Meeting between USS and USSDivest October 2021 (Post 2)

Following a sampling of ten universities, on how easy it is to find out what fund choices are open to DC members, USSDivest made the following requests at the meeting:

Overall, the meeting was very positive, with USS responses largely in favour of our suggestions.    

  1. USS provides standard information about DC choices, to be placed on University websites
  2. Training (webinar or similar) for University pension officers (before January 2022), providing information about choices is not providing financial advice

USS says ‘Overall, we and employers prefer that information signposts to the USS website, where we can ensure things are kept up to date.  However, in the run up to the proposed expansion of DC we do intend to undertake some activities with employers, including (i) some training sessions on DC, especially what members can do with their DC pots; (ii) employer comms that will complement member comms being sent and (iii) run an employer webinar informing them of the changes and the impact this will have for their members and what they need to do.  All of these should give employers confidence to provide support to employees, but ultimately it will be up to them to decide what sort of engagement they are willing to have– and some may prefer to simply signpost to USS if they are concerned about inadvertently offering advice.’

USSDivest response ‘The training for Pensions Officers and increasing member communications are good steps. However, the effectiveness of simply sign-posting to the USS site depends on whether the latter is clear about the existence of ethical funds.’

  1. USS to inform members when they cross threshold and join DC scheme, including information on fund options

USS says ‘We are aware of this issue, and one of our reasons for shifting our communications to direct to member and digital is the ability to send this type of trigger communication. We are currently investigating how we do this practically, and hope to be able to confirm timings shortly.  We will be limited in terms of the content of these communications by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations we referred to, so will be relying heavily on directing people to the website and My USS to find out more.

Note that separate to these individual level triggers, if the changes to benefits proposed by the employers go ahead, there will be a standalone campaign to engage affected members, which will include helping them understand their fund options.

USSDivest response ‘This is very positive indeed – though again, provided the USS website is clear about the ethical funds options.’

  1. Review of USS website pages to improve clarity and ‘hit rate’ for searches for ‘ethical’ and cognates

USS says ‘We regularly review the USS website, and overall think the new site and the Investment Builder main page is the appropriate place to route members wanting to know more about the DC aspects of their pension.  However, we are considering a few specific changes currently which could further improve this:

  1. Moving the fund information and ethical fund guidelines to the main website rather than being behind log in (this should be a relatively quick change)
  2. Potentially adding a sub-page on fund options (currently there are drop down boxes/faqs covering the availability of ethical options

We will also look at the search performance, but note that it is used by a very small proportion < 3% of website visitors and v few of these searches relate to investment.

USSDivest response ‘Both of these are positive. A sub-page would be of particular use. Selecting an investment option is one of the primary benefits of being in the Investment Builder section, so members would appreciate this being highlighted.’

  1. Members’ statements to highlight information about where funds are invested and how funds perform

USS says ‘Our approach to the AMS (annual member’s statement) largely mirrors the government’s regulations on simpler annual benefit statements, which limits the detail on fund choices.  However, we think that our plans to move statements online will help members to easily link from their statement to the relevant information on My USS, where they can explore further and take action.

USSDivest response ‘We only agree partly: if USS have room on the page for a statement about where to find fund options, they have room to state where people are currently invested. We agree that more detailed descriptions are not appropriate, since they need contextualizing’

  1. A ‘Members’ Briefing’ about the change in DC threshold and fund options

USS says ‘Whilst we are still in the member consultation phase and not yet in a position to confirm details, we will be supporting members through the changes, and that will include written materials, videos and webinars that will help people understand their choices if they will then be building (more) DC savings. 

USSDivest response ‘We await further details on this’  

It is hoped to have another meeting with USS in January 2022

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