How long is this going to take?

It’s 2022 – we expect instant results.

At the click of a button you can book a holiday, buy goods for same day delivery and track them to your front door.

So it’s understandable that members can get frustrated that if they ask a question about their pension, they may have to wait for a response. But unfortunately this frustration frequently leads to complaints.

How long things took may be at the heart of a complaint. Or it could just be a contributing factor – if you are frustrated by the process you are more likely to challenge the outcome if it isn’t what you ideally wanted.

Dealing with complaints can be very expensive and time consuming and they can also bring reputational risk. But could you do more to help prevent them arising in the first place?

Review your processes

Could you make your processes any quicker or smoother for example, by increasing resource or using more automation, electronic communication, and/or delegated decision-making?

Your administrator might have some helpful suggestions based on what they see working well on other schemes.

Be clear up front about what to expect

Do you tell members how long things might take or how far in advance they should contact you when planning to retire or asking for a transfer quotation?

However, it’s crucial that communications about timescales are worded very carefully. Be too specific, and you could inadvertently create expectations rather than manage them. There will always be particularly busy periods and unusual cases where things will take longer than the standard timelines.

Explain why things could take time

People are generally prepared to wait if they think there is a good reason.

Do you remind your members why your processes take time? For example, when members apply to transfer, do you clearly highlight that the checks you need to complete are designed to protect individuals from scams and help reduce the risk of them losing out on valuable pension savings?

Be clear about what others need to do and when 

Where processes include steps which rely on others (for example, the member or their IFA or receiving scheme) taking action do you clearly set out what needs to be done by who and by when?

Being clear about what’s needed should help keep things on track, but if another party does cause a delay, it should also make it easier to explain that the scheme isn’t to blame.

Provide regular updates 

People don’t like to feel like they’ve been forgotten or worry about where things have got to.

If a query is taking longer than expected, do you get in touch to explain why and provide an updated timeframe? Or simply to reassure the member that you are working on their query and will get back to them as quickly as you can? Can members easily check on progress themselves?

Again it’s important that any updates or holding responses are framed in the right way. Otherwise you could leave yourself a hostage to fortune down the line or inadvertently increase, rather than reduce, the risk of a complaint (for example, by raising unnecessary concern).

Thank people for their patience and invite feedback

If someone has had to wait, do you thank them for their patience and where appropriate, apologise for the delay?  Do you offer a facility so members can provide immediate feedback? If you do, is it easy to use and do you acknowledge and act on the feedback you get?

Individuals may be less likely to make a formal complaint if they feel the trustee cares about their experience and they have been able to get any grumbles off their chest straightaway. Listening to member feedback may also help you to refine your processes and reduce the risk of similar issues arising again.

Work with your technology

Some schemes may have a range of ways, including an interactive website, that they can communicate with members about timescales. Their technology may also allow them to adjust the messaging during the year to take account of especially busy periods or the implementation of new requirements.

Schemes which are more “old- school” are likely to have fewer options but there will still be steps they could take to ensure members know what to expect. For example, including an insert with transfer and retirement packs, or doing a spotlight in an annual newsletter or a retirement roadshow.


Ultimately, whether your scheme is high-tech or more old-school, investing in the member experience and managing expectations should give members more confidence in your scheme’s processes and, in turn, help to reduce the risk of costly complaints.

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