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Cruising to good data

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High quality data is a very, if not the most, important input to provision of a successful administration service. Geraldine Brassett identifies the key factors when is comes to providing quality service.

At PASA, we believe the key to measuring quality of the inputs is by measuring the quality of the outputs. In order to help administrators, trustees and scheme sponsors evaluate the impact of data quality on both their service to members and management of risk, we have identified a range of measures - called ‘Data Quality Dimensions’.

Carefully rearranging the first letters of these dimensions provides the mnemonic ‘CRUISE’. So what should schemes be focusing on when embarking upon the cruise to good data?

Compliance – Is data compliant with The Pensions Regulator’s guidance on record-keeping and, if not, is there an appropriate plan in place to ensure this? Other compliance areas that trustees should be focusing on include TPR’s DC Code and a potential need to provide data to a Pensions Dashboard at some point in the future.

Rules – Another form of compliance in some respects, the scheme rules relate specifically to the documents governing a pension arrangement. It is only by fully understanding these that administrators can be certain of what scheme specific data they need to hold, before even considering if it is of the required quality
As an example, some trustees continue to grapple with equalisation issues which have the potential to impact calculations and therefore the data needed to support these.

Usability – A key area to discuss with your scheme administrator. How often do data issues impact on the end to end process, for example the need to refer to back files in order to check or obtain a piece of data? Is poor data a barrier to automation, be it calculations or the ability to produce automated letters? 

Integrity – It is important that the focus is not only on the existence of data, but its quality. We know from past experience that solving legacy data issues demands more time, cost and resource than resolving problems as and when they arise. For defined benefit schemes, many of which are now closed to future accrual, the problems are often historic. For the many defined contribution schemes which remain open, trustees and sponsors should be challenging their administrator in relation to the controls, validations and reconciliations that are in place to ensure data is maintained at a high quality for the future.

Strategy – Understanding the scheme strategy, whether that is compliance, de-risking, member moving to e-communications to support member engagement, cost management or a combination of these elements is an important input to any programme of data improvement. For schemes to see a real return on investment, any data cleanse activity must be aligned to strategy.

Engagement – Pension schemes are ultimately there to provide members with benefits and, vital to this is making sure that members understand the value behind those benefits. Data quality can impact on engagement in so many ways, from simply supporting making contact with the member, to whether data is good enough to support member self-service and e-communications.
The only way for those steering the ship[1] to assess if the future holds stormy or calm waters is to talk to their crew[2] and ask whether data quality presents a potential risk to the voyage and its final destination.

PASA is currently working on data guidance to support schemes in achieving good outcomes based on these Data Quality Dimensions. We look forward to sharing this with the industry in the coming months but, in the meantime, all parties involved with the management of a pension scheme should be working together to chart a course to good data.

Geraldine Brassett, Chair of PASA’s Industry Policy Committee, GMP Working Group and Pensions Dashboard Working Group

[1] Trustees and scheme sponsors
[2] Administrators, other advisors and, in some cases, the employer