Daniel Taylor looks back on the development of Premier, as the firm celebrates its tenth birthday
Milestones play an important role in our lives. They provide an opportunity to reflect on the past (New Year), mark the start of something new (your first child) or provide a moment of terrifying personal reflection (first grey hair). I experienced a fairly important work life milestone this year with the advent of Premier’s tenth birthday and, whilst I haven’t been working at Premier for all of that time, I have helped build the administration business over a fairly significant proportion of its life.
So I thought that this milestone would be a good opportunity to reflect on some of the highs and lows of setting up a pension administration business from scratch, as well as looking at some of the lessons learnt.
The starting point for us was easier than you might think and we turned instantly to the question of which systems would be right for a fledging administration business with big aspirations? Technology is now the bedrock of any administration service, so selecting the right platforms for current and future needs is now fundamental to long-term success.
The difficulty in today’s market really isn’t finding a system that can deliver all of the functions you need, but finding the solution that is the right fit for your operation. This doesn’t necessarily mean choosing a one-stop supplier (packaged options) and, like Premier, you might end up choosing a range of systems (toolkit options) from different suppliers that you can bolt together to provide more flexibility and versatility. It’s never been more important, or more difficult, to select a system, as competition is high and the choices are more complex due to basic functionality requirements going way beyond calculations and record management. Admin systems must now deliver payroll, workflow, electronic document management, member web and data quality management services – meaning that buying considerations are much wider than the traditional standard database functionality.
The second vitally important consideration is resourcing. Having enough of the right mix of skills in your administration team will quite simply make or break your service. Anybody that has worked in administration will have their own horror stories about backlogs and errors being caused through a lack of skilled resources. Too often administrators guess at the numbers of people needed to deliver services (utility) and don’t draw on the management information available from their workflow systems to monitor and adjust resourcing levels. It’s important to agree utility levels and to stick to those resourcing commitments - a commitment that needs to be agreed, monitored and honoured by all stakeholders, including trustees and sponsors, for in-house administrators.
So once you’ve got your systems and people in place and have developed a competitive fee structure, new administration appointments should come flocking, right? After all, everybody knows there are plenty of schemes receiving a terrible service. Well, no, not quite. Perhaps the biggest shock since starting the administration business has been the resistance of so many trustees to change administrators, even in the face of appalling service, high fees and mismanagement. Many trustees regard changing administrators as too complex, high risk and demanding on their own resources when so many other areas require their attention. The result is that industry standards fall and mediocrity becomes the accepted standard. Moving administrators simply isn’t as complex as it once was and in most cases helps to improve data and member engagement, and reinvigorates the service. The most difficult part of any migration is getting the trustees to agree to it in the first place.
So what have been some of the highs? Apart from the obvious thrills that come with starting and growing a business, you might think that working in administration is pretty dull. Well, you’d be wrong. Administration is increasingly becoming a technology-driven business and with this comes the opportunity to invent new communication and process solutions. Many of these developments aren’t just at the forefront of our own industry, but are breaking new ground in customer and financial services more generally. I think the next 10 years is going to be a pretty exciting time, not only at Premier but for the industry as a whole. The challenges over the next 10 years are going to come thick and fast, but we’ve never been better equipped to meet them and respond more creatively than ever before.
Written by Daniel Taylor, head of administration services, Premier