Every year, CEM Benchmarking releases a report detailing the performance of 72 global pension systems and the cost associated with running each.
PERA consistently ranks very highly against peer organizations. “PERA delivers high levels of service at low cost to members,” has become a familiar refrain on this website every October.
Patrick Lane, PERA’s Chief Benefits Officer, said the report provides the valuable opportunity to evaluate PERA’s services. He added that PERA’s consistent track record is worth taking note of. On any given day, however, Lane is not thinking about PERA’s ranking. He’s thinking about how the future of service delivery is going to look different than it does today.
Establishing a Baseline
The CEM report compiles data at an extreme level of detail. For example, PERA submits dozens of factors about its digital operations, from the ability to “download or print duplicate tax receipts” to the number of videos published online.
These data points, which encompass PERA’s service delivery across the board, are aggregated into a single “total service score.” PERA scored an 88 out of a possible 100 in this year’s report. The median score of PERA’s peer group, which consists of 12 other pensions of similar size, was 82. The total cost to administer PERA averaged $50 per member per year, below the peer average of $61.
“The PERA Board of Trustees and staff are committed to providing outstanding service that also demonstrates our commitment to spending assets wisely,” Lane said. “It’s rewarding to be recognized for providing high-quality, cost-effective services, but we must continue to pursue improvement and innovation in the way we serve our members.”
The CEM report delivers valuable insights. For example, the report captures the array of services available to members (e.g. “how many tasks can a member perform online?”), metrics related to efficiency (e.g. “what was the average call time when calling customer service?”) and volume (e.g. “how many members attended an in-person educational session?”). But it doesn’t capture everything.
For instance: Are there any online tools this report does not address that members want? When does a longer-than-average call to customer service indicate a representative’s patience and ability to work through a complicated problem with a member rather than an inefficiency? What do educational opportunities look like five years from now, and how can PERA reach members who aren’t inclined to attend an educational session? These are the types of questions Lane considers.
“Quality is something we must always focus on,” he said, while also pointing out that quality is tough to measure in data-driven analyses like the CEM report. PERA does measure quality through thousands of surveys sent to members throughout the year that gauge member satisfaction on interactions with multiple PERA departments. Put together, these various sources of information provide insight into PERA’s ability to meet member expectations.
The COVID Effect
The global pandemic has ushered in changes to PERA services. “The nature of the business disruption was different than anything we’ve ever seen,” Lane said. “This is the only event in our lifetime that has had a truly universal impact: Everyone is experiencing this, though in different ways.”
Lane said that at the pandemic’s onset, the demand for PERA services initially decreased. “People were thinking about more immediate needs,” he said. By June, however, “it was back to our normal workloads.”
Some PERA services changed dramatically and the pandemic provided unexpected opportunities to improve and expand. “The most obvious is that Field Education presentations and one-on-one member counseling pivoted from in-person to completely virtual,” Lane said. “We did this overnight without a disruption in service and haven’t heard of any negatives from our members.”
Lane said that these additions were part of PERA’s long-term plans before the pandemic began. But the sudden halt of in-person meetings led to the rapid development and roll-out of these digital channels.
Web-based meetings are just one area of change. Other areas of focus in the coming months include reducing paper-intensive processes, making more information readily available on member accounts, and simplifying and automating online calculators.
Lane mentioned that the introduction of the PERA new member journey is a recent example of the work PERA is doing to engage members in a new, more intentional way. The new member journey is a series of communications during a new member’s first year that should increase the awareness of how a PERA benefit works over that employee’s career.
Enhancing service also means strengthening relationships with PERA’s contacts at the more than 500 PERA employers throughout Colorado. These people work to deliver essential information to PERA and often serve as de facto PERA experts for their coworkers. “PERA is just one in a number of responsibilities our contacts have,” Lane said, recognizing the demands placed on employer representatives, even before the pandemic. “We are really trying to invest in that two-way communication to be more effective partners in what ultimately becomes a service to our members.”
Moving PERA into the future requires taking in a lot of information—findings from the CEM report, changing conditions due to COVID, goals laid out in the Board’s strategic plan—and moving forward.
High marks from the CEM report show that PERA is operating efficiently. But there is no measure that can capture whether an organization is ready for the future. Lane knows that this is the ultimate aim of the organization. And, at a time in which most PERA staff members are working from home, the need to innovate is more apparent than ever.
To that end, Lane said that a phrase often used by PERA Executive Director Ron Baker resonates: “We won’t be returning to the same organization we left in March.”
BenchmarkThe performance objective or standard used to define the return against which another portfolio is to be evaluated.BenchmarkThe performance objective or standard used to define the return against which another portfolio is to be evaluated.