Putting the buzz into Pension Awareness



Robert Cochran

Retirement Specialist

We’ve been involved with Pension Awareness for the past decade and this year is bigger and better than ever, with the usual dash of fun.

Scottish Widows' association with Pension Awareness began almost at the very beginning.  I met with Jonathon from Pension Geeks the day after the very first event, a small affair in a pub in London back in 2013 for some of the movers and shakers in pensions. 

Pension Awareness Day is born

The goals of Pension Awareness Day chimed with me as it is all about making pensions more accessible to ordinary folks, simplifying the language around them and making them easy. 

This has become a rallying point for us over the years. 

At the second Pension Awareness Day, Scottish Widows and Pension Geeks got together and we really threw our weight behind the idea of making pensions accessible to all. 

The idea of the Pension Bus was born.  

It was a simple enough plan. Drive a big, Pension Awareness branded bus up and down the length of the country, stopping off at city centres during the day to encourage people to jump on board and find out about their pension.  

Image of Robert and Widow in  front of Pension Awareness bus

In truth we had no idea what would happen, but it was incredibly exciting to be trying something so different.  On day one of the tour, the bus was parked in a rainy Edinburgh, and we threw open the doors and invited the public to come and find out about pensions. 

They didn’t know what to make of it, and there was more of a trickle than a rush. Lots of industry people came for a look which was great, and we started getting coverage in the trade press and on social media. Then, just before lunch I sat down with a guy on the top deck, and he explained that he had opted out of his pension scheme.  He had joined the company in his early sixties and hadn’t expected to work that long.   

I took the time to explain auto-enrolment, what he was giving up in ‘free’ employer money, and how it all belonged to him in his policy. He went away to enrol and later that afternoon he popped by the bus to tell me he had arranged to be put into the scheme, and to thank me.  

I jumped off the bus with a spring in my step. This could actually work. We could really make a difference – we just had to keep it simple. It was a pivotal moment. 

Over that first week a few things became clear. 

1. People were a bit suspicious of us – no matter how disarming the Pension Geeks were 

2. People didn’t know what questions to ask as they had no real starting point 

3. The level of understanding was incredibly low, with people confused by state and private pensions. 

By the end of the week, we had helped lots of people with their queries and I was convinced of the merit of what we were doing. The Geeks kept the energy high, and we produced lots of visuals to go on social media to help demystify pensions. 

Over the next few years, we tweaked the format. We introduced a cool board with the most popular questions of the day written on it. Passers-by could see the kind of questions they could get answered on the pensions bus, we had give-aways and a brilliant little pension coffee ‘tuk tuk’ vehicle, but the biggest change we made was to increase the footfall.   

Putting the fun into pensions

I was in the workplace side at Scottish Widows, and we had a team who delivered pension presentations on-site at employers. What if we made that into an event and drove up on a pensions bus, where they booked onto presentations and got a pension bus ticket. What if we just made it more fun? 

We got a few employers to agree, and I got the actual Scottish Widow to join us on the tour and add a bit of extra excitement. The tour grew over time from one to four weeks and the biggest things we learned were all about keeping it simple and fun. 

How do you get people started with their pensions? We narrowed it down to three questions: 

1. What have I got?

If you can show people they are building up a pot of money, then it moves from being an abstract ‘pension’ thing to their money. 

By visiting our workplace schemes, it became easier for Scottish Widows colleagues to help people find out how much they had saved in their workplace scheme. Since the introduction of our pension app this has become very easy, and more people know what they have. 

2. Is it enough?  

Once they know what they have, the follow up questions are around how much they need. We developed the Age Me tool as a fun way to get people to find out what they thought they would need to live on in retirement and when they would hit that ideal income figure. Handing them a picture of an AI-aged version of themselves really broke the ice. People were actually laughing and smiling about pensions. 

3. What can I do next?

Helping people with next steps to find out their state pension entitlement, track down lost pensions or perhaps increase matched contributions. 

The bus tour kept getting bigger and was supported by more pension providers, the new Pension Wise service and the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions). It was becoming a focused time of year for everyone to get behind pensions. 

We ran like this for a few years in a real joint effort with the Pension Geeks, but the tour had outgrown the bus so Scottish Widows invested in bigger and better retirement vehicles to take things to a whole new level.  

It became a huge affair with hundreds of Scottish Widows colleagues happily giving up time to go on the tour. We took developers out to meet the people using their products, as well as salespeople and client services colleagues – everybody wanted to do their bit.  And, after years of trying, the pensions minister came on board too. He loved it and even sat through a pension essentials training session. 

In 2020 Covid hit and the vehicle was off the road for good. Pension Awareness Day, like everything else, made a quick pivot to virtual, keeping some of those fun elements we knew worked. 

Pension Engagement season  

Now Pension Awareness is part of the industry-wide Pension Engagement Season. Scottish Widows has lots of employers signed up to the virtual tour with a potential reach of 200,000 scheme members. Think how many buses that would take! 

We might not have the bus, but many more people can put their questions to our experts. We still have the Age Me fun with our ‘Your Future Self’ tool, we still answer their top three questions but this year we’ve got something new, the Pension Mirror* to help them compare their savings with other people of the same age. 

So well done to Pension Geeks for coming up with this idea and giving it a go – between us all the past 10 years has really grown into something amazing, and the ride, despite all the stops along the way, has been a great big pension BUZZ. 

*For the best user experience please use Pension Mirror on a mobile device. 



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