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Let MAPS Help You Find Your Way

12 April 2019

Following the recent consultation from the government, and subsequent feasibility report around the Pensions Dashboard, Chris Connelly, Propositions & Solutions Director at Equiniti gives an insight into what he believes should be the key areas of focus to deliver on such an ambitious undertaking.

Chris Connelly Propositions and Solutions Director at Equiniti

I love maps. They are form and function in concert. They are precise, and yet aesthetic. And when it comes to blogging about the new name for the single financial guidance body MAPS (The Money and Pension Service) is an absolute gift for lazy metaphor abusers like me.

I find the lack of map clichés in MAPS launch materials admirably restrained and only mildly disappointing. I can promise no such restraint myself as I find myself drawn into how good a metaphor it really is.

Younger viewers might not recall the time when maps were folded, not swiped. The limitation of a map was the edge of the page, not the availability of 4G and a good battery.

Those ‘analogue’ maps didn’t have a blue flashing dot to tell you where you were. The fundamental restriction of that paper map was that it was only useful to you if you already knew where you were and where you wanted to go. (Assuming you weren’t already so badly lost that you were now on the wrong map).

And that is about as good an allegory as you’ll find for our industry as it currently stands. Irrespective of how good anyone’s pension scheme comms or websites are, it is still dependent on the member knowing where everything is, and pulling it all together themselves. Clutching their collection of paper benefit statement ‘maps’, (assuming you sent them to the right address of course).

Same plot of land with two different interfaces: delivering to the need of the user

It is good to see that MAPS will be responsible for delivering what we all so badly need – the pension SatNav. The ‘Google Maps’ of financial planning. The ‘Ask Siri’ of … well you get what I mean: The Pension Dashboard(s).

With the Government’s response to the consultation released, and the launch of MAPS underway, it finally seems like we will get the impetus to get on with the work. For some of us, involved since the very first proof of concept, the consultation response gets everyone else on the same page. We’ve seen all of the press coverage debating what should or shouldn’t be in the Dashboard. They’re the same things we’ve debated in the various forums that have helped keep nudging the dashboard along.

So let me take a minute to give my view having climbed a few more hills on this subject than most.

1. Multiple dashboards: single infrastructure… 

Metaphors, like our paper maps, have their limits. At the risk of over-stretching this one, I think the allegory of swapping the Ordnance Survey for Google Maps is close enough. I don’t have to worry if I don’t own the right maps, or whether I’ve got the right scale for my purpose. I don’t have to buy a new one if a new road gets built. I can go to my App and search for what I’m looking for. To stretch it even further, I can go to a website, or my phone, or a tablet, or even someone else’s gadget and still find what I want – just like multiple dashboards. If I don’t like Google, and prefer Apple maps, I can find the same stuff. I mean, I could ask Bing too, but I’m not an animal. 

My point is, I’ll use the mapping interface I prefer, for the job I’m doing. I know I can switch between them and get the same position because they all rely on the same underlying data and infrastructure. They all work because GPS already exists. For the immediate delivery of a new dashboard infrastructure that everyone can use, and meet the timescales, then the core needs to be a single Pension Finder service and a core set of open messages.

2. Shouldn’t it just be open banking – no need for a central architecture at all…

I partially agree. There is a lot of groundwork in exchanging financial information, securely, that PSD2 broke ground on. Open standards are absolutely the way to go. BUT we cannot lose sight of the subject matter, and people’s differing relationship with their money. My NatWest banking app has only recently offered me the ability to type in my other bank details. We’ve taken over a year to reach here, and I still have to know where my bank accounts are. I can probably manage that because our bank accounts are important to us. They’re important nearly every day. Members do not have the same connection with their pensions. They lose them. They need the tools to find them. Not the ability to type them in. If I’m thirsty in a strange town, I need to be able to search for a pub in my google search bar, not type in its co-ordinates.

3. Costs and charges...

There are lots of debates about content. With costs I think this is a timing issue. Having done some work with the Transparency Taskforce I know only too well the damage that hidden costs can do to member outcomes and how the whole issue of (dis)trust is intertwined. However, I also know how difficult it has been for providers to get that information in a shareable format and to communicate it in a way that a member would understand and could take informed decisions upon. 

It is important to share, but just providing data is not communication. We need the recipient to understand. Dashboards won’t solve that. Dashboards will deliver the message, once we as an industry solve the core problem.

So, I absolutely agree costs and charges should be in our list of requirements, but I think there are more important requirements that need to be delivered first.

4. Illustrations, retirement planning, widgets, bells & whistles…

I agree with the premise that competition in providing dashboards should drive innovation. I believe that is as good a reason as any to have multiple dashboards. It’s the same reason that I prefer Google maps to Apple, and why I’d ditch both in favour of Ordnance Survey if I found myself in the Cairngorms instead of the High Street.

What I don’t agree with is the clamour for it all to be there on day one, or “no-one will ever use them!”

What I do believe in is financial inclusion. The priority of the dashboards should not be the depth of functionality, but the breadth of coverage. My first SatNav didn’t come with live traffic updates, local points of interest, or even searchable street names. I had to type in a post code. Those other features came later and added value every year, and kept me coming back to use that tool in more ways. If that first SatNav only had half of London’s postcodes I’d probably have kept using my AtoZ. When smartphones added SatNav capability and the ability to cross-reference pretty much anything on the internet: that was when it became indispensable and utterly more usable. BUT the groundwork had to be done first.

Likewise, if we wait for dashboards to be perfect, we’ll never release version 1. What the members in our industry need right now is a Pensions SatNav. That in itself will be a thousand miles closer to where we need to be than we are right now. I agree we need to provide them with planning tools and the ability to turn information into decision making and action. But let’s help them find out where they are first?

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