Posts by Graeme

Graeme Riddoch

Oranges and lemons

Fruit machines. Somehow, they seem like a relic of the past, consigned to damp and dark amusement arcades, or hiding in the corner of the pub waiting to swallow pound coins on the way back from the toilet.

Other than the big red play button, the only other feature I remember is the nudge buttons, which, with some random pressing, might line up the oranges and lemons to make you a winner. So, for me, nudges have always been associated with a bit of a gamble.

Changing behaviours

In the pensions world, there’s a lot of talk about nudging people in the right direction. That’s behavioural code for getting people to save a bit more.

Historically, the industry’s solution to nudging has used calculators to show accumulated funds and the impact of an increased contribution. So, for example, show the member that by saving an extra £30 a month they might get an extra £5,000 a year at age 65.

However, the idea that we can simply nudge people towards saving more for an uncertain future isn’t a winning strategy. It’s a start, but only part of the solution. If you don’t know what income you need for your retirement, you won’t be very motivated to save more.

Back to front

How about coming at the problem from the other end? Figure out what you want out of retirement, then work back. That can be tricky for people to visualise.

I recently read some interesting research where people were shown an image of their future selves. There are quite a few apps that will age your image. It seems that people have a greater propensity to think about their future when they see an older version of themselves. I’m 58 and I rolled forward 20 years; not pretty!

Staying on the theme of visualising the future, the PLSA recently developed their Retirement Living Standards. These are designed to give people a picture of what their expenditure could be in retirement based on a basket of goods and services. At the minimum level it’s £15,700 a year and at the comfortable level £33,000 a year for a couple. That’s outside London.

Expenditure is broken down into six broad categories. For example, in the comfortable bracket you change your car every five years and have three weeks’ holiday overseas each year. Breaking these figures down into the goods and services, frequency of holidays etc. allows people to visualise what they want out of retirement and what it might cost. Now we are getting somewhere.

Nudge up

This is all good and well, but how do we translate what we have now into what we might need in terms of a retirement lifestyle? I’ve seen a few solutions that attempt to do this, with varying degrees of success. A new product called Guiide gets close to bridging the gap. No, that isn’t a typo.

It’s a free to use tool that quickly allows you to input your savings and see how they could marry up to the income required for three different income levels, equating to a basic, moderate or comfortable retirement. It takes about five minutes to get to an answer and also pulls in the correct State pension figure.

I tried it myself and it’s easy to use. It tackles life expectancy by asking you to self-score from major health conditions to perfect health. It’s a bit subjective but there is only so much detail you can get to in what’s designed to be an easy to use tool.

It seems to me that simple solutions like this can add power to the nudge. If we can apply this to pensions and, for example, pre-populate defined benefit and defined contribution fund values, this would make them more accurate and easier for the member to use. Add into the mix the long-awaited Pensions Dashboard and we can surely help members see the bigger picture and plan for their future lifestyle accordingly.

And perhaps we can start lining up those oranges and lemons!

Graeme Riddoch

I hit my favourite café for a half price coffee this morning. Eating out to help out in my own small way. As usual I was presented with a QR code to scan. That took me to a web page where I logged my name and phone number for tracing purposes.

QR codes have been around since the 1960s; as we come out of lockdown they seem to be everywhere. QR stands for Quick Response. Essentially, it’s a type of barcode which, when read by your smartphone camera will take you directly to a website, video or an app, without the need to type in a fiddly web address.

Old age thinking …

We’re now using QR codes to take DB members to our pensions app. It’s a simple experience. Open the camera, point it at the code and it takes you to the Apple App Store or Google Play.

I showed it to a trustee about six months ago. “Our members won’t use that” he said. Unfortunately, that’s an all too common reaction to new technology in the DB pensions arena. The membership demographic is older, the trustees are often older and they hold the perception that it’s only 20-year olds who use smartphones and apps.

Right now, if a DB scheme member wants to order food at a restaurant, they are probably using QR codes to access the menu! There is no doubt that the current pandemic has accelerated certain trends; one in particularly is the move to online.

Why wouldn’t DB members want the same sort of experience from their pension scheme as the one they can get from the retail and hospitality sectors, or indeed other financial services?

Alistair McQueen, Head of Savings & Retirement at Aviva, picked up on this issue recently on Twitter, further discussed in Henry Tapper’s excellent blog. The fact that 76% of people now bank online is clear evidence that there is both the appetite and capacity to transact digitally.

Breaking down barriers …

I’d go further. The Deloitte Digital Survey (UK edition, Deloitte Mobile Consumer Survey 2019) shows that in the 45-65 age group smartphone ownership is around 80%. Apps are now the way that most people access the internet.

Some trustees may be reluctant to adopt new technology but it could be argued that they have a duty to ensure that they do not act to the detriment of their members and are not the first barrier to better digital engagement.

The next barrier to getting members online is the registration process. Two factor authentication and remembering passwords are often cited as problematic. Experience shows that if you make something easy people will use it. For example, the QR code used to get to the app store is personalised like a password. That means a much quicker and easier process to register for the first time. In our initial testing, 99% of people successfully used the QR code to register.

Designing an app for smartphones means that we can work with their inbuilt security features, such as fingerprint and facial recognition. Once registered, a customer can access the pensions app like any other app on their phone.

From stone age to digital age to engage …

We are in the customer testing stage of the app which allows members to manage their benefits from their smartphone. Everything is possible, from a change of address to viewing benefits, to retiring. Initial feedback is that it gives members what they need in the way they want it.

The other benefit is the potential cost saving to the scheme. Our modelling suggests that as much as a 30% saving in administration cost is possible. Some or all of that could be passed onto the scheme. But only if we can get trustees to realise that “their members will engage”.

Graeme Riddoch

Walking through town just before lockdown began (seems a long time ago now!) I was struck by the number of empty shop units. A sign of the times and a trend to online retail. I was dropping some shoes in to be re-soled, not something I could ever imagine doing with an online service.

But, in fact, there’s so much more we can do online than ever before – and it seems so easy! As an example, I recently bought a pair of prescription spectacles online. A friend had just done it, so I gave it a try. I did have some doubts, however, as I have varifocals, which are very tricky to get right.

I downloaded the app, which prompted me to take a selfie, then superimpose different glasses – it was actually quite a fun process! I selected four that I liked and a few days later they arrived. I tried them on and one looked good, so I updated the app with my choice.

Then I took a photograph of my prescription on the app and paid my money. The glasses were at least half the price of my regular optician and a full refund was available within 30 days if I wasn’t happy. So, I thought, why not give it a go?

About a week later they turned up and were perfect. Glad I didn’t go to Specsavers!

Changing behaviours

So, what’s that got to do with getting my shoes resoled? Well, buying varifocals online made me focus on the fact that a lot of consumer behaviour is driven by ease of access and ease of processing. We’re finding out right now which retailers are good and which have a lot still to learn. In Timpsons, I paid for the repair with my Starling Bank debit card. “Ah” said the chap serving me “I’m with them, great aren’t they great? “

Starling is one of a breed of new start up banks, Monzo is another example. The only way to access is by using a phone app, not even a website. It’s big with the kids; having said that I’m 58 and signed up last year and the chap in Timpsons looked to be around my age.

Recent research shows that smartphones and apps are now the way that most of us access the internet. The 2019 Deloitte Mobile Survey shows that smartphone ownership is now 80% in the age 55-75 age group.

Starling’s application process is just so easy. Download the app, take a photo of your driving licence, record a selfie – that’s it. No need to take a passport, utility bill and an application form into a branch. The process took me about two minutes.

The technology behind it is now being adopted in a number of places. It’s very secure and in some cases more robust than traditional ways of verifying IDs.

Members are real people

So, in the pensions world, what lessons can we learn to help us engage better with members?

  • Firstly, consumers are expecting more and more of their service providers. We continually talk about members as if they are some sort of alien life form. The pensions industry offers a consumer service; scheme members are real people like the rest of us. The more they do on-line the more they expect to do on-line.
  • Secondly, age is increasingly less of a predictor of how people engage with services and technology.
  • Thirdly, there’s a lot of noise in the pensions industry at the moment about getting people engaged. So, how about a pension phone app that you can register for with a photo of your driving licence and a selfie? Passwords and two factor authentication, which  can be real barriers to engagement, are consigned to history. Instead, logins can use the phone’s biometrics, thumb print or facial recognition.

We can make pension engagement a reality – for everyone!

Anyway back to where I started. It cost me a trip into town and £65 to re-sole a pair of shoes. A trip to the shops right now would be very welcome, but using an app could be even better!

Graeme Riddoch

Driving change

I did an all too frequent commute to London this morning. Firstly, I drove to the station. I’ve just had Apple Carplay fitted, which lets me mirror and control my phone’s apps. I needed a bit of energy so “Siri play Queen” (that gives my age away).

In bongs a WhatsApp from my wife. “Siri read WhatsApp”, my hands gripping the steering wheel all the while. Voice recognition has come a long way of late. I remember a less sophisticated system transcribed my name, Graeme Riddoch, as ‘dangerous burglar’!

Technology is improving all the time; it’s fast becoming the way we work, rest and play.

Playing at techno god

Having reached the station car park I would previously have been scuttling around looking for change for a parking ticket. But not now, as I opened the parking app using facial recognition rather than a password. Passwords are one of the main reasons that people give up on technology. 

The app spotted me with the GPS function. Car park 2? Yes. One day parking? Yes. Click and done.

Obviously, my train ticket was on an app and I swished through the barrier like a techno god.

Demanding more

I wasn’t doing any of this a couple of years ago. Perhaps the technology wasn’t there – or maybe I hadn’t spotted it. However, once you start using some of these toys and they work, you create an expectation for yourself that all services will work that way too.

One of the biggest drivers of change is the adoption of smartphones and how they are used. The Deloitte 2019 Mobile Consumer Survey finds that 90% of 44-55 year olds and 80% of 55-75 year olds own a smart phone. It’s also the case that smartphones are now the way that most people access the internet.

When was the last time you went out without your phone?

Putting it all together suggests that if you want to get the attention of your customers and deliver a first class service you had better not ignore the smartphone.

Pushing the buttons

Where do we start with passwords? A world of pain. Enough said…

The current generation of phones offer biometric login. Once you have logged into an app for the first time, you then use your thumb print or facial recognition. The pain is gone and the app is readily accessible.

Mobile phones must increasingly form part of an engagement strategy between businesses and consumers. More than three-quarters (79%) of people use their smartphone for reading email; a higher percentage than those who use it for making calls. (Source Email Monday)

Having said that there’s also research showing that people are increasingly deleting e-mails without even opening them. 

So, what about sending messages via push notifications? Retail Dive found that push notifications tend to be opened more than e-mails.


And so to the world of pensions, and in particular defined benefit pensions. Largely paper based, unengaging, and with any web activity largely website based rather than through smart phones.

Getting a decent service that members will want to use on a mobile platform is difficult.

One issue is our old friend poor data quality. The next is the administration technology itself. The ways that modern consumers want to use data were never dreamed of when most of the current technology for defined benefits was built.

But what if…

  • Members could view their benefits and transfer value in real time.
  • Update their details.
  • Receive ‘push’ messages that they would read immediately.
  • Even complete all their retirement options online if ID validation can be cracked.

And that would be just the start. There’s lots of technology across other sectors that could make a real difference to members. We just need to get started!

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