What I’ve learned about sailing and pensions administration….

What I’ve learned about sailing and pensions administration….

Not likely bed fellows, so let me explain. 

Whilst I have never been a keen sailor, since starting Cosan, my co-Director has dragged me away every October with a few friends and colleagues to strategise on the back of a boat. We call it our ‘Sails & Marketing’ trip! As a result, stuff is starting to stick and I am gradually learning how boats work, and also what makes a good sailor.

It’s not just the ability to point the boat in the right direction or put the sails up, use the navigational instruments etc. that makes someone a good “sailor”. It’s the ability to look at the conditions and the “tell tales” - the little signs that things aren’t as perfectly adjusted as they should be. It also about using these signs to make small corrective actions which prevent a bigger adjustment needing to be made further down the line.  Of course a firm hand on the tiller is essential, but it’s adjusting to the tell tales which really is where the skill lays and also adds that extra bit of performance.

And what has this got to do with pensions administration? 

Too many times I see situations where the tell tale signs of Pensions Administration are starting to point in the wrong direction but providers, pensions managers and Trustees are either unaware or choose to ignore them.

Typical areas to look out for can be;

  • Increasing noise from the membership/falling levels of member satisfaction (this may or may not be as a result of a fall in SLA performance, as we all appreciate SLAs are a very blunt instrument in terms of measuring a member’s experience).
  • Increasing numbers of errors/slip-ups by the administration team.
  • Difficulty getting projects resourced/delivered.
  • Frequent changes in the team
  • Low levels of team satisfaction.
  • Lack of visibility from client managers and senior people from the provider.
  • Increasing costs.

Now it may be that we all know what the tell tales signs are and instinctively understand them, but perhaps there is just too much other exciting stuff going on to address them. It could also be that administration just isn’t important enough, it’s someone else’s problem or even “…members should just stop moaning and wait their turn in the queue.”  This could be the subject of another blog, but for now let’s just say if this is the attitude that prevails in some sectors of our industry, then it’s akin to sailing in a force 10 gale at night with the navigation instruments turned off – ultimately something is going to sink you.

Having an administration team you can work with to make these small adjustments when needed ensures maximum performance and avoids the need for more drastic action later. Providers who work openly and in partnership with Trustees can help identify the signs early, react accordingly and keep the boat moving forwards. Of course, ultimately, there is always the hope that another boat (or Provider) could perform better. But let’s also not jump overboard at the first sign of trouble. Changing boats is expensive (I’m told) so it is invariably better to avoid this in the longer run if you can….

The most satisfying part of our job is working with providers, in house teams and out-sourced clients to help read the tell tales and keep things on an even keel.  If we can avoid the need to swap boats (providers) every few years, then we will have done the best for the Trustees, their administrators and their members and we can all have a well earned drink at the next port…

If not we are all going to get our feet wet!


Philip Dickinson



Marekha Warren