like this.
I recently helped with one of my first EBCtv days; 3 financial well-being sessions that are open for our clients to support their employees. I was a bit nervous before each session, but once it was clear that people were engaging with us and just asking for the help we were offering, all nerves disappeared. Because that takes me back to the phone calls, emails and letters I’ve handled over the years when there’s no nicer feeling than knowing you’ve helped. It’s not as wholesome as being a nurse or doctor, of course. I’m not saving anyone’s life, but I am making a difference, even if only small.
So here I am, having jumped the ship to be a consultant. But it’s all the same game really and it’s always been about the member, no matter what name we know them by.