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What does bowel cancer screening have to do with my pension?

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It’s all a matter of communication.

In Australia, everyone gets an unusual 50th Birthday message from the Government – a bowel cancer screening kit. I remember getting mine. It was pretty confronting. It confirmed my mortality, I had just moved into the “at risk” category. Denial was no longer an option, I dutifully did my test.

Australia’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme invites people, starting at age 50 and continuing to age 74, to screen for bowel cancer using a free, simple test they receive in the post.

Why? Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Around 1 in 23 Australians will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime. The aim of the programme is to reduce deaths from bowel cancer. Early detection not only saves lives it significantly reduces health care costs. For example, early detection treatment costs the Australian health system around $2000, whereas the cost to treat advanced bowel cancer is well in excess of $100 000.

So, if we can get Australians to play with their poo, what’s stopping Brits playing with their pensions? To me it’s all about the communication. 

Day after day, when I talk to people outside the industry I ask the question, “Do you understand your pension? With a few exceptions (generally retired DB members) I get the resounding response “No!”. Of course, if I was to test most Australian on their understanding of bowel cancer, I’d probably get the same response, except for those that know it only too well.

In very simple terms I want people to know four things about their pension:

1.     What it is?
2.     Why it’s important to them?
3.     Where they are on their pension journey now?
4.     What they can do to improve their journey going forward?

Just like bowel cancer, early intervention on the pension journey can make a big difference.
Inspired by Australia’s bowel cancer screening, I’m an advocate of introducing a retirement or lifetime savings MOT in the UK. I see it as a communication intervention specifically targeted to:

1.     Raise the understanding of what their pension is
2.     Reinforce why it is important (and increasingly important) to them
3.     Making it clear where they are on their journey today, and
4.     Providing clear guidance on what they can do to improve their situation.

Some have suggested that a retirement MOT should happen at 50, just like bowel cancer screening. I argue it should be every 10 years - at 30, at 40, at 50 and at 60. We need a systematic programme that, over time, will raise the financial health of the nation.

Of course, there will be cries of who’s going to pay for this? In Australia the cost of bowel cancer screening is offset by savings in the health system and the benefits of a healthier population. Surely a financially healthier nation would deliver a plethora of benefits.

I guess it’s all a matter of communication.

Peter Nicholas, Managing Director & CEO, AHC