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Three billboards outside Epping, Essex – what three pension messages I would go big on

A tale of pension messaging gone well, (if slightly less brutal than a similarly well-known film). Why Epping? Because it sounds a bit like Ebbing, and I am easily persuaded to cash-in on popular cultural references.

If I was delivering a pension message to Epping, what would be on my billboards? What three questions could I ask that would make people think, realise the value of their workplace pension and appreciate this benefit.

1. Do you have a full understanding of your workplace pension?

Within our pension workshops we like to play a nice, easy, inclusive game at the start of our sessions, to get everyone participating. It goes like this:

  • ‘Stand up everyone, please’
  • ‘Stay standing, if you know who your pension is with’
  • ‘Stay standing, if you opened your last pension statement’
  • ‘Stay standing, if you spent more than a minute reading it’
  • ‘Stay standing, if you understood it’
  • ‘Stay standing, if you think you are on track for a financially-happy retirement’

By now, there is normally nobody left standing.

Disappointingly, many hundreds of employees have played this game with us and the outcome is usually the same. The crucial problem is, nobody feels comfortable reading all the guff their pension provider sends them, so they don’t read any of it. And in a stroke, half a tree has also been killed for nothing!

2. Have you taken the maximum amount of employer contribution available to you?

Shockingly, many employees do not take all the money available for their pension from their employer. This is the easiest money to be had on the block, especially if the employer match is generous and supported by salary sacrifice. For an employee paying basic rate tax, £100 paid into a pension gross, only costs £80 (as basic rate tax is given at source, of course). However, within a salary sacrifice scheme, National Insurance Contribution (NIC) savings are made by both the employee and the employer, which can also be paid into staff’s plans. So, in the same scenario, the maths could look like this:

Cost to member (reduced take home pay)    £68.00
Amount invested (if the employer shares its NIC saving)  £113.80

It costs the employee less and more goes in. Feels like a no-brainer, right?

3. Do you realise this is your money?

Yes, tell your staff, it is all theirs. Every penny of it, from the minute it lands into their pension accounts (and they should think of it like a savings account). I may go all evangelical here, but please tell them, ‘IT IS YOUR MONEY’, and the more they can accumulate the better. It is not owned by the company, the taxman, the Government or an adviser. The more your employees can personally connect with, and contribute to, this account the better. In fact, if the combined total of employer contribution, NIC savings, tax relief and employee contribution can get close to a mid-teens percentage of salary, for every year of their working life, your staff may have very pleasantly surprising retirements.

Employers, these are three key messages you need to be getting across to your workforce. There will be many employees that cannot say ‘yes’ to these three questions, as for many of us, pensions are all too often ‘out of sight, out of mind’. So, when it comes to pension communications – don’t hang back, go big and go bold.

Finally, my three personal Epping recollections:

  1. Falling asleep on the last tube from Lancaster Gate and waking up in Epping. Handy if you live in Epping; I lived in Finsbury Park at the time.
  2. Parking there to get the tube to the Olympic Stadium in 2012 – a logistical success and fantastic event to have been part of.
  3. In the mid-60s, a gruesome police-killing murderer was found hiding out in Epping Forest and it scared young Biggs from going anywhere near forests for some time!

This article was first published with REBA on 22 March 2018

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