The power of collaboration to find financial well-being solutions that are relevant for employers and their staff

19 August 2019 Alexander Forbes

Alexander Forbes has through a series of thought leadership interventions started to change the narrative on retirements and retrenchments in South Africa to a much broader discussion on how collaboration can result in solutions that both employers and their workers need.

This is important because in a world where a rigid regulatory framework often dominates product design thinking, there is a serious risk of losing sight of the most critical issue: How to create solutions that address the critical pain points for clients? By turning the lens of analysis around to the perspective of clients, we have quickly appreciated how easily the retirement industry could be missing the mark.

To demonstrate the power of this co-creation framework, Alexander Forbes transformed its platform for industry thought leadership, the Hot Topics Summit, into a massive case study of live collaboration and co-creation with both clients and with digital innovators from outside the company.

During the past year, Alexander Forbes has been involved in a particularly rewarding social experiment: What if, instead of us creating products for our clients, we co-created and collaborated with them as to what products and services they needed?

To start the exercise, we asked both employees and employers where they believed were the most significant “pain points” in the employment journey. The answer was almost unanimous:

• the risk of retrenchment and;
• the reality of retirement…before you are ready

Based on this, the obvious question was what should the retirement industry be doing more effectively if it we are going to address these pain points? The answer we collectively came up with looked like nothing that currently exists. And yet, on reflection, there was nothing we all developed that didn’t seem intuitively obvious.

Through this approach, we have begun to talk about co-creating solutions clients need, which represents a new model for the next generation of product development.

The first step has been to change the narrative so that we think differently about the problem we are trying to solve. This may seem like an unusual starting point but it was fundamental to making sure that we all started to think differently. We had to stop using the terms “retirement” and “retrenchment”. Both those terms seemed to suggest something terminal.

If we were going to be effective in guiding employees through these transitions so that they could go on to be ready, resilient and resourced, we need everyone to think of the problem as simply solving for that period of a person’s life where they would no longer have the underpinning of an employer. Once we make that mind shift, the solutions we contemplate become, by necessity, far broader.

On another level, the narrative change has also made employers think differently. One of the more encouraging outcomes is that employers have begun to appreciate that they have responsibility to the broader South African society of ensuring that employees who leave their protection would:

• go on to continue to be productive contributors to South African society, or
• be well insulated from social and economic implosion

We have achieved that by sharing with them several insights that came out of our research:

1. Increasing longevity isn’t about saving for a longer retirement but making people more productive for longer.

At the South African Digital Economic Summit 2019, Dr George Freidman made the point that if human beings were living longer – and they are – then we needed to focus on developing ways to make them productive contributors to the broader economy for longer. As we pointed out in Benefits Barometer 2018, when the UK reframed the costs of caring for the aged against the value they could add to the economy after retirement, they found that older people were making a net contribution of R683 billion … and this was expected to grow to R1 314 billion by 2030.

2. The “secret sauce” for economic growth? Know-how

As Riccardo Hausmann highlighted in his impassioned plea to South African policymakers, if entrepreneurship and the growth of small to medium-sized business were the real workhorses of job creation, the “secret-sauce” of sustainable growth in these business is know-how. With skills and experience at a premium, South Africa desperately needs to find ways to re-introduce those valuable assets that may be potentially lost through retirement and retrenchment. The multiplier effect for job creation of such an exercise would be significantly greater than youth training programmes.

The second step has been to ensure that everyone in the design sprint forms an emotional connection to what happens to people when they through these transitions. This was achieved by conducting workshops with over 2 500 employers, HR teams, employees and members who were near to retirement. The aim was to find out how they would be impacted if they were required to take early retirement with immediate effect. We also wanted to find out how resilient would they be to such a shock.

The questions asked covered topics that went well beyond simple financial resourcing. We delved into issues of health, family obligations, support networks, fall-back options, skill redeployment and alternative income generation.

What emerged was that the impact of early retirement or retrenchment goes far beyond the financial issues and gets right to the heart of what it is that makes us all feel human – a sense of connectedness.

Two things occur at retirement and retrenchment.

1. The employee no longer benefits from the very thing that made them feel human: daily acknowledgement of their existence and value from colleagues and friends in the workplace.
2. The workplace no longer benefits from the employee’s experience and skill set.

What goes under-appreciated is that these events can be potentially traumatic on both sides. What it does mean, though, is that before we can even begin to think about helping people with financial planning or developing a further source of income, we need to make sure that they have the emotional stamina to make the transition smoothly.

And it has become evident that we need to go significantly beyond financial advice, which is an important point policymakers should seriously consider. There is also need for a holistic, integrated solution that recognises that individuals have different needs which should be addressed. Importantly, we should acknowledge that this requires new concepts that currently do not exist in the conventional advice framework being applied to these two issues of retirement and retrenchment.

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