Retirement insights from a Colorado PERA perspective

Inside Colorado Pera

The Future of Service at PERA

photo credit: fizkes – 1198252564 – Getty Images

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.”

Pursuing Quality

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.

Patrick Lane, PERAs Chief Benefits Officer
Patrick Lane, Chief Benefits Officer at PERA

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

Comments

  1. dora jaramillo says:

    I just wish that our system of government and that includes: City, County, State, and Federal Government would be run as a business instead of a political power grabbing entity.

    • Ryan Christy, CFA says:

      I totally agree, Dora.

    • Christopher Richards says:

      Governance and “political power grabbing”, do often go hand in hand, happens on either side of the isle, but recognize that you are conflating two distinctly separate things. Government exists to serve the people, businesses exist to generate profit, they are NOT designed to benefit you and I. I’m all for fiscal responsibility in government, but not for using public office as a tool for self-enrichment.

  2. Darlene M Baber says:

    Can we expect drastic changes in health care if republicans defeat The ACA? What lies ahead with health care? I am 75.

  3. Ryan Christy, CFA says:

    How much are they paid and what are you benchmarked against?

  4. Ryan Christy, CFA says:

    What is the correlation between the outcome of these reports and PERA’s funded status?

    For the members..

  5. Wendall Johnson says:

    Electing the Republications will protect our excellent PERA health insurance. Losing would mean every one would be forced into Medicare.

    • Christopher Richards says:

      Do some homework Wendall, you have ALL of that backwards. Medicare is already a component of PERACARE (as well as virtually every other form of public or private health insurance in the US once a person reaches 65), this has nothing whatsoever to do with Republican vs Democrat. BUT, It is a clear matter of public record that Republican politicians from the President on down have been trying for decades to dismantle PERA, and now the ACA as well. Whether or not you acknowledge it, every vote for Trump, Gardner, Bobert etc.. is a vote to diminish our PERACARE benefits.

      • Patsy Turnbull says:

        Excellent explanation, Christopher Richards. This is a most fearful election, and I, as a senior for one, don’t know what I would do without our PERACARE benefits. I worked for Youth Corrections for 30 years, plus years of part-time evening jobs, just to prepare for retirement (of course, not much social security from those part time jobs ($72 per month) which I appreciate but felt I had earned every penny I earned from many nights of those part-time jobs). Just wanted to vent a little bit. Again, I appreciate your post, Christopher. Fingers are crossed and prayers are offered for Joe Biden and his crew!

    • Patsy says:

      What the heck are you talking about, Wendall? You better do a little more reading up on our PERA health insurance benefits.

    • retired at 50 says:

      After age 65 Medicare is the basis for your health care. you can’t be denied coverage for any reason and the rates you pay are very reasonable. There are no Death Panels that the republicans tried to scare us with!
      Do your research before making mis-statements!

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