Voices from Accenture Public Service


Pension organizations have reached a pivot point. On the one hand, supporting new member services and meeting changing member expectations means embracing digital and transforming legacy systems and processes. On the other hand, ensuring they can generate sufficient funds for a population that’s living longer than ever before means balancing the need for sustainability in their own operations with careful stewardship of assets.

Tensions like these create challenges and opportunities in equal measure for pension organizations. And they run through the seven themes in the Fjord Trends 2018 report. This is an annual review of business, design and technology trends that are set to shape the world around us.

The first of this year’s trends, Physical Fights Back, examines the balance between digital and physical experiences and interactions. Pension organizations need to determine the optimal mix of what they can deliver digitally and where the human touch remains essential. For example, in-person interactions will always be needed for advice on complex and/or potentially life-changing developments. Digital is ideal for executing more routine transactions and answering day-to-day questions. As pension organizations eye their digital futures, they really need to think through which tasks lend themselves to which channels.  And remember, one of the advantages of digital is its ability to free up employees’ time to focus on value-added interactions that need creativity and empathy.

The next trend Computers Have Eyes, is all about how computer vision can enable new services that no longer rely on standard inputs like mouse clicks and keyboard strokes. The extraction of large quantities of data from visual images obviously puts a strain on pension organizations’ existing data management capabilities. But at the same time, it could transform how members securely authenticate themselves, i.e. through facial recognition, and open new ways to access and navigate systems for the elderly and those who find it hard to interact through conventional channels.

The third and fourth trends, Slaves to the Algorithm and A Machine’s Search for Meaning,  recognize that AI is increasingly at the heart of the interface between people and systems. For pension organizations, this creates opportunities for using AI in contact centers to augment staff by sensing members’ emotions and advising where people may need additional help or more than routine support. What’s more, as people and machines work ever more closely together, it’s essential for pension organizations to clearly understand the new division of labor: which activities can be left to machines (e.g. delivering consistent 24/7 service via chatbots) and where people can perform better by collaborating with their digital co-workers.

The fifth trend, In Transparency We Trust, focuses on the use of blockchain to evolve from customer touch-points to ‘trust-points’. They do this through the increased transparency that these new technologies provide, particularly where the storage of data is concerned. For the pension industry, which is becoming increasingly collaborative, trusted flows of data between different partners and systems are essential. Funds can use blockchain to share a single permission-based source of the truth that is immutable and secure. In fact, if you were building a pension system from the ground up today, you’d start with blockchain.

The sixth trend, The Ethics Economy, targets the rising prominence of ethical behavior. It’s especially relevant for pension organizations that are involved in investments that may span a wide range of potentially sensitive socio-economic areas. Maximizing returns while meeting members and employee ethical expectations creates a tension that’s harder than ever to manage in a digital world where detailed scrutiny is just a web search away.

The final trend, Design Outside the Lines, describes the relentless pressure on pension organizations to innovate and think differently. That often means looking beyond the industry’s boundaries for new ideas and identifying new ways to deliver the holistic support and services that members need to achieve their retirement goals. Growing awareness of retirement poverty increases the urgency with which the industry must do things differently to secure better outcomes. It’s where a design-thinking approach can be so valuable, giving pension organizations a whole new perspective on the challenges facing their members. Interested in understanding more about how design-thinking really is different? Check out my earlier blog here.

It’s clear that pension organizations have to navigate an ever-more complex world. The tensions inherent in the trends I’ve described above should not, however, be seen as problems. Instead, they can and should be used as the launchpad for reinvention and creativity.

I’d be very interested in your views. Please reach out or leave a comment below.  

To learn more, visit accenture.com/pension and follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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