Changing administration providers is always a tough decision for trustees and sponsors, even more so when they have unusual requirements. Will the new provider really be able to meet them?
This was the challenge that was faced 18 months ago by the RNIB Retirement Benefits Scheme, the scheme for employees of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and of Action for Blind People, part of the RNIB Group.
RNIB is the UK’s leading sight-loss charity, providing support and advice to over two million people. This is probably well known, but what is possibly little known is that many employees and past employees of RNIB are themselves blind or partially-sighted.
So, quite apart from needing reliable pensions administration for their open and complex scheme (including a combination of DB-only members and true hybrid members whose DB and DC benefit split is determined according to a salary threshold), RNIB has a set of essential and challenging accessibility requirements. Indeed, number one in RNIB’s list of values is that they are: ‘Led by blind and partially-sighted people.’ Their other, commendably simple, values are ‘Collaborative, Creative, Inclusive, Open’.
This begins to give you a sense of how RNIB needed their chosen administration provider to behave, living up to the RNIB’s standards – and if you visit www.rnib.org.uk, one of the quotes you will see is “I honestly couldn’t believe how helpful people were in RNIB. They have a completely different way of treating people with sight loss, with dignity.” This was how RNIB’s pensions administrator needed to behave.
Guided by KGC Associates, the trustees issued a Request for Proposal. This was the first test, as some of the trustees themselves have sight loss and response materials needed to take this in to account. From there, the trustees and sponsor narrowed their selection to a small number of providers who could clearly perform the administration and then set about satisfying themselves that their other needs would be met. These included their ‘technical’ accessibility requirements, but perhaps more importantly involved assessing the softer skills of the contenders: “Do their people show the empathy and skills we need? Can they prove to us that they will work to our standards and values?”
They answered these questions through references, a rigorous site visit and, later, a final meeting and discussion with their selection panel.
Delighted and privileged to have been selected as RNIB’s new administration partner, our hard work began. Quite apart from our normal transition, covering a full back-to-source-documentation audit of the administration, data analysis, needs analysis and automation configuration, we needed to:
- Produce all letters and other documentation in a variety of typefaces, font sizes and media (supported as appropriate by the RNIB’s excellent Webdocs service, which converts simple documents into Braille and other alternative formats, with more complicated documents being transcribed by a dedicated RNIB team)
- Identify on our systems which members need to receive letters from us in which format (over 10 per cent needed nonstandard communications)
- Configure our systems so that when a task is being prepared for authorisation, the system automatically picks up the indicator and produces the output in the required accessibility format or prepares it for immediate transmission to Webdocs or the RNIB team
- Not only train our people in all of the above, of course, but also crucially in dealing with the needs of the blind and partially-sighted members they would come in to contact with (again, in the spirit of true partnership, RNIB helped greatly with this)
The demands of the RNIB scheme are very different from those of a typical scheme and so there were unique challenges during the transition. However, through a collaborative approach by al parties, those challenges were overcome and we now look forward to a long and mutually beneficial partnership.
Mark Adamson, Director
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