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PMI - Pensions Advisory Service: TPAS Update

14th February 2011
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12mins 28secs

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Presenter: She took over as Chief Executive of the Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) in April 2010. She is Marta Phillips OBE and she joins us now. You've been there almost a year now Marta, what changes have you made?

Marta: Actually it's been great. I felt very privileged to get the job. I was really surprised to be offered it. I'm not from the pensions industry and TPAS itself has just got such a huge legacy. There's been some fabulous people who have been leading TPAS and there's the legacy from Malcolm McLean. There's Des's technical expertise and, you know, the knowledge of the staff in TPAS has been absolutely awesome. But there have been a number of changes that have happened at TPAS while I've been there which has actually kept me busy and well occupied. I mean, as you know, the chief executives and the directors have, the directors who have been there for some time have left. I've had to recruit a new team management team.

I've been really, really lucky in the people that have come forward and now form this new management team. There's been one internal promotion, Tony Attubato that the industry we know and love, who heads up the dispute resolution team. But there's Alison-Jane Bailey who has worked in the pensions industry all her life and so, you know, at a senior management level we've got a really good cohesive group of people. In addition to that of course the board also changed. The old board stood down at the end of June. Again, we benefited from two of the old board members now being on the new board. But of course there's a very steep learning curve with the number of people who had known TPAS before.

So life's been busy and across all of that of course, as a non-departmental public body, quango as people call it, you know, we've had the General Election, we've had the raft of pension stuff that's come out. Again, fortunate that we've got a really good pensions administrator who knows pensions inside out, Steve Webb, but still there's stacks of stuff that we've needed to get through, so busy, interesting, a lot to learn.

Presenter: You've got the new team in place. What are your priorities for 2011?

Marta: The big thing, of course, everybody knows and loves, is automatic enrolment. But before I talk about automatic enrolment I'll talk about, you know, a lot of it is more the same. What TPAS does well, or what TPAS is known for, which is the dispute resolution cases and the helpline, and of course in the last few years we've got the team that goes out to talk to people in the workplace or in community centres about retirement planning and retirement saving, and that to me is the sort of big growth area, because the messages about retirement planning and saving is something that not only TPAS but the whole pensions industry needs to get involved in, because people simply don't understand and they don't appreciate what needs to happen.

And then of course, as part of the public sector, doing more with less, you know, I'm having to find huge savings between now and 2015, some of which are found through running costs, some of which may mean, you know, staff changes, but I'm hoping that with what we need to do for auto enrolment that the impact on the staff is actually going to be well managed and staff will remain motivated and continue to do what they do well, and of course keeping the volunteer network connected with TPAS, again, motivating people when they themselves have got real pressure on their time and other commitments, you know, they're going to be suffering from the same sort of pressures that myself are suffering from in their workplace, so that's a big challenge.

Presenter: But are you confident you can keep the high standards of TPAS up even with these cuts that are coming?

Marta: Interesting you should ask that actually, absolutely confident. I've just had some hot off the press feedback, a research paper is going to be published by the Department in the next few weeks. We always knew, because we do our own sort of feedback, but not to the extent the research has actually done it, that standards were very high. But the feedback is that we're hitting 90%+ customer satisfaction on our helpline. We're knocking 80% on dispute resolution cases. That is absolutely awesome. And that's independent research validated by people external to TPAS who have got absolutely no axe to grind and a lot of that, some of that is down to our staff, some of that is down to our volunteers and a lot of those volunteers are PMI members.

Presenter: You mention the helpline. What are the hot topics coming through on that at the moment?

Marta: Interestingly enough, some of it is around what's happening recently on the change in retirement age for women. So we're getting some calls from very anxious women about what that might mean for them. Some of the other things are about the changes that are happening with state benefits. Again, people are getting anxious about that. But apart from the helpline, you know, the hot topics for example in dispute resolution cases, of course, a year or so ago a lot of it was to do with delays, when people asked for their pensions to be transferred and the time it was taking.

Of course people are not so much so anxious about delays these days because the stock market is improving and therefore they're not suffering financially. Clearly there's still the irritation factor, if someone asks for something to be done and it takes a long time to do it, but people are less anxious about the financial impact caused by delays, and that's in the dispute resolutions side. Again, in that area which the sort of casework advisers are dealing with are things to do with when requests for ill health, you know, early retirement benefits should come in. Of course, they don't get the answer they'd like and that causes a problem.

The other aspect that we see, actually, which again I think is something that PMI members could help with, is with the workplace team when they go out and they talk to people in the workplace about retirement planning and about retirement saving, it's interesting, and a lot of people belong, or have access to employee pensions. They don't, they've got no idea how much their employers are contributing to that. They've got no idea about the potential tax benefits. They have huge misunderstandings; they've been told they're in a two third salary scale, so they think that they're going to get two thirds of their current salary when they retire. They don't realise that they only get a proportion of that in relation to the number of years they work for that employer.

And so people are genuinely surprised when the workplace team and the volunteers who do that work explain to them the specifics about exactly how much they're going to get.

Presenter: You haven't worked in the pension industry prior to joining TPAS. What has impressed you the most about it?

Marta: I mean, looking internally at TPAS, just the kind of awesome knowledge base, you know, in the professionals within TPAS and the way in which people have welcomed me, not only within TPAS itself but also within the pensions industry. I've been to a number of functions now and people have been very, very generous with their time. You know, I can't think of an occasion where I've asked someone for help and they've not given it, and given it very, very willingly and very, very generously. The other thing that I was going to say but we've covered it already is just the results we get in helping people and the thank you letters that we get, you know, not always but occasionally, not only from our paid staff but also from our volunteers, and the fantastic standards that we achieve in terms of customer satisfaction.

Presenter: You've mentioned volunteers several times. Are you always looking for volunteers or are the books full?

Marta: Oh, the books are never full. The books are never, ever full. We're always looking for volunteers and actually well over 50% of our volunteers are PMI members. You know, I think I personally have been involved with sort of volunteering my time in various aspects of my life and I think volunteering helps you enormously because you get to do things you don't get to do in your day job. But in terms of TPAS specifically what does a volunteer do? You know, we've got the helpline volunteers. They tend to be people who live in and around London and the South East. They come into our office. Some people like to answer the telephone and most of our current volunteers, that's what they do. But more and more of our queries are coming in by email.

So if someone doesn't actually want to help on the telephone and feel that's a bit too daunting as a first step, you know, they can be, they can help us enormously by dealing with the sort of, helping to deal with the email queries that come in, which means it's less pressure. You know, when you're on the helpline, you simply don't know what the call is until you answer it. The volunteers, and we've got pushing 400 volunteers, who help the casework, you know, they get to see cases that they would probably never see in their day jobs. And the other thing we make available to them, we've got a fantastic not only external website as a resource but we have actually got an internal website where we publish telecom material, we have annual workshops, we encourage advisers to come to that and of course we cover their expenses, and they get technical briefings when we do our internal staff briefings. We email that information actually to volunteers and the last group of volunteers we have, which at the moment we're not making the best use of, but with the work we've got to do on auto enrolment, we're going to be calling on them more and more, and they're the ones who actually go out to the workplace. And I think personally that the workplace volunteers are probably in the best position, well, essentially them and the helpline. The reason why I say that is because they get to see face-to-face the impact of what they give to people who find pensions so daunting and so intimidating.

So there's stacks to do for our volunteers, and I think the other thing we can offer is for example, if someone is on a career break or trying to get back into the workplace for some reason, you know, our office is a buzz with people and there's lots of banter and lots of chat and it's a nice place to be.

Presenter: You mentioned the growth in email traffic. Does that mean that you could volunteer for TPAS and work from home?

Marta: Yes. If that's what people need to do. I mean, recently, when we had all the bad weather, some of our staff simply couldn't get to the office, and of course the ones that were in the office had to give the helpline priority, which meant that we grew actually at very short notice a very good system of taking the emails that come off the website and the ask the expert queries as they come in and routing them through to those staff and getting them to work from home. So that is a very good option.

Presenter: We've covered a lot of topics but if you had one key mission for 2011, what would it be?

Marta: I think the big thing is auto enrolment. It's so big that all of us have got to play our part. But the other thing is we can do with as many volunteers as we can get and we can be as flexible as the volunteer wishes.

Presenter: Marta Phillips, thank you very much.

Marta: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.

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