At the start of this new decade who would have thought that, less than three months in, the majority of the UK workforce would either be stood-down or working from home? Luckily, most organisations employ people to think about such depressing eventualities and so have Business Continuity Plans (BCP) in place. Those working in the Pension Administration industry are no different and many are now thankful for recent investment in their BCPs.
These are awful times with many people losing loved ones and their livelihoods and having to cope with the loss of social interaction. Against this backdrop, business may not seem that important but life has to go on, especially in an industry relied upon by millions of people for their income. Never has the third element of the administration mantra been so thought about! – paying the right benefits to the right people at the right time.
We consider below how some of these BCPs are being enacted and highlight some of the steps administration firms have taken in recent days and weeks to ensure service delivery is maintained in an environment protecting employee health and wellbeing.
In this uncertain world, flexibility and understanding are key; be prepared to challenge accepted ways of working. Things are not normal and we should not try and treat them as such. The best outcome is that we learn things about our business, employees and clients which can help us be more efficient in providing a better service to our clients and outcomes to members when the world returns to normal… or a new normal!
Health and wellbeing
As Boris is rightly telling us every time he stands in front of his lectern, people’s health is our priority. Firms have been following Government guidance since the beginning of this epidemic and have introduced ‘social distancing’ where appropriate and later adopted widespread (if not total) homeworking.
When someone is not visible it is easy to lose social interaction so anything which enables colleagues to interact should be encouraged during scheduled breaks from work and/or after the working day. These could be:
- video calls for team meetings (sharing documents on screen),
- virtual tea breaks during the day, instant messaging and social media groups or
- activities such as quizzes or even just sharing dad jokes (What’s silent and smells of worms?1)
There are two solutions to this:
- Providing equipment for employees to take home and access networks
- Allowing access from personal equipment via a secure portal
We would expect option 1 to be most popular as it places the least burden on employees and allows greater security controls to be in place.
Both solutions will rely on individuals having access to fast, secure and consistent broadband connections (noting the infrastructure needs to be resilient under much greater than normal usage) as well as sufficient bandwidth on internal networks and servers to cope with an appropriate number of users.
If any issues are experienced, those employers willing to be most flexible about when work is done are likely to experience the best results.
It may be necessary to provide guidance to employees on potential changes to behaviour when working remotely which could improve performance –only have open applications in use, consider working adjusted hours (early and/or late – or even at weekends), use web-based rather than system apps when possible (e.g. Outlook) – so liaison with IT teams is vital.
Dealing with members
These are often internet based using “soft” phones. That being the case, they can move around with individuals and continue to be used under remote working.
Where there is not enough flexibility to allow this, administrators will need to consider having a small number of people in various locations to answer telephone calls, diverting numbers where possible to a reduced number of centres.
Until the ban on all non-essential journeys out of the house takes effect, we can continue to expect to receive correspondence through the post. In most circumstances the postal service is also used to send information, documents and certificates back to members and their advisers. It is, therefore, likely to be necessary to maintain a skeleton staff in an office to cope with incoming and outgoing post. Risks associated with this can be mitigated by redirecting post to fewer locations and identifying centralised print centres. It is expected that considerations undertaken and changes adopted at this time will lead to permanent process changes in future, for the better!
There has been a recent trend to digitise historic member communications, moving away from paper-based documents, but not all administrators have made this change. Where access to paper files is required for day-to-day administration, it may not be possible to complete certain member-related tasks which will necessitate discussion with members and trustees about service delivery. Plans may also need to be put in place to identify key workers who are able to go into the office and access the documents.
Can members be encouraged to communicate online?
E-mail is not generally accepted to be a secure enough method of communication for sharing sensitive personal information and documents, but many administrators have secure web-portals members can log into. We expect to see processes adapt to recommend use of these services and facilitate access.
Given uncertainty around physical location of and access to key people, some thought is required in relation to obtaining signatures and approvals for payments and other transactions (DC investments/switches, etc.) – which often require input or sign-off by “senior” individuals.
Hopefully scheme cashflow requirements have already been considered and sufficient funds are in place to cover key expenditure for a longer than the usual cycle. Alternatively, there might be a regular disinvestment in place to ensure (at least) the pension payroll is paid. If not, discussions should be had with providers about the form in which they will accept signatures – can they be provided electronically? Will a photograph of a document do? If the answer to both of these is “no” you may be at the point where a key worker needs to be in the office.
PASA Board Directors, April 2020
Gary Evans, Kim Gubler, Girish Menezes, David Pharo, Paul Sturgess, Chris Tagg