The Danish dashboard - PensionsInfo - has existed since 1999. Its head, Michael Rasch speaks to Michael Klimes about its history and what lessons can be learned.
The unveiling of the pensions dashboard prototype on 12 April at the Treasury's Prototype Techsprint in London was a milestone, demonstrating its potential in real time.
For it to be successful, questions around funding, governance and data standards will have to be answered if the dashboard is to materialise by the 2019 deadline.
As time is short, the UK must look to other countries and learn from them. Arguably one of the most important is Denmark, which has had a dashboard for nearly two decades. PensionsInfo has been led by Michael Rasch since 2010.
What he says about Denmark's experience is instructive. However, it is important to first understand the differences between the Danish dashboard and what the UK is aiming for.
Denmark vs UK
PensionsInfo is a single dashboard that shows pensions, disability and survivors' benefits in one place. This is different from the UK concept unveiled in Hoxton - a central hub - from where it is hoped multiple dashboards will spring.
The Danes have a voluntary system while the government seems to be heading towards a degree of compulsion where providers are forced to give data. At the prototype launch, the economic secretary to the Treasury Simon Kirby warned providers he was in discussions with the pensions minister Richard Harrington to make sure minimum data standards are met.
Both countries' insurance trade bodies, the Danish Insurance Association (DIA) and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) are heavily involved in the projects.
With all this in mind, what did the Danes learn which can be applied to Britain?
Input from everyone
One is that all the major industry players should be involved in the dashboard. They must reach a consensus about the aims of the project through discussion.
He says: "There are various parties within the Danish pensions industry that have different perspectives that feed into the dashboard. Some have a more commercial focus and some only see it as a service to their customers. You have to get those partners to agree how this dashboard will benefit them and their customers."
Getting all these players around the table is not easy and the history of PensionsInfo demonstrates how laborious process it can be. The first version was created in 1999 by the largest pension provider ATP and two other smaller providers. It was a simple website which did not have any of the larger commercial players on board such as banks or insurers.
During 2003 and 2004 there was "moderate political pressure" to get every provider to join, says Rasch.
"The ministry of business produced a report on pensions in 2003, which said PensionsInfo could help all Danes to have an overview of their pensions. At the time the minister was keen for the industry to get together and all join PensionsInfo," he continues.
An intense period of development took place from 2004 until the relaunch of the dashboard in May 2007. The last provider came onboard in 2014.
The lessons here are twofold. Firstly, there is a debate about the the best way to move any dashboard project forward. The second is how long it takes to put everything in place for a dashboard to actually function well.
On the first point Rasch says: "If nothing had happened the government might have passed legislation. In Holland they had to pass legislation. We are glad it didn't come to that in Denmark, because it gave the industry time to agree on the data standard, processes and what information to show. Also it was not dictated by the political system. On the negative side, it can take a long time to get every provider on board in a voluntary system."
Time is probably the best ally dashboard developers have to ensure they do everything correctly.
"During the creation of the second dashboard, from 2004 to 2007, we spent a great deal of time deciding what data to show and how to show it. We decided that pension forecast from 60 to 65 years needed to be delivered on all pension products - but also information on disability benefits, survivors benefit, critical illness and private health insurance should be delivered."
Before the launch in May 2007 there was a four month period where all the big providers tested their own data. This was to ensure all the different pension products and individuals were shown on the system in the correct way,
An aspect which was especially demanding was the creation of a 120-page document outlining how data should be delivered to the dashboard.
Rasch explains: "It took a year to create that 120 rule book and data model. For the UK it is a huge task to agree on a data format. We have built a structure that has not been changed for 10 years. Every time you change it all the providers have to change their delivery. It makes sense to be thorough in the beginning to avoid problems later on."
Even when the relaunched version of PensionsInfo went live in May 2007, not everyone joined because they were simply not ready.
Rasch adds: "We had a slow start when we opened the new website redesign in May and it developed in three phases. The first wave joined in May 2007. The second wave joined a year later and a third tranche a year after that.
"I would say it takes at least four months for an individual provider to get the data ready and deliver it correctly. They have to put data into our format and that is quite a task as you cannot do it in a day."
A final point Rasch has on data is that there must be industry experts involved in the project alongside IT professionals as they can spot any flaws in the pilot stage.
"You have to illustrate different pension products in a simple and easy way. In the testing you must have people who can say ‘this number looks wrong'. If a lifelong annuity is shown as a lump sum, that could get headlines in the press and might be difficult for an IT person to see!" he adds.
The ultimate test of a dashboard is how user friendly it is, and Rasch argues the Danes have learned to simplify as much as they can.
"In the beginning there was a lot of text on the website and the users did not read it. Over time less text was used and it became more intuitive. People will not use a website if they have to read two or three pages of different things. That is our experience of user testing."
Recently a PensionsInfo mobile applications has been launched while a function that allows two spouses to see and plan retirement together is being developed ."With a bit of luck it should be finished at the end of the year but it will probably be if the first half of 2018," Rasch adds.
With so much ground covered by the Danes, it makes sense for the designers of the UK dashboard to look across to the continent. Not every lesson will be directly applicable but any constructive tips should be welcomed.
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