What pensions can learn from slimming world

Date posted: 20/08/2019. Author: Steve Sykes

The image here is my fridge. A montage of certificates my wife’s been awarded for her Slimming World achievements over recent weeks. As a communication specialist I can’t help but be impressed by the tactics used to engage, motivate and guide my wife and the 700,000 plus other active members Slimming World now has. 

For anyone not familiar with the Slimming World…erm world, they offer two ways to first lose, and perhaps more importantly, sustain weight loss. You can join a local group, like my wife has done, or you can subscribe to their digital service.  

So what makes Slimming World so effective for so many people and what do I think pensions and financial educators can learn from their approach. Well, in a Slimming World magazine style article, here are my top five tips: 

1. Set a target – the first thing you’re asked to do when you join Slimming World is set yourself a target. Everything is then geared towards achieving that target. In fact, if you’re a group member, and achieve your target you stop paying your subscription – if you stay within 3lbs of your target weight. 

Now, clearly pension providers aren’t going to start waving their fees but the premise of target-setting is distinctly missing from pensions. Millions of pension scheme members are paying money into something with no real clue what they’re aiming for. How about giving people more guidance on what they should target and help them set some milestone goals that they can work towards. These targets can then be used to issue timely nudges that help them achieve those goals.

2. Create a community – by joining Slimming World you are joining a community. A group of strangers that come together with a common goal to reduce their weight and improve their wellbeing. They share their highs and their lows, not to mention photos of recipes on WhatsApp and Facebook. Most powerful of all, for those like my wife that have joined a local group, is the weekly weigh-in. Anyone who’s a member of a Slimming World group, or like me a spouse to one, will know how motivating that prospect is!

Again, I’m not suggesting pension schemes mirror this completely and start asking members to expose their progress on a weekly basis, but there are lessons that can be drawn from the idea of creating a community and using peers to influence behaviours.  

Pension schemes are made up of a bunch of individuals who ultimately share a common goal of wanting to create a better financial future for themselves. Creating a community amongst those members, giving them a means to answer their own questions or share their own stories (see tip four) would be a great way to bolster engagement. I’ve seen this first hand when I’ve facilitated focus groups. If you get people round a table they will talk and share their own ideas, concerns and successes. Technology could be used to create virtual and social communities where this principle could be applied at scale.

3. A multi-channelled approach – Slimming World gives its members the choice of how it wants to engage with its services. Face-to-face, digital, print - you name it, they use it. It’s the use of print I want to talk about though. 

I’ve helped lots of pension schemes make the transition to a digital first communication approach, but I’ve always stressed that print still has a role to play. Would my wife print off an email and put it on the fridge? Of course she wouldn’t. The printed certificates she has been given are printed on a quality stock, in bright impactful colours. They have meaning and are a tangible thing that she brings home and proudly displays on the fridge. 

In a world where everyone is drowning in a digital deluge of emails and notifications, an elegant piece of print can really make an impact – something pension folk shouldn’t forget! 

4. Real-life stories – anyone that’s ever flicked through a Slimming World magazine will know that they are full of inspirational real-life stories. When was the last time you read a story about someone being able to lead the kind of life they want to lead in later life thanks to the savings and investment choices they made? I don’t mean a fabricated story with an image of two silver-haired foxes in white linen sailing off into the sunset on a yacht. I mean real stories, told by real people that have been able to start new careers, achieve a bucket list goal or been able to take care of their grandkids. Authentic storytelling can be such a powerful communication tool!

5. Reward the right behaviours – perhaps most importantly, which brings me back to my fridge, is the way they reward their members for their achievements. The narrative for pensions is always so negative – ‘You need to save more’, ‘You need to make an investment choice’, ‘You need to specify a Target Retirement Age’ blah blah blah – it’s no wonder people turn off. 

What about introducing some positive reinforcement for pension scheme members? ‘Congratulations you’re saving for your future’, ‘Well done you’ve achieved your five-year savings target’, ‘Your ESG investment choice is helping reduce plastic waste’. Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch, but you get the gist. 

So there you have it, my take on what pensions and financial education can learn from Slimming World. What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this or any other ideas you may have on tactics that can be drawn from other arenas to help tackle the pension engagement challenge.