Sebastian Cheek speaks to Volkswagen Group pensions manager Roy Platten at this year's PP Show about how the scheme's communications strategy helped it acquire the NAPF Pension Quality Mark
Sebastian Cheek: The VW scheme recently acquired the NAPF Pension Quality Mark, which honours schemes for communications, contributions and governance. Could you talk about those three areas, how the VW scheme has gone about addressing them and why it was awarded the mark?
Roy Platten: As soon as we knew the pensions quality mark was out there, we looked at the criteria for selection and I thought it was something we would achieve. I'm not saying we achieved it comfortably, but as a trustee board we take communications very seriously. We work to great lengths to ensure we communicate well and effectively with members and we benchmark it as well.
On governance, all the suggestions from third parties suggest we are treating it very seriously and we are probably one of the benchmarks and best in class. That said, we never rest on our laurels - I should emphasise always looking for new ways of doing things - but we currently have an audit compliance stream and five different streams that trustees work on to ensure we're effective in all these areas, so compliance and governance was absolutely key.
I thought we'd do well but obviously we're very pleased to receive the award - it's recognition for the way the company supports the scheme and it's also recognition for the trustee board. We're delighted and it sends out a very good message to our members.
Sebastian Cheek: Focusing on communications, how has your communications strategy developed over recent years to target members?
Roy Platten: We're constantly looking at different ways to reach members. We use every single avenue possible, from normal standard literature you send out to using the intranet. We use questions and answers on the intranet, we use CDs, we have pensions surgeries for our members, and obviously as pensions manager I'm available on a day-to-day basis to deal with any issues.
We've had a major communication campaign this year to get various messages over to members, and I think it's been successful. Next year we're intending to go out with a questionnaire to the members and that will help identify just how successful it's been. We're always looking at different ways of doing things and we're constantly looking to push that threshold out a bit further.
Sebastian Cheek: How do you target communications specifically to individual members at different stages in their pension scheme?
Roy Platten: Clearly with the profile of the members we've got - and they span all the age ranges as they would in any major leading company - you have to take different approaches. When people start with the company they all go through a pension induction workshop with me. This takes them through how the pension scheme works, the mechanics, the benefits of it, the contributions and it also touches on what will happen when you come to retirement. We're very conscious that if you've just joined the company you're unlikely to retire for a little while. We also run retirement seminars for people who are within two or three years of their probable retirement age. We don't just invite the employee - we also invite the member's spouse along, because retirement doesn't just impact upon the employee but it also impacts upon their spouse as well. We have various communications through the year and we're constantly having surgeries and making sure people are kept abreast of everything that's happening in the pension scheme.
Sebastian Cheek: A lot of people argue that communication starts with the end goal in mind, and the ‘at-retirement' stage is very important. At what stage would you as a scheme start to alert members approaching retirement to the options available when they retire?
Roy Platten: It probably starts early to be honest. As they go through their working life it becomes more relevant to them the older they get as they start to think more about "what's my pension actually going to be worth for me?". So we raise the focus as they get older, but we certainly touch on it when they first start. We make them aware of what the options are - although for some of them it might be 20 or 30 years away, it's still important they understand what the endgame is and how they can prepare for it.
Also, as they get closer to their probable retirement age, we make sure they are spoken to - we give them the opportunity to have one to ones with myself and they are invited along to day-long retirement planning seminars which we know go down very well. The feedback from those has been superb and they are much appreciated. People become more aware as they get older and the pension is also perceived as a bigger and better benefit the longer you are with the company.
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