Empowering the silver surfer

With 170,000 members in 60 countries, the Internet is now a key tool for one pension fund administrator

With 170,000 members in 60 countries, the Internet is now a key tool for one pension fund administrator

Local authority pension schemes might not be the obvious place to look for innovative IT projects, but with hefty funds under their belts, they need to be up to speed, writes Mike Simons.

The West Midlands Pension Fund is just that, and its new Web site has earned it a pat on the back from Tony Blair's Cabinet Office Effective Performance Division.

More importantly, perhaps, the Web site is being held up as a model for other pension fund administrators to follow.

The fund administers over £5bn on behalf of 170,000 members from 180 employers. It pays pensions to 50,000 people in 60 countries, so communications tools are a priority. That is why it has embraced the Internet, says Mike Woodall, the fund's Chief Pensions Officer. "The Internet has provided the fund with an ideal opportunity to make up-to-date information available and easily accessible to all scheme members."

Woodall dismisses those who say the Internet is an inappropriate communications medium for pensioners, citing the "silver surfer" phenomenon. National research has revealed a growing body of IT literate pensioners who spend more time on their PCs than any other section of the community.

The site was designed and developed by Mark Crutchley, the fund's Principal Communications Officer. Crutchley's background was in pensions administration and marketing, rather than IT. Nevertheless, he has overseen the development of a comprehensive and well-maintained site (westmids-pensions).

The site includes copies of all the scheme's literature, a frequently asked questions section and links to useful sites. An e-mail facility allows individuals to get personal information, and over 30,000 fund members have registered passwords on the system.

Crutchley told Computer Weekly, "Local government pension scheme administrators must realise that their customers will demand the same accessibility and service they receive from banks and building societies. This involves a 24/7 service provided through the World Wide Web."

The West Midlands team has now been asked to create and maintain a national Web site for the UK Steering Committee on the Local Government Pension Scheme.

In addition, the fund has held two training courses for pension administrators thinking about setting up their own sites.

  • Know of any innovative public sector project? If so, e-mail Mike Simons
  • Service benefits

    • Direct access to information for 170,000 members spread across thousands of organisations and in 60 countries
    • 30,000 online users

    Future developments

    • Creation of a national Web site for Local Government Pensions Scheme members
    • A revised administration system with ISE, to allow Internet access to individual pension records by scheme members

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