Issue: December 2007/February 2008
Edutorials
Liberty Life

MEMBER COMMUNICATION: ARE WE GETTING THE MESSAGE THROUGH?

Partly, at best, suggests Richard van Dijk. He offers a checklist for improvement.

With all the good intentions of the employee benefits industry and stakeholders, generally the level of communication with members of retirement funds remains unsatisfactory. Whilst some retirement funds and service providers have made great strides in this area, it’s sad but essential that much still needs to be done. This is particularly so -- but by no means restricted to -- the member who is less financially sophisticated.

For the majority of fund members, the benefit-set provided by the employee benefits programme is the only saving and insurance they have. Yet, at times, the value of these benefits is neither well understood nor fully appreciated.

They may view their membership of the fund merely as forced saving. All too often, there is a lack of education at member level. And there can be perception amongst administrators and trustees that, if a member is supplied with a benefit statement and a rule booklet, the communication objective is achieved. Wrong!

In the absence of a comprehensive communications strategy, confusion and mistrust thrive. This is unfortunate, not only from a member perspective. It also undermines the goodwill that should be fostered between trustees, the employer and members.

What’s to be done? Get back to basics, keep the message simple, and repeat it as much as needed to ensure that funds’ communication with members is effective.

How can this be achieved? A simple checklist, to be reviewed at each trustee or management board meeting, can include:

  • Staff presentations, followed by individual member education and consultation;
  • Regular member statements, accompanied by explanatory notes;
  • Rule booklets;
  • Fund newsletters, supplying the relevant and interesting information;
  • Workplace posters, displaying pertinent benefits and features of the fund;
  • Trustee updates;
  • Describing procedures to be followed for access to information;
  • Member surveys, to assess understanding and appreciation of fund membership and the need for individual financial planning.

This list is not exhaustive. It should be adapted to unique needs at fund level.

Member communication should be a priority for trustees, employers, consultants and service providers to the fund. The programme should have collective direction, and elements may even be outsourced to specialists, but trustees should shoulder the accountability.

Activities such as presentations / education in the mother tongue of members, creating member forums in regional centres and making a panel of certified financial advisors available to members, should also be given consideration.

Impacting heavily on funds is a variety of regulatory and compliance issues. Fund managers and trustees have their work cut out to discharge their fiduciary duties. Running alongside is the critical need to develop and maintain an effective communications programme.

Nothing is more rewarding than empowering staff and members to embrace financial planning, With focus and effort, this will be achieved.

Good communicating!

  • Richard van Dijk is Divisional Director of Comprehensive Corporate Solutions, a specialised unit within Liberty Life. He is a dual certified financial planner.