Before you ask: no, it wasn’t the result of a quest for a soundbite for a PR exercise, and it wasn’t done solely for the sake of the intellectual challenge involved, either. However, the reason why we’ve introduced Smart Pension’s Alexa Skill came as a result of us thinking in a broader context about how we keep people engaged with their pension. In truth, there are many answers to that question. Of course everyone in the pension industry knows that we have to do more than just the traditional one letter per year, but there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. What we do know, though, is that the Government’s auto enrolment legislation has brought millions of new savers into workplace pensions for the first time, and that those, often younger savers, don’t read letters from banks, let alone pension firms. If they are going to interact in a meaningful way, it needs to be on their level. So we’ve had fun recently finding out how to deliver that.
Naturally being able to say that our platform works with Alexa is a wonderful way of illustrating what we can do and our competitors can’t, so in that sense there’s a commercial advantage for us. However, it is not really about data analytics or capture, or the numbers of people using it per hour – looking at usage that way would all too easily be like the way a blind man uses a lamp-post, i.e. for support rather than illumination. The bigger picture is about how people use Alexa in general – for small nuggets of information. You might do so to find out what the weather will be like tomorrow, to keep up-to-date with the football results or to put a timer on what you’re cooking for supper. What those actions have in common is that they are all small pieces of information, the kind of thing that’s very handy when you’re doing the washing-up and want to get a little ‘life admin’ done, the things which we invariably otherwise mentally put off until the weekend and then not get around to, even then.
What Alexa is is a verbal interface, one that circumvents having a keyboard and a mouse. It’s a quick and convenient extra way of accessing information you would normally get from your laptop or the internet for that ‘Oh, I must just…’ moment when your hands are indeed full or when someone else in the house has commandeered your iPad.
For young people who are used to this interactive technology, having compatibility with Alexa for their pension platform means another way for them to have access to information whenever they need it. It’s the same product and the same functionality they’d find on our website, just available in a different way. And it means they are more likely to make that engagement. If they engage, they save more and will see a better pension outcome when they retire. That is the real reason why engagement is so important. And why Alexa isn’t just a vanity project.
Ask Alexa for a summary and she will detail how much you (and your employer) have contributed towards your pension scheme, or how much you put in last month or if you are missing out on a matched contribution offered by your employer. If you are new to pensions, you can ask her to play an introduction video (with a Show device). You can even ask her to increase your pension contribution percentage and, in real-time, she will update the database and send you and your payroll administrator an email to confirm that she has done so. This is the same function that we provide on the website, a POST request to the relevant endpoint: you are simply using your voice in place of the keyboard and mouse.
Additionally, with the Alexa ecosystem moving into phones you can now pick up your mobile and get the same response. As with all Alexa interactions, it’s just quicker and more convenient than going to your laptop. It doesn’t change the broader function of our business or make previous ways for pension scheme members to interact with their pension redundant. However, it’s a useful extra way of getting information, and one that we’ve really enjoyed bringing to life.
So to clarify, this was not a PR stunt or just something to make us look clever. At this stage it’s just something new, exciting and different; and the kind of thing which Smart Pension’s API allows us to turn on securely, with relative ease. Finding further innovative ways for our members to engage with their pension is on the agenda for 2018 so watch this space.