Boring pensions and the corporate mindset


Speaking last week at the annual conference for the Pension and Lifetime Savings Association, Sir Lenny Henry provided some sensible advice on how the pensions industry can communicate better with members.


In a segment entitled, “CAN SHAKESPEARE HELP BRITAIN SAVE?”, the comedian said “Humour is a key element to everything we do” and “should be used to engage effectively with millennials to boost saving”.

“People remember things when they are funny because it engages with the brain”.

I think Lenny Henry is on the money. The pension industry is stiffly boring and the way the subject is communicated is simply a reflection of that.

There is the issue of jargon filled reports, the often convoluted language creates a veil of complexity that can be unnerving and off putting for the average individual.

As well, many of the people working in the pensions industry seem intent on making the subject as boring as possible. I have been in meetings where I have felt my life drain away by the lack of enthusiasm of the presenters. I have even left meetings contemplating a change of career. Truthfully.

If you have ever been to a pensions conference you likely left cursing the hours you will never get back.

Still, I don’t think one can just limit it to the pensions industry. There are many other professions which are skilled in putting people to sleep too. I know which ones come to mind for me.

I think it is symptomatic of this idea of “being a professional”. Out of interest, I googled the term and I came across an article entitled “What Does It Mean to Be Professional at Work?”. The author, Alison Green, gives her “10 key elements of professionalism that you should master early in your career”.

Unsurprisingly, number 1 is “Pay attention to the cultural norms in your organization, and follow them”. Green notes that “If you watch how others in your office operate, you’ll learn all sorts of important things about “how we do things here””.

This follow and fit in mindset is a feature of the corporate world, much like the process of assimilation used by the Borg in Star Trek, where everyone is brought into the “Collective”.

“We are the Borg. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”

The corporate environment can stifle individualism, originality and creativity. Hence, why you tend to see a slow rate of change in many established industries and companies, including the pensions industry.

Such is the insidious nature of the corporate mindset that even those individuals and companies with the self-awareness to recognise the need to be different often still ending up acting and sounding just like everyone else.

To the point where companies can actually believe they are being innovative when in fact they are doing much the same as their competitors.

This might be a bit philosophical but I think there is two stages to enacting change. Firstly, individuals, or the individuals leading a company, must have the self-awareness and emotional intelligence to recognise the need to be different, to do things differently.

Second, and most important of all, one must have the emotional intelligence to recognise the extent that their thought process has being framed by the corporate environment in order to sufficiently adjust for that biased perspective and actually deliver something fresh and innovative.

My experience has been that most people fall down on the second stage. It is what can make working in the corporate world particularly challenging.

As for the pensions industry, I think Lenny Henry’s advice is something that should be taken on board.

Whether it is humour or just being more original and creative, the pensions industry must adapt to be relevant in a social media driven world of information overload and instant gratification.

Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, there must be a reason to connect.

Originality is a good start.


Vincent McCarthy, CFA

*(Photo Source:,_Borg)

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