CSS pension plan recognized for digital-first communications strategy

The Co-operative Superannuation Society Pension Plan’s digital-first communications plan netted it the pension plan communications award at Benefits Canada‘s 2020 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 16.

The CSS pension plan’s communications strategy was influenced by the technology and fintech industries and meeting its members where they are — online. 

“We’re a defined contribution pension plan, so it’s up to our members to really make investment decisions,” says Nicole Quintal, communications manager for the CSS pension plan. “We really have to make sure they have the information they need so they can make informed decisions. It’s really up to us to provide them with that information in a format that they want to receive it in.

Read: A look at one of Canada’s oldest DC pensions through the eyes of a 100-year-old retiree

“We found with surveys in the past that more and more of our members are looking to receive information digitally from us [and] we used that feedback to formulate our strategy.”

The strategy to shift away from using mainly traditional pension plan communications such as in-person group information sessions was a years-long process. In late 2016, the CSS pension plan launched a new website with an easy-to-use interface in straight-forward language.

This coincided with the launch of a branded portal for members and employers called myCSSPEN. The portal allows members to check their account balance, estimate their retirement income, keep track of any contributions made, update their contact information and more. Meanwhile, employers are able to securely upload contribution files each pay period and will soon be able to submit other types of documents securely through the portal.

The CSS pension plan also launched an e-newsletter in mid-2016 that has steadily grown a devoted readership in the years since. 

Read: Latest CAPSA consultation looks at electronic pension communication

“We launched in 2016 [with] about 1,500 email addresses [and] since then almost 12,000 have opted in now,” says Quintal. “It’s just been a success for us and we’re glad we found a format that our members want in terms of communication. Open rates are around 50 per cent, [which is] quite high for the finance industry. The newsletter has been a win for us and our members, too.”

Another win is the use of video, social media and blog-style news posts to communicate with plan members in plain, understandable language often via smartphones. Many of the CSS pension plan members work in grocery stores or warehouses, so they aren’t often at a desktop computer, but can easily connect with pension plan information on their phones, she notes. 

Shifting to a digital-first communications strategy well before the pandemic has also helped the CSS pension plan quickly adjust to not being able to communicate in person with plan members.

Read: How to talk about pensions and benefits during coronavirus

“The pandemic has definitely fast-tracked a lot of what we were already doing,” says Quintal. “So we had plans in place and now we’re implementing those plans quicker than we expected.”

Since mid-March, the pension plan has held webinars for late-career members and for retirees with variable-benefit payments that focused on the market downturn and offered advice on what to consider before making investment changes in tumultuous times. It has also decided to take its in-house member print magazine completely digital and plans to allow members to access their annual statements electronically by early next year.

Read a full list of the 2020 Workplace Benefits Awards winners.