Despite several twists and turns, Australian superannuation fund QSuper isn’t shying away from implementing new technology.

Speaking at Benefits Canada‘s Benefits & Pension Summit in Toronto on Tuesday, Kim Hughes, head of product and services at QSuper, told attendees about the new tools and products her fund has provided for members and how they’ve taught the organization a great deal about ways to approach the integration of new technologies.

With a number of successes and challenges along the way, what QSuper discovered was that an agile approach to new programs is far superior in the long run. Rather than big launches of off-the-shelf programs with little support and followup, Hughes suggested funds should bring projects forward in smaller, iterative steps while learning as they go.

Among the tool the fund rolled out was Money Map, which allows plan members to see an aggregated view of their various financial accounts and transactions on one platform. The aim is to help plan members control their spending and debt management by pulling all of the information together in one place, Hughes noted.

Read: Adapting to plan members’ expectations in an increasingly technological world

One user quickly discovered how that holistic view could be helpful. “It categorizes the spending for you, so for him, it showed that he was paying for three gym memberships, but he wasn’t actually aware. In his accounts, he was just getting these direct debits, and he didn’t pay much attention to it. But when it was actually visually shown to him, he saw there were two gym memberships that he’d forgotten to cancel,” said Hughes. “That was the visibility that he needed to change his spending behaviours.”

As well, the tool created “incredibly rich data” that the fund wage eager to harness. Unfortunately, due to concerns around data security, the fund wasn’t able to access the data. Finding ways to appropriately use the data generated by programs like that is going to be a key target for the fund as it continues to work on integrating technology, according to Hughes.

Another lesson the fund learned from the rollout of Money Map was about the limits of white-label products. As the fund gained a better understanding of how it might further develop the product, it was difficult to harness that knowledge without an internal technology team to make changes or support from the provider, said Hughes.

Read: DC Plan Summit: The role of financial attention in navigating the growing reach of digital data

The experience taught the fund about how working in partnership with providers can improve off-the-shelf solutions, said Hughes. Providers need to be willing to tinker with the tools they offer in order to improve and adapt them to the fund’s specific needs, she said. “You need a contract to ensure that they’re incentivized to achieve your outcomes.”

QSuper also brought in a program called Self Invest, which allowed plan members to use the balances of their pensions to trade shares on an Australian stock exchange, said Hughes. “This is a very engaged group . . .. We believed that this increased engagement would improve their financial well-being,” she said.

Plan members actually traded far more frequently than expected, noted Hughes. While many members outperformed, others didn’t do so well. In fact, one member complained after losing about 150,000 Australian dollars, saying the fund didn’t use enough controls. On the other hand, some members believed the controls already in place were excessive, noted Hughes.

Overall, when giving pension plan members a tool that allows self-directed choices, it’s important to remember to use caution as a fiduciary, according to Hughes. In response to members using the option to trade so frequently, the fund established tighter controls, narrowing the number of potential stocks people could invest in. “As we got a better understanding of how our members were using the product and how they were trading, they were able to loosen up a little bit on some of those controls,” said Hughes.

Read: Canadian HR functions unprepared for growth of AI, automation: survey

Hughes asserted that a tireless attitude towards constant improvement is at the core of the fund’s strategy when it comes to using new technology to help its members achieve financial well-being. “Don’t set and forget,” she urged. “You cannot implement a technology solution and not expect there to be rapid change in the industry.”

On the advisory side, the plan also introduced online advice modules for asset mix and contribution levels. In rolling it out, there was a concern the online advice would cannibalize the in-person offerings the plan already had. “We thought that everybody was going to swing across to the online module and stop coming to us for comprehensive talks, which we still believe is the most valuable source of financial planning,” said Hughes. In its experience, however, the fund found younger users were the big adopters of the online tool and were using it outside of business hours.

The fund did make a modification when it noticed some users weren’t completing the online courses all the way to the end. It solved the issue by removing the option to take two courses at once, which increased the completion rate by 28 per cent. “What you experience in a branch or what you experience on the website, it’s all the same. It’s all about the customer journey and what’s our tweaking process along the way,” said Hughes.

Read: New digital HR assistant uses AI to answer employee questions

In its newest endeavour, the fund tested a 12-week internal pilot project that helped members identify the top three things they could do to improve their financial well-being and gave them tasks and challenges in order to get started. “We developed it with a behavioural scientist, using gamification, awards and simple steps,” said Hughes.

Currently, the fund is testing a consumer-facing version of the product in conjunction with the 2018 Commonwealth Games that brought together the concepts of financial and physical fitness. The consumer version takes just three weeks and helps people compare their results to others in similar demographics to themselves. The project has seen a very high participation rate, said Hughes, conceding there’s a noticeable drop-off when the survey asks people to provide demographic information about themselves.

When it comes to addressing those issues, Hughes emphasized the need to be agile in implementing new tools. “There’s no longer a time or privilege for us to take a long time in the digital space,” she said.

Read: Can gamification engage pension plan members?

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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