Getting superannuation fund members to talk about their super before they turn 50 has always been a difficult task. The intangible nature of super coupled with constantly changing super legislation has created an environment that easily disengages members.
Technology innovations and data have helped super funds create more engaging and effective content for the members, but they still have a long way to go.
Funds have found members to be apathetic with their super and the perception and reputation of super as bland and arcane has not helped.
NGS Super head of brand and digital, Loyce Cox-Paton, said the challenge for super funds was being able to cut through the barrage of information, marketing, and messages that consumers faced every day.
“We face a lot of competition in the retail sector that have the resources to push their messages and offerings into the market more broadly than us,” she said.
Cox-Paton also said that compliance and regulatory issues could affect the way communications were perceived.
“When a lot of what we must communicate can be out of our control – for example if it relates to upcoming regulatory changes that may affect members, it’s not always as easy to engage with members the way you’d like to,” she said.
“Related to this is an element of uncertainty – perceived or otherwise – about super that can lead members to disengage. They may feel that no sooner have they got a handle on super then it just changes again.”
Agreeing, UniSuper member communications manager, Danielle Clarke said the constant super changes undermined people’s trust in the system.
“I think the changes have moved in many positive directions but the average consumer really struggles to see those positive changes. They just see change,” she said.
MTAA Super executive manager for marketing, communications, education, and advice, Michael Irving said the complexity of the industry made it difficult for funds to find communication strategies that members would respond to.
“We found over a long period of time that members are apathetic and trying to find strategies to address that is perhaps the biggest challenge of all,” Irving said.
Irving noted that not only was the industry complex but that funds were still using complex language in their communications to members.
“We’ve gone through a process over the last 12 months of rewriting all of our communication documentations to make it simpler to avoid jargon. We’ve been looking to add clarity and educate members but we don’t want to be condescending about it,” he said.
“It’s not about talking down to people, but it is about simplifying it and speaking directly in terms members understand. Feedback we’ve received from both members and our field staff has been quite positive.”
UniSuper has also been working towards using language that would be used with a friend or a family member as a means to engage with members.
“All of the acronyms in super and peculiar terms that we are so familiar with just aren’t used in common dialogue. So we need to do a good job in challenging that and pushing beyond it,” Clarke said.
“I don’t think terms like CIPRs [comprehensive income products for retirement] resonate particularly well with the average Joe. Even though we know what that means I don’t think the average person does.”
REST chief operating officer, Andrew Howard, said it was important to make their members feel connected to the fund and when they were communicated with they felt there was value associated with it.
“The important thing is the extent to which communication is personalised and if half the battle is finding people where and when they want to be communicated to and how they want to be communicated to, it’s also about reaching them personally and connecting with them. That comes from personalising information in those channels,” he said.
Howard said one of the biggest challenges funds faced was the ability to keep pace with fast emerging digital trends and to respond quickly to the way people preferred to receive communications.
“Most of the time the industry has been going ahead and issuing product disclosure documents, letters, and other explanatory guides when people are expecting to receive more and more often quick snippets of information when and where they want that information. So I think the biggest challenge is responding to that trend as quickly as that trend has emerged,” he said.
Howard said two years ago REST issued around 1.4 million statements on paper and mailed them to members. Last year, the fund sent members interactive statements via email and to their mobile phones.
“We also made sure that we followed another principal we are embracing which is when we connect with members we need to empower them to do things. We recognise that in a relatively low interest category, if you want to motivate a member or employer to connect with you, you need to make it easy for them to do things,” he said.
“In that statement we allow people to utilise our super match to consolidate their super right there and then or to update their account details.”
“You can shift from engaged and disengaged to apathetic quite quickly and we’re looking to avoid that”
– Michael Irving
NGS Super has also embraced the tailored experience for members through a personalised dashboard on their web portal that provided information and tools most relevant to the members and their goals.
“We have invested heavily in business intelligence and will continue to do so. In the last year we have built a data warehouse, and we are investing in sophisticated analytics to not only segment our membership base, but to ensure that we deliver highly targeted and relevant messages to our member cohorts,” Cox-Paton said.
However, she noted that while clever interactive tools and calculators could help make super come alive, technology for its own sake was not the answer.
“It must be accessible, useful technology that resonates with members and adds value. And that they use and understand,” Cox-Paton said.
Clarke said while UniSuper was increasingly using video, social media, and podcasts the most widely read piece of communication was their traditional benefit statements.
“We find that calls and interactions spike after each round of benefit statements that go out… We also send out our member magazine each time we produce benefit statements. Those are definitely the biggest hits for us and I don’t think we’d be alone in the industry,” Clarke said.
“Being able to do things like providing retirement income projections within statements is leveraging that and it’s proven really successful with members.”
She said retirement income projections were working for the fund as it made superannuation more tangible.
“They help them see current behaviour and how that’s going to translate to their retirement and their income at retirement. People struggle to think long-term,” Clarke said.
“We’ve had them on benefit statements now for a couple of years and we’ve had a lot of engagements from members, a lot of interaction and we’ve seen changes in their behaviour.”
MTAA Super said it was now looking to expand on the ability to communicate via their mobile app as its next tech strategy, but was cautious about over communicating.
“We’re cautious about sending out information that we determine important for our members and that they don’t – then they turn off, and then we’re back at square one. You can shift from engaged and disengaged to apathetic quite quickly and we’re looking to avoid that,” Irving said.
“If we’re using data efficiently and appropriately, hopefully there’s not too much error. But of course we’re dealing with a quarter of a million members and as an industry we’re dealing with 14 to 15 million people. It’s not easy to get down to the granularity where communications are absolutely right for everybody.”
REST has been utilising its virtual agent, Roger, to collect data through questions from members.
Howard said Roger received 1,000 to 1,500 questions a day and that every question made the platform smarter and more accurate in giving answers.
While Howard recognised that digital strategies were an important part of younger people’s lives, he said these platforms were a means to target all members and a way forward.
“We can reach a whole range of age groups through digital channels and in actual fact, even though it appears to be a strategy to reach young people more often we get to all ranges of ages and demographics through digital,” he said. “It is becoming a way of life for everybody.”
For Clarke, increasing financial literacy and going back to the building blocks would be the key to achieving more member engagement.
“It’s about just not making any assumptions about what people know, meeting people where they’re at, making sure you’re addressing basic needs. We launched a financial literacy program last year specifically tailored for women, but all members can access it,” she said.
“It just goes back to those building blocks because money is such an emotional and personal topic and I think if we get the basics right and help people to feel confident then we’ll have a much better dialogue with them in the super space.”
Despite all the advances the industry has made in communications, Cox-Paton believes there is still a long way to go in personalising industry communications.
“We still need more tailoring, more personal responses that offer members education and options on what information they get, when they get it and the way they get it is a great start and we are looking forward to seeing – and offering – more of it,” she said.