“Great things never came from comfort zones”

The devil you know!

Fear of moving pensions administration to another third party administrator (TPA) is enough to put anyone off carrying out a market review in the first place. This can happen even when there is evidence of poor service from an incumbent administrator. It often takes time to get used to the idea of change and the forthcoming disruption.

Here is some insight and tips on how to alleviate the pain of moving administrator (or first time outsource). It is not possible to cover all aspects of a migration in this article so it is focused on project oversight, data and calculations.

Dedication and subject matter expertise

A good quality implementation is vital because the incoming administrator’s service relies on the foundations being in place to deliver a great service to members.

Both the ceding and new administrators will allocate dedicated project managers and specialist resources to manage the transfer of the trustee’s data as well as setting up processes and systems. They are ideally placed to focus on their respective roles on the project.

However, they will not have authority over each other. Vested interests can lead to lack of robustness in the implementation.

The first thing to recognise for most sponsors is that overseeing this kind of project in-house is not a small task that can be squeezed into the pension manager’s or trustee secretary’s day job. A dedicated representative of the trustee / sponsor is best placed to oversee and manage on their behalf. This resource can manage the day-to-day project work and provide managers, trustees and stakeholders with a single point of contact for day-to-day matters and reporting. This is not abdicating the project. It is good delegation to have a dedicated person being the trustee’s eyes, ears and spare pair of hands.

Stakeholders and steering group framework

Many parties will be interested in the success of the project. A dedicated project manager can liaise with stakeholders, draft the terms of reference, set up the steering group and organise all the steering meetings. The first meeting can be used to initiate the project, review the project brief and obtain buy-in for the business and project objectives.

Who does all the work?

The project working group forms the core of the delivery resource and is made up of individuals with the skills and knowledge to plan and deliver all the work streams. Collectively, they come together to achieve the project goals.

An initiation workshop is a great opportunity for the new group to gather for the first time. The group will discuss both business and project objectives and agree how best to deliver them.

What does success look like?

For a project of this importance, there should be a quality plan which sets out the key success criteria and evidence required for sign off. The trustee’s oversight project manager should be equipped to draft the quality plan. Everyone involved will need to provide feedback and sign off that it is achievable and represents all stakeholders’ quality expectations. The success criteria in the quality plan should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) so that it is possible to know when success has been achieved.

Outputs are evidenced by the working group, reviewed by the oversight project manager and reported (with any exceptions) to the steering board.

Data mapping

The new TPA will have a standard process for mapping the data from the ceding administrator’s system to their own. They will require an initial data cut and a dictionary to commence their analysis and produce a data map. Even if they have previously imported data from the same TPA or system, it is likely that there will be some fields that have been customised for your pension scheme. The data map is a key item of evidence included in the quality plan for review and sign off.

Mapping the data is critical to making sure the right fields are imported to the incoming administrator’s system. There should be a fully documented trail with a reasonable explanation as to why any unmapped fields are not required. It may be necessary to determine where any unmapped fields are stored. Always, of course, considering privacy and data retention policies.

Data mapping may throw up questions for the ceding administrator to answer. If sufficient volume, a data workshop may be the best approach to discuss and resolve detailed queries. Issues with data can also impact upon calculation automation.

Data and calculations go hand-in-hand

The incoming TPA may require certain fields for their calculation and automated processes. If anything is missing, analysis will determine the feasibility of bulk population as part of the project or whether a data project is required. Automation is key to member self-service being ready for ‘go live’. However, it may not be possible to populate the items required within the timeframe. These are conundrums that the working group will raise and discuss as early as possible. The oversight project manager will gather all the information and will put a recommendation to the steering group for approval if an issue affects the timeframe, quality, scope or budget.

Document the test methodology

The migration project presents a unique opportunity to validate the calculation basis for all the benefit categories. Documenting the test methodology for defined benefit calculations at the outset will help to avoid a mismatch in expectations later.

Calculations are usually specified by the incoming administrator using the benefit entitlements set out in the trust documentation. This methodology is often referred to as ‘first principles’. These specifications are reviewed as part of the quality plan before being passed to the programmer. Once the programmer has set up the calculations, the outputs can be tested. Comparing the results to actual calculations already on file will identify whether there are any differences between the trust documentation and the calculations previously carried out. This approach deliberately uncovers any issues while the project governance structure is in place.

Discrepancies are documented with the options and a recommendation for the steering group to approve. A fixing phase may be required after the project Go Live before the project team disbands.

Timely review checkpoints

A Go Live readiness check should be completed by the oversight project manager with the working group in plenty of time. Any adjustments are identified before members engage with the new TPA.

Nothing worth having comes easy

It is worth considering having a dedicated resource to act as oversight project manager. Someone with independent oversight can focus on leading the working group and managing the day-to-day knotty bits ensuring that nothing is missed. It is not going to be easy to change TPA, but it will absolutely be worthwhile.

How we can help

You may be interested in our article on outsourcing projects: https://go-group.co.uk/top-tips-for-outsourcing-your-projects/.

If you’d like an informal confidential chat, get in touch with Susan Phillips on 020 8213 5860 or email insight@go-group.co.uk.

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