A lesson in member comms

Pardon the Interruption

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Campaign group ShareAction is seeking to mobilise the public to demand that their pension investments drive “social progress, not climate and ecological breakdown”. Could pension schemes learn from their engagement drive? 
 
Protests have taken place around the world with people calling for stronger action to halt climate change. Pension funds control more than £1.5tn in the UK alone, making them powerful potential agents in pushing companies to lower carbon emissions. 
 
ShareAction is now trying to harness the influence individuals have as pension scheme members to get funds into action, offering a digital platform to educate people about the impact of their pension savings on the world and offering concrete actions to tackle issues like the climate crisis. 
 
The website educates people on why and how their pension savings are invested, before asking them to sign a petition calling for greener pensions. The site also suggests people should speak to their employer about choosing a more climate-friendly scheme, or switch to a pension option that suits them.  
   
“Most people striking for the climate this week will be paying into a pension which is invested in companies like BP and Shell. Indeed, their pension is probably made up of more than 10% oil and gas companies. A huge number of these people won’t know who their pension provider is, let alone that they have a stake in the very companies responsible for the crisis we find ourselves in,” said Michael Kind, campaign manager at ShareAction. 
 
The group carried out a study on how to engage people with their pension investments, which found that “there is a vital need to educate the public before asking them to take action”. 
 
ShareAction said it wants to “redefine people’s understanding of pensions” so they view pensions as something that builds the world rather than being only associated with retirement. It will do so, among others, by highlighting the difference in people’s consumer choices and their pension investments. 
 
“We found that people really resonated with the message that despite trying to live ethically – shunning plastics or cycling to work – their pension was funding fossil fuels,” Kind said. 
 
While member activism might not be what every trustee is hoping for, it could just be the thing that gets people talking about pensions – and not just the investments. 
 
It is a widely held belief in the industry that members can be engaged through the topic of responsibility. Still, the emphasis on telling people that their pension has an effect in the present, not just the future, feels new – and could resonate with members. 
 
Perhaps it is not pension schemes’ place to tell members that they could engage in activism, but framing pension choices as something akin to consumer choice – which expresses values – could just be the new way people look at their savings. 
 
What is your view? Should pension funds tell scheme members what companies their money funds in the present to improve engagement?
Beau O'Sullivan
Catherine Howarth
Simon Grover