"Do you know what's boring? Emails from your pension scheme." This tweet, written by a millennial, did not come as a surprise to chartered financial planner, Mel Kenny, but it did make him ponder on the huge job ahead for advisers and those putting together pension communications. It's well known that millennials and consumers in general, are rather disengaged when it comes to pensions. The majority may now be signed up to a workplace pension scheme thanks to auto-enrolment, but many remain disengaged and even bored of pension-related communications.
And let's face it, pensions aren't ever going to form the basis of the next TV thriller. Yet Kenny and others like him are acutely aware of the importance of bringing such communications to life.
"The reality is that for a lot of people, retirement isn't what they hoped it would be, either because they don't have as much money as they thought they'd have or because they aren't able to retire as soon as they'd like," says Jerry Edmondson, Strategic Communication & Engagement Proposition Leader at Aon Employee Benefits. "The traditional approach to communicating pensions has been largely focused on the 'how' rather than the 'why'. This approach just hasn't worked. Despite more than a decade of trying to enable informed decisions, members don't seem any more engaged and they aren't any the wiser about how pension plans work."
The introduction of pensions freedom and choice has meant retirement is even more complicated, making it essential that people are engaging with pensions even earlier. "All this means it's even more important to get pension communications right," he adds.
But writing in Money Marketing, Kenny outlines the difficulties in shaking up pension communications to increase engagement because of the complexities that restrictions place on providers to ensure that statistics and figures are presented in a certain way.
"What do lines of complex and sometimes depressing numbers mean to the lay person?... The job of advisers is to bring those figures to life and help either prevent the nightmare or make the dream come true. But all the time consumers are disengaged, this will remain a challenge," says Kenny.
Yet, as Kenny points out, life assurance and banking has managed it, thanks to the likes of Virgin, Vitality and Metro Bank who have managed to motivate consumers to get behind their brand. Whilst Virgin has supported various festivals to increase brand awareness, offering freebies and rewards, Metro Bank have invited dogs into its stores and opened up their premises for business networking events.
"Members are people too, just like you and me," Aon's Edmondson points out, "this is why Virgin and Metro Bank have been so successful in breaking the mould - they take a holistic view of their customers in all their complex, multi-faceted glory - rather than viewing them one-dimensionally."
Yet pension schemes are increasingly using specialist segmentation techniques to identify audience sub-groups. All too often, however, this innovation is limited to 'easy' demographic segmentation, used as a way of identifying the differences between groups of members rather than what they actually have in common.
"Looking at people through the lens of their attitudes and preferences is infinitely more powerful, and, by definition, lends itself to a more engaging dialogue," Edmondson explains.
Both Kenny and Edmondson argue that despite legal restrictions on pension providers to present facts and figures in a certain way, it's entirely possible to move away from the boring and into the engaging. But how?
Edmondson favours a very different approach, one that focuses on changing people's behaviours rather than trying to educate a group of bored and disengaged members.
"The key is to engage people emotionally the way marketing and advertising does," says Edmondson. "Emotions and pensions are not often (if ever) mentioned in the same sentence. People choose not to engage with retirement saving because they think that pensions are complicated, scary and a bit dull. This makes them feel confused, anxious or bored. It's these feelings that form obstacles to engagement."
Using the emotive approach, Edmondson insists that it's possible to help people feel differently about retirement saving - and in a good way. Yet, it requires a degree of bravery and willingness on the part of pension providers. And bravery is absolutely what's needed right now. Because if pensions communications do not start to lighten up, continuing instead with "cold projections based on outdated annuities" as Kenny maintains, there will never be any change and consumers will continue as they are right now - bored and disengaged.