Is being impatient an unavoidable result of our fast paced modern lives and how does this impact the way we view pensions?
I have always considered myself to be a fairly patient person. I am happy to let people off the train before boarding and always wait politely when queuing. It’s part of being British. The only time I notice my patience waver is when it comes to technology (particularly computers). My reaction to a slow application or frozen screen tends to be to try pressing every key or button until something happens. Generally this results in the problem getting worse or increasing the time it takes to resolve it. This doesn’t seem to stop me from repeating the same process the next time I have a similar problem.
As a society, we have become used to everything happening instantly and this has made us less patient when something takes longer than expected. This is a huge challenge when it comes to pensions because nothing about pensions is quick. They are a long-term savings plan. They take time to plan for and you only get the benefits when you retire.
A good way to illustrate this is looking at the results of the ‘marshmallow test’. For those of you not familiar with this, the test involved children each being given one marshmallow with the promise that if they resisted eating it until the adult returned, they would be rewarded with another one. In many cases the draw of a second marshmallow was not enough to stop them eating the first one. Why wait for a second marshmallow when you can eat the one you have right now? This may have been a test involving children and sweets but there is a strong similarity with pensions saving. Contributions are paid in and then you wait for them to grow, so that you can take them out as some form of income later in life. This again involves waiting rather than spending the money on something you can physically have right now.
We can’t speed up the pensions saving process, but it is possible to create communications that tap into that desire for the ‘here and now’ in our day to day lives.
With the increasing number of online tools and apps it’s now quicker and easier for people to use their mobile phones for routine tasks, including making online payments and transfers. We need to ensure that there is the same ease and flexibility for members when it comes to their pension savings. For example, we were recently involved in creating an online modeller for one of our clients, with the brief that it should be “easy for members to use and would allow them to make informed choices about their benefits”. The choices available, as with many schemes, were complex but by creating a user friendly modeller, members were able to cut through the data and jargon to have a clear view of the choices they need to make.
Pension communications don’t need to be long and detailed in order to get a message across. In most cases, simplicity is the key to making a subject clear and interesting - members don’t want to have to work hard to understand something as important as their pension. Patience may be a virtue but waiting is not an option when it comes to encouraging engagement with pensions.