Two new legislative requirements in Ontario will have an impact on pension plan communication in 2017.
First, as of Jan. 1, 2017, organizations of all sizes must be in compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s information and communication standard. The standard is the latest milestone in the timeline for the act, which aims for a fully accessible Ontario by 2025. Second, beginning July 1, 2017, pension plans in Ontario must send personalized statements to retirees and former members at least every two years.
On the surface, the two developments may seem unrelated. But the same underlying principles that apply in making information accessible for people with disabilities are also relevant to making information accessible for seniors. Moreover, given the current state of financial literacy, an overriding objective for all plan member communication should be to make clear, well-organized and accessible information available in multiple formats.
A number of provinces have already introduced similar accessibility legislation and enhanced pension statement requirements or plan to do so. Employers that approach these legislative requirements with a check-box mentality will be doing both their plans and their members a disservice. Forward-thinking plan sponsors will treat the developments as something bigger: a chance to reassess plan communications and ensure they’re meeting members’ information needs.
There’s no shortage of webinars and other training tools available to help improve accessibility through plan communications, but here are a few of the key tenets for creating accessible content:
- Use plain language. That means more than just sticking to short, everyday words. It also means:
- Applying simple sentence structures;
- Adopting an active voice and being aware of tone; and
- Getting rid of acronyms and unnecessary words.
- Think graphically. Remember that the primary role of graphic design is to make content engaging and accessible. That includes:
- Making full use of navigational aids, such as headings, white space and colour contrast to lead the reader through the content;
- Choosing easy-to-read fonts and font sizes, avoiding italics and unnecessary capitalization and steering clear of justified or centred text; and
- Exploiting the power of well-executed infographics to convey complex concepts at a glance.
Of course, the best way to understand how to align plan communication with the audience’s specific needs is to ask them. So why not use these legislative changes as a prompt to do just that? One of the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is for employers to work with employees who request accessible formats and communication supports to determine what solution works best for them.
Instead of waiting for individual requests to come in and reacting on a piecemeal basis, a smarter approach may be to take the opportunity to reach out to members through surveys or focus groups to find out what is and isn’t working and how plan sponsors can improve their communication experience. Armed with this information, plan sponsors can take a proactive approach and begin to create accessible solutions.
Finally, employers may be having trouble seeing retiree and inactive statements as anything more than an administrative nightmare. But in addition to serving as a valuable tool to keep members aware of their benefits, employers can use the opportunity to improve their plan administration and governance if they include a mandatory form to confirm their information with the statements. Doing so will allow employers to ensure:
- The member is still alive;
- The address is up to date;
- The spouse or beneficiary information on file is accurate; and
- They’re aware of any special instructions, such as a power of attorney.
Done right, meeting the information needs of senior members and those with disabilities will be a catalyst for testing the effectiveness of the broader communication strategy and ensuring employers get full mileage from their considerable investment in their pension and benefits plans.
These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.