EXCLUSIVE: RBS’ Cowan says changing workplace requires individual pensions approach


Employee Benefits Live 2018: Changes to the workforce mean the days of a one-size-fits-all approach to lifetime savings are over.

In a session titled ‘Lifetime savings for a changing workplace culture and demographic’, Jim Cowan, head of benefits at RBS Group, told delegates that personalisation is the key to the future of pensions for employees. This, he said, is due to the changing shape of the workforce.

“How you define a generation will determine how many generations you currently have in the workforce at the moment,” Cowan explained. “Sometimes I’ve heard four, sometimes I’ve heard five, but whichever way you cut it, there are quite a few.”

In terms of differing needs and demands of these different generations, there are some things that stand out, said Cowan. “There’s the older generation still in the workforce that has the ability to build up money for life after work in the world of defined benefit pensions. We’ve got generations entering the workforce who have grown up in the digital age and expect things to happen almost instantly for them. We’ve also got some of the older generation who are on their second or third career, and multiple careers are something people are going to increasingly experience.”

However, Cowan believes this highlights a need for personalisation, rather than segmentaion.

“I’m wary of segmentation,” he said, “because it requires you to make assumptions about people and implies everybody in a certain segment is the same. I don’t think that’s the case. I think people are all individuals. There are some differences that come through the generations, but there are different life stages and people reach them at different points, and people’s individual needs change.”

The fact that people change employer much more frequently than before requires a further change in thinking, according to Cowan. He said: “In terms of lifetime savings, as people move and leave small pots of money in various defined contribution pension plans, then the challenge for the industry and employers is to make it ever easier to consolidate those pots of money and make the whole thing much more manageable. So there are lots of opportunities there.”

Communication is key, said Cowan, but there are obstacles to overcome: “Everybody is incredibly busy and information is bombarding us left, right and centre. As a result, people have lost the ability to read everything, and that presents a challenge in terms of engagement and trying to educate people.

“You can design an okay plan, but make it work wonders if you get the communication spot on. You can design a brilliant plan, but if you get the communication wrong, you’ll get no return from the investment you’ve made. Increasingly we have to be conscious of making the content of our communications absolutely relevant to the individual receiving it. We need to make it timely, concise and jargon-free, because that’s how people expect to get information in their everyday lives.”