Idea Exchange: How we boosted workforce awareness of the LGPS
The Local Government Pension Scheme is a significant benefit for those pursuing a career in the sector and a major asset for councils in attracting people into the many professions they recruit to.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that, on average, those enrolled in the LGPS contribute around 6% of their salary and get a further 20-21% added by their employer. That is one of the reasons it is regarded as a gold standard in pensions.
Those who truly engage with their pensions during their working lives are far more likely to reap the full benefits and secure the lifestyle they desire in retirement.
One of the constant frustrations for those of us who work in the pensions industry is people take more time to plan their two-week summer holiday than the biggest holiday of their lifetime – retirement.
Members not engaging with their benefits and not effectively planning for retirement is a national issue affecting the entire world of work. In 2021, West Midlands Pension Fund (WMPF) became one of the first six organisations – and the first from the LGPS – to join the Friends of the Retirement Living Standards, set up by the Pensions & Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) to create “a common language to help the UK engage with retirement saving”.
Ultimately it’s about sharing our experience of engaging pension scheme members – work that has been recognised by national industry awards.
Accessible and easy to understand
I’m part of a dedicated member services team at WMPF that strives to encourage people to take an active role in their pensions through a range of initiatives targeting local government employees at every stage of life.
The overriding strategy is about reaching out to fund members and providing information and guidance in many different forms that are both easy to understand and accessible. WMPF’s online pensions portal is at the heart of the operation – a kind of one-stop-shop where a person can interact and manage their retirement online.
But we have found that pension planning is very much a hearts and minds issue. It’s not enough to simply have a bank of information online and adopt a kind of ‘build it and they will come’ attitude – evidence tells us they won’t.
WMPF uses targeted emails, webinars, videos and social media to engage members and encourage them to use the portal. Around 40% are registered – a high proportion when benchmarked against peers – and we expect it to rise further when an improved portal is launched this year, which will have additional functionally for members to use.
Signposting to other organisations
One example is a communication initiative launched in 2021 that targets active members on their 55th birthday by providing bespoke support to encourage them to think about their retirement plans and engage with the fund and their benefits.
Our retirement planning campaign includes a toolkit with a pre-retirement webinar, individual pension consultation and a video highlighting everything from the pension pot needed to achieve your desired lifestyle (via the Friends of Retirement Living Standards) and step by step support to help members understand their annual statement.
It also provides signposting to other organisations which can help with retirement planning such as the state pension and members who may have lost contact with any previous pension provisions outside the LGPS.
The campaign is complemented by a bespoke LGPS retirement planning guide we have created with the Local Government Association and distributed to all funds across the scheme.
Last year we saw a further 10,817 members register to use the portal to manage their retirement – bringing the overall total of members using our online portal to 126,361.
Reaching every corner of the workforce
However, raising awareness of the LGPS requires much more direct interaction such as one-to-one conversations, whether it’s about explaining the importance of planning for retirement as early as possible, making sure your nomination forms are up to date or the pitfalls of opting out of the pension scheme.
A key factor in WMPF’s success is the way in which the member services team travels throughout the West Midlands to spread the word. We have a regular programme of roadshows which during 2022 reached 1,877 staff and in September alone – to mark pensions awareness week – visited council office car parks, a shopping centre, college campuses and housing organisations to engage members.
It’s about understanding how the many different areas of local government work – especially in light of the shift towards hybrid working – and tailoring approaches accordingly. We visit waste and recycling depots at 6am to catch staff before their shift starts, deliver presentations at school inset days and use town centre locations across our districts – whatever is most effective to reach every corner of the workforce.
We also involve retired members via our pensioner engagement forum to give feedback and experiences from their retirement journey which enables us to improve and shapes the future for retirees to come. At tea and teach events we meet with member pensioners in an informal setting where they can discuss queries – again, an opportunity for us to learn and make the process even smoother.
But the key message WMPF continues to push out is you can never start too early. We are now looking at social media communication channels as ways to reach out to younger members who have recently joined the scheme to ensure they fully understand their pensions.
'Putting off calling'
It’s also about ensuring those who are thinking of opting out are fully equipped with the facts. When you are young and start work retirement seems a world away and it’s sometimes all about funding your social life at the time rather than investing for the future. I’m an example of that. I started working in local government at 16 but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I enrolled so I’d lost 10 years of contributions. It’s often not until you get older and have a family that you think about these things.
A recent comment from someone who attended a roadshow event sums up the value of that interaction with the team: “It’s a great idea to be able to pop in while at work. You sometimes keep putting off calling to ask any questions.”
Those questions could result in a person opting to increase contributions at a much earlier stage and transform their pension pot in the process. We have found 42% of members investigate topping up after receiving pension support from WMPF.
Collectively, our pensioners and working members who truly engage with their pensions are our champions for raising awareness of the LGPS and the significant benefits it offers. That in turn can only have a positive impact on promoting careers in local government.