Value-added facts: Secondsight’s key to happy clients

Matthew Mitten, SecondsightData on services delivered has become a must in the new world of fees, says Secondsight partner Matthew Mitten. John Greenwood hears more

The transition from commission to a post-RDR world of fees is a challenge all corporate advisers have had to face. For Secondsight, the dedicated employee benefits division of Foster Denovo, accurate data on the value delivered has been the key to retaining existing corporate clients in the post-commission world – and to gaining new ones.

Secondsight partner Matthew Mitten says the firm’s strategy of demonstrating value has been a major factor in getting to a position of not having lost a single client in the transition to the RDR-compliant world.

“In the past, we were engaging through one-to-one meetings that were often paid for by commission. We now have to measure the influence we are having on a workforce to justify our fees,” says Mitten.

“Market intelligence is key to our proposition now. When you go from commission to fees, you have to demonstrate the value of what you are doing. And that means monitoring the number and type of queries that you are answering, how many seminars you are holding, how many people attend, etcetera.”

Mitten points to employees paying more into pensions, the numbers changing their default retirement age and those opting for salary sacrifice as other key benchmarks.

“We also monitor whether they want to go for Second Chance, which is a Save More Tomorrow-style approach to increasing pension contributions each time an employee gets a payrise,” he says.

The positive news post-RDR is that, while engagement translating into activity has declined, it has not disappeared altogether.

“I am pleased to say we do not get much fall-off in people actually doing something in the non-advised world. In the past, we got around 99 per cent of the workforce taking some active step to change their situation. Since the ending of commission, we probably get 60 to 70 per cent of non-advised employees taking an active step of some sort.

“Most of these changes are people paying in more, particularly where they have been automatically enrolled at the minimum,” he says.

Policymakers may want to bear in mind the impact of the withdrawal of commission that funded advice on the uptake of strategies that increased contributions, which arguably outweighs charges as the biggest single determinant of retirement provision outcomes in workplace pensions.

“We still get take-up of Second Chance in the non-advised environment but it is now closer to 10 to 15 per cent of employees, whereas it was around a third when we were advising the whole workforce,” says Mitten.

“Technology is playing a role in being able to see more people in a more cost-efficient way. We are doing more webinars, and our Mybenefitsatwork online service holds lots of video content to help guide employees towards good outcomes.

“We offer a combination of face-to-face group sessions and webinars with the opportunity to get advice. Most clients are happy to pay for advice.”

For the big auto-enrolment surge the firm has launched Enrolsme, an online service with telephone support for smaller companies meeting their staging date.

Mitten sees an increase from employers in demand for services that engage employees with their benefits. “This means a greater focus on financial education, planning and mortgage issues. And that can generate business for the private client side,” he says.

The firm also foresees a bigger role for governance – highlighting The Pension Regulator’s guidance that points to the importance of governance in achieving good member outcomes. “Governance is rising up the agenda so we are doing considerably more work putting governance structures in place,” he says.

For retirees faced with navigating the pension freedoms, the firm has a three-tier service. Stage one is its financial concierge service, which points them to Pension Wise. The second tier is a Retirement Options Report.

“This is advice with a small ‘a’ – a basic telephone fact-find where we recommend the percentage split they should make across cash, drawdown and annuity but we do not tell them which products to go for. This personal recommendation without a product recommendation costs £250,” he says.

“The third tier is, if they want to implement the plan, we pass them on to the private client team.”