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Finding out what our members really think

23 April 2020

What do PLSA members really think? What are the issues on their agenda? And what more could we be doing at the PLSA to help them?

My colleagues Cheryl Wilkinson, Helen Lamb and I are the PLSA’s Membership Engagement team and it is our job to keep our colleagues supplied with answers to these questions. As our team name suggests, we do this by engaging with our members and channelling the results back to the PLSA’s CEO, senior management and Policy team. 

In normal times, we do as much of this as possible by face-to-face meetings. We get on trains and on the road and visit our members around the country. If we can’t meet face-to-face (and obviously that’s been impossible in recent weeks), then there’s always the telephone. We write up notes of these meetings, circulate them to colleagues and summarise them in quarterly reports, so there is a constant flow of information from members to staff. Our CEO Julian Mund gets involved as well; knowing our members is a central part of his role. 

Despite the Covid-19 crisis, the first three months of 2020 have been a record-breaker for the team, with 36 members visited and 26 interviewed by phone. We have masses of up-to-the-minute information ‘from the field’. 

It’s amazing how much use we can get from this reservoir of reports. What topics should we highlight in our webinars and events? The answers are in the issues most consistently raised when we talk to members. Speakers for our conferences? How about that scheme manager who did great work on data cleaning or cyber risk or governance – wouldn’t they make a great case study? What should we tell the Pensions Regulator about how schemes are coping with Covid-19? Again, we can draw on what members have told us.

Many of the same issues come up time and again when we talk to members:

  • The top policy issues raised by members in the first quarter of the year were (in order) Guaranteed Minimum Pensions, DB funding and the Government’s proposals to align RPI with CPIH. Taxation issues (Annual Allowance and Lifetime Allowance) and ESG / responsible investment challenges were not far behind. All this helps to influence the priorities we set for our Policy work, events programme and publications. 
  • Many of these issues featured in our conversations with local authority funds as well, but they also focused on data challenges (set to be exacerbated by the McCloud case) and the mismatch between their under-pressure resources and the increasing number of employers they have to monitor, not least due to the growth of academies.
  • There was plenty of positive feedback on the PLSA and our services. Members particularly like our Retirement Living Standards, Made Simple Guides and fortnightly PolicyWatch bulletin, but many of them are also pressing us to deliver more online training and there is an appetite for our staff to present at trustee board meetings – all good challenges for us to meet.

The Covid-19 crisis inevitably became a key topic for meetings in the last few weeks of the quarter, though the overall message was that schemes were coping quite well and were making sure they continue with their highest priority – ie paying pensions. Although there is no room for complacency, I have found our members’ sense of calm competence a refreshing counterpoint to what we see on the media. The key characteristics of pension schemes – investment for the long term, diversification, good governance and robust systems - are really proving their worth right now. Let’s hope that continues to be the case. 

Covid-19 or no Covid-19, the PLSA’s member engagement work continues. If you would like us to set up a meeting with you, then please let me know on [email protected]. Staying close to our members is more than important than ever at the moment. 

Help with what matters to you

We have a huge range of content and resources to help our members gain inside and learn from best practice in dealing with your key issues.

DB funding and de-risking

RPI and CPIH

ESG

GMPs