The motto of Nationwide Building Society is "on your side". It is an attitude which led to Nationwide Pension Fund (NPF) winning best administration of the year in the Pension Scheme of the Year Awards 2015. The numbers speak for themselves.
- Nationwide Pension Fund has improved its administration over several years
- It provides a service to the family of members who have died
- This helps increase the efficiency of the scheme and adds a human touch when dealing with membersIn a scheme of 30,000 members, the annual data validation results achieved a score of 99.9%, beating The Pension Regulator's (TPR) expectation of 95%.
In a scheme of 30,000 members, the annual data validation results achieved a score of 99.9%, beating The Pension Regulator's (TPR) expectation of 95%.
Similarly, the performance results on the service level agreement (SLA) set by the trustees has improved over several years. From 2011/12, the score was 88%, with it increasing to 95% in 2012/2013. During the last quarter of 2014 only two cases out of 2,572 fell outside the SLA, with the score for 2014/15 being 99%.
Head of pensions Ian Baines says: "What differentiates us from our financial competitors is that we are a mutual owned by our members and we are the biggest building society in the country. There is an in-house administration team and our customers are our fellow employees but that same ethos applies. So we want to provide a great service to our employees. Our offering is at the higher end of the market in terms of quality of service and turnaround times. It reflects where we are as a company."
Nationwide senior pension manager Darren O'Neil (pictured above) says data quality leads to an efficient service in the long run. "The quality of the data needs to be really robust. We are less likely to make an error and we do it within the agreed timescale set by the trustees."
Meeting the TPR's data quality checks every year has helped, he adds: "We came out with impressive scores in the first year, which was in 2012. We have consistently improved on them year upon year. We decided to do the conditional data set, which was not obligatory. Yet we decided to do that anyway and we passed with flying colours and have further improved that."
Getting the data accurate is a balance between technology and people but the NPF leans towards the latter. "The team are highly trained. We normally recruit people with no pension expertise but the training regime is such that we get them to a basic standard very quickly and then we move them up to senior roles," O'Neil continues.
Nationwide has a mixture of ‘home grown talents' who started from inside the company and moved upwards, combined with other administrators hired externally. This has given the company an edge when it comes to managing the scheme as it can draw on people from various backgrounds.
Baines explains: "There are geographical challenges for third-party administrators and in-house teams. Swindon, where we are based, does not have a massive pool of pension talent for miles because it is a relatively small town. But the reality is that Nationwide does look to recruit a balance of people coming out of college or university, and that is part of our ethos."
For members looking to get a transfer value quotation there is a seven-day turnaround and for administering deaths there is a three to five-day process.
The scheme has taken a number of steps to boost communications between members and administrators. This has involved roadshows and pension clinics, which have been introduced to raise the profile of the staff who deal with pensions within the company. "We do take the administrators away from their desks at times and they will go to a roadshow or marketplace type event," Baines says.
"The team benefited immensely from that in terms of enjoyment and self-satisfaction. From a training and development point of view they have to explain something face-to-face that they might otherwise have simply written to members about and that is a good thing."
An example of this can be found with Nationwide's branch managers. Every year the branch managers meet on a regional basis where they are all taken offsite. There have been eight or nine of these regional events and there was a pension stall outside the conferences for delegates to visit during coffee breaks.
Baines explains: "One of the things we did for the first time this year is an event along the lines of speed dating.
"Branch managers would go to each stall and on the pensions stall there would be two people. So we got administrators off site and talking to branch managers who are real advocates of pensions. To have branch managers talking to staff and acting as an advocate of pensions while being able to talk to the administration team alongside that is a really powerful tool.
"So that ‘speed dating' was really effective and the administration team were part and parcel of delivering that; the feedback from the branch managers was fantastic."
Aside from the annual meetings for regional managers, O'Neil says the pension team are happy to meet with individuals face-to-face or communicate via teleconference. They also host pension clinics in all the head office buildings twice a year. "We invite people to come and see us; it is just an open door policy," explains O'Neil. "People can just drop in and we can take their questions and give them answers."
Nationwide also runs around a dozen pre-retirement and financial planning seminars a year all across the UK. To reach staff in remote areas, it provides online talk backs in real time and members can also just drop a question into the mailbox. O'Neil adds: "We have also delivered annual allowance and lifetime allowance briefings to our senior staff and invited them to breakfasts sessions and seminars, where we have talked them all the way through the year about the changes so they understand what is coming."
A unique aspect of Nationwide is how it deals with members who have died and their family members. It is more sensitive and efficient to visit the family of the bereaved, according to O'Neil. He says: "It is not a great service if we just bombard them with letters and ask them to fill forms to understand the family circumstances. To overcome that, we go and visit the family, normally two to three weeks after the death.
"We ask if we can come along, we don't impose ourselves. We take them through the process and listen to them. We obtain the certificates and forms we require and gather the relevant information."
As family circumstances are not as straightforward as they used to be, it is important to dig around for the information, he adds.
However the effort is worth it as it gives the family "a face to the name" of who is helping them and betters the administration of the scheme.
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