The Pension Regulator last month confirmed that over 1.3 million employers need to auto-enrol their staff in the four-year period from the beginning of the next tax year.
This clearly represents an enormous opportunity for virtually every adviser. Most will have at least some clients running their own firms which need to address the challenge of auto-enrolment.
But whatever pension minister Steve Webb may say, the reality is that complying with auto-enrolment rules is far from easy. Managing the auto-enrolment process, however, will be a significant challenge to many adviser firms.
Traditional adviser client management systems have been primarily built around the needs of individual business, not corporate advice, and even among those client management offerings which do have some provision for group pensions, I have not come across any that have built a dedicated auto-enrolment component to complement their system.
A couple of suppliers have built links to systems like Staffcare and You at Work but most advisers’ main software suppliers have not addressed this issue.
While there are many dedicated middleware products available, a new free service from Aviva could be very welcome to any firm looking to capitalise on the auto-enrolment opportunity. Available here it is designed to enable advisers to manage the complete process of guiding employers from an initial enquiry through to staging their scheme.
Firms will need to register separately for the service as it does not use their Aviva for Advisers credentials, however, once one person within a business has set up the system, they can grant access to colleagues.
The software can be co-branded to include the adviser logo and is provider agnostic, so there is no reason why it could not be used to manage schemes being placed with other pension providers. That said, as you would reasonably expect, this system defaults to follow the standard Aviva process, however, there is no restriction to preclude advisers creating processes to work with variations other insurers might adopt.
In order to encourage employers to make an early start to auto-enrolment, the system defaults to an 18- month project plan. To make it easy for advisers to manage multiple employers, the system uses a traffic light system to identify which employers being managed through the system are on track, those that are beginning to fall behind and those which should have cause for serious concern.
It takes employers through a 13-stage process broken down between three phases – “get ready”, “steady” and “go”. The service shows the timings of an individual organisation’s plan in a Gantt chart-style timeline clearly indicating the selected staging date. The way progress is recorded could be made somewhat clearer by changing the colour of the bars in the chart as each process is completed.
In addition to creating their own bespoke timelines, advisers are free to set up their own configurable processes within the system and add any additional tasks they wish to carry out. Having set up an employer within the system, emails are exchanged to allow both parties access to the information. Following the defined processes, the system will generate emails and alerts at user-selected intervals.
A “watch list” feature allows you to monitor up to five clients in more detail, with a further traffic lights monitor and aggregated summary of their process.
While I really like this feature, I cannot understand why it is limited to a few clients. It would be really good if this could be extended to include all employers within the service. Autoenrolmentplanner.co.uk takes the user up to the staging date where the pensions providers software can reasonably be expected to take over.
At the end of the process, the system will generate a report summarising all the actions taken and the timeline chart as a record for the adviser of all that has taken place.
I could see this being very useful for advisers in justifying their charges.
For firms auto-enrolling via Aviva’s AME system, either because they have an Aviva corporate pension or have subscribed to the service individually, AME would take control of the ongoing management of the actual member enrolment, opt-outs and contribution collection. This system covers the beginning of the process so advisers can prepare the employer but they need only start paying for middleware when they start staging employees.
We may be witnessing the first of a new generation of software for advisers. I have never come across an employer management system although in practice that is what Aviva has built.
I can also see significant scope to develop this service further to support the group risk market as auto-enrolment data could potentially play such a large part in the more efficient operation of group risk new business and renewals, a process in much need of reform.
In its current iteration this is a short life system, cases are removed 60 days after completion, however, I think there may be significant further potential if Aviva extended this.
The development of this service demonstrates a clear commitment to support adviser firms and employers in the auto-enrolment market. I keep hearing rumours that Aviva is planning to withdraw from corporate pensions, something that the company has vigorously denied whenever I have raised the question.
It would be great to see Aviva come out with a clear public statement to this effect as I do come across many advisers who are concerned by such suggestions. But arguably actions speak louder than words and by delivering such a valuable and innovative service for advisers, this is effectively making such a statement for them.
Given the depth of the system, word limits preclude me from providing an exhaustive summary of the service in this article so my colleague Jason Green has written a more detailed blog which can be found here.
Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre