How Ontario Teachers’ is harnessing insights around pension member pain points

In seeking to better serve its plan members, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has been on a journey to change its strategic thinking to access a more meaningful picture of who its members are and what challenges they have in using the plan as it stands.

That journey starts by asking what a member is trying to achieve at a certain point in their life cycle and career, said Charley Butler, senior managing director of member services at the Ontario Teachers’, during a webinar hosted by Common Wealth on Thursday. The plan has implemented its so-called voice of the member approach to shake up its perspective and gain new and valuable insights. One key tenet of the approach is curiosity, she said. “[It’s] asking more, what the problems are, not worrying about how we’ve always done things.”

Read: Using creativity to engage employees with pensions

The approach also involves bringing together different areas of expertise, with frontline services, the data and insight team, the technology team and senior leadership all collaborating. “It’s a small cross-sectional group of people who get together and look at insights from the frontline, data from our membership and we have a huge amount of analysis on what our members are doing at any given time,” she said. “And it’s really challenged some of those long-held beliefs that you’ll find staff in service operations have.”

The Ontario Teachers’ has so much data on plan members at its fingertips, but it’s hoping to harness more of it in the future, added Butler. “To really modernize data, you have to modernize your technology, so we’re challenged in that space but we’re working hard on that also.”

Through the processes of gaining deeper plan member insights, it’s also important to work iteratively, she said. “That seems like a very obvious thing . . . but in fact when you work in a big service operation, it’s a challenge to get people to experiment. So we’ve had to do a lot of deep culture work to help people understand how it’s OK to experiment and maybe nine out of 10 experiments are going to fail and that’s OK.”

Read: Should employers use social media to communicate pension, benefits?

Butler noted that all of this strategic thinking has led the Ontario Teachers’ to concrete actionable insights that improve the experience for plan members and make its administration more efficient. One of the biggest realizations was that the plan gives members a lot of homework, she added, which has been a significant pain point.

“We call it homework, because we have teachers as our membership. . . . We send them away to collect documents, some documents they might not have found in many years. We ask them to fill forms, find somewhere to print forms, scan it back. And that’s a lot of work for a member to do to get some relatively basic services.”

The plan is experimenting with DocuSign to address how irritating that paperwork can be. “Basically now, if you’re a member, you can apply for certain benefits directly through a fully digital experience. . . . In the COVID-19 times, it’s been really interesting — we’ve been able to facilitate some almost real-time life expectancy benefits, for example, for members who may really need that, in a way that previously we would have been severely limited by physical mail.”

The Ontario Teachers’ also updated its document uploader, expanding the types of files it can receive and even allowing members to take and upload pictures of documents. As a result, the plan is receiving more documents through the digital process rather than the mail, which speeds up processes overall.

Read: Financial wellness programs should stress capability, not just literacy: webinar