Every firm promises that you will be their most important client and that they will provide you with a bespoke and personalised service. However, how they go about delivering this personal service can differ between firms. I have set out 5 questions you might want to ask to determine what type of personal service you are getting.

To determine whether you are getting a personal service from your pension advisors

Every firm promises that you will be their most important client and that they will provide you with a bespoke and personalised service. However, how they go about delivering this personal service can differ between firms. I have set out 5 questions you might want to ask to determine what type of personal service you are getting.

Q1. Ask the administration team what size their two largest clients are?

Sometimes larger organisations have administration teams with a large headline client and then a number of smaller clients. The larger scheme might have 10,000 members compared to the smaller ones that might have just 100. So for every calculation that it is being carried out on the smaller scheme, potentially, 100 are being carried out on the larger scheme. In such circumstances, it is easy for the smaller scheme to not get the attention it deserves.

My response: Atkin specialise in working with smaller schemes, so our client teams are set up to work on a larger number of smaller schemes. No one scheme dominates and our team and processes are set up to enable the team to consider each scheme, each member and each calculation in their own right. Every member of the team can work from first principles, every scheme has the same scheme information sheet and template calculators set up so the team can easily shift between schemes. When a member calls they speak to the people looking after their scheme, not a call centre. We see the fact that the team works on different schemes as being of benefit as they get to see different types of scheme and calculations rather than the same thing over and over again.

Q2. How can I be sure that my consultant is reviewing my scheme my regularly?

Again this can come down to size, where a consultant has to work on schemes of widely differing sizes, one can dominate. Perhaps there is a GMP equalisation taking place on one scheme, another is in the middle of recovery plan discussions, with all this going on the smaller scheme with only a small budget can become a lower priority.

My response: Every calculation and significant piece of work is reviewed by the client manager so they will have an in depth knowledge of your scheme and what is taking place. The client manager will also sign off the monthly checklist and sent you a monthly update email. This sets out an update on all the live project work along with our short newsletter and how any developments might impact on your scheme. Therefore, you can be certain that, each month your client manager is setting aside time to review with the client team your scheme and any developments.

Q3. Who is ultimately responsible for you as a client?

Unfortunately, we have taken on clients where we have found that there have been errors in the scheme administration. Upon digging into the issues, we can sometimes end up with the administration team telling us this is how they have always done it and the actuarial/client manager saying that this has always been dealt with by the administration team. So where does the buck stop?

My response: The client manager will be involved in all aspects of your scheme. They will meet regularly with all members of the team, sign off all member calculations and significant pieces of post, sign off the monthly administration checklist, carry out the annual scheme audit, lead the implementation team and sign off the benefit audit, and review all and every aspect of your Scheme. It will always be clear who is ultimately responsible and who should be your first port of call when you have a query.

Q4. What reassurance do I have that I will not get left behind with any system new roll out?

For larger firms, rolling out a new administration or actuarial system is a mammoth effort. Even setting up new clients on existing systems can be time consuming and expensive. There is a danger that the smaller clients end up missing out. The larger clients are usually on-boarded first and by the time they get to the smaller clients, budgets and time may be under more pressure. They may therefore, perhaps, not get their calculations or template letters set up on the automated systems, their data might not be fully uploaded or the upload not have all the checks that might ordinarily be carried out.

My response: All our clients are treated the same. Where we make changes to our systems, they are done incrementally across the whole of our client base. At take on, we make sure that all the data is fully loaded and our usual first principle checks are carried out. Whenever, we carry out a calculation we will carry out those first principle checks again to make sure the information looks sensible. For each of our clients, there is a scheme information sheet which includes all the important information about their scheme including a benefit specification and what templates have been signed off. Where a new template calculator is needed it will be programmed and signed off by the actuarial team and client manager before being rolled out.

Q5. How can I be sure the advice I am getting is appropriate for me?

There is a danger, at larger firms, the focus can be on their largest clients to develop new strategies and ways of thinking which, arguably, makes sense as they can most afford the advice this might require. There is then a challenge in seeing how this might work for smaller schemes so that they can also benefit (and, perhaps, help meet some of the up-front development cost).

My response: Our client managers review developments for each individual client and decide what actions need to taken based upon their individual circumstances. As no scheme dominates, each is given equal time and the breadth of clients means that there lots of opportunities to develop ideas in different ways. Our approach reflects the needs of our client base – pragmatic and value driven. Our client managers discuss developments with the other client managers and the rest of the client team to ensure that all aspects are considered and they benefit from the shared experiences. Each year, each scheme has an audit carried out by our very experienced managing director who challenges the client manager on all aspects of the Scheme from questions ranging from the appropriateness of the factors, the LTO and how it might be achieved, the position of the company and how it has been factored into the recovery plan, the concentration risk and how this is being managed, what template calculators and letters are in place and how have they been worded, what liability management exercises have been considered. This allows us to take a step back and decide whether there are any other opportunities where we might add value.

Nick Atkin

The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent those of Atkin & Co.

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