Robert Cochran, senior corporate pension specialist at Scottish Widows, which has £140 billion ($191.5 billion) in assets under management, said: "The pandemic has encouraged us to do things a little bit differently. At the start of the pandemic, we identified that people started to do things that were not helpful to their financial well-being ... such as people who were in lifestyle funds trying to switch them to cash."
Scottish Widows set up a COVID-19 hub for employees and a separate one for employers to answer questions that they had about their finances during the pandemic.
"We had a number of colleagues record videos answering those questions and we pushed them out using social channels," Mr. Cochran said, adding that 10 different videos addressing issues, such as switching funds in the pandemic were published. Some of these videos recorded 300,000 views in just over a month, he said. And another group of 1,000 executives from participating sponsors watched a coronavirus-themed webinar.
"We also created a redundancy hub for (manufacturers) that have had to close down plants. That's completely new content that we have created as a result of employer demand," he said. Within the hub, people can find information on improving digital skills, for example, job searching online, as well as tips on managing debt.
Also, the £36.1 billion Pension Protection Fund, London, alongside a group of regulators developed a new guide in June to help retirees make better decisions during the pandemic.
The guide alerts plan participants about the danger of fraud and the consequences of taking their retirement savings out to prevent further losses during market volatility. The guide also helps plan participants connect with independent organizations to verify the information they are receiving from a provider to ensure it's not a scam. The COVID-19 guide has received a regular flow of web traffic since it was published on the PPF's website and has reached more than 375,000 people, a spokeswoman said.
Mercer Consulting Ltd.'s COVID-19 response aimed to help clients — both companies and individuals — via online resources.
The toolkit, which the consultant launched in April, provides employees with practical information on different areas in personal finance, including managing budgets, debt or mortgage payments in a "simple and concise way," said Jeremy Milton, principal defined contribution and financial wellness in Bristol, England. About 4,000 visitors accessed the Mercer Employer Resource between April and December, he added.
It's that type of proactive approach that's intensified throughout the pandemic, he said.
During the pandemic some companies that didn't traditionally facilitate access to short-term hardship loans from third-party firms added that to their suite of financial wellness tools, he said. Such loans don't get rid of a participant's debt problem, he said. But plan participants can get a better rate on repayments even with an average credit score, he added, because the loan is deducted and repaid from the sponsor's payroll — a practice seen as lessening the risk that the loan won't be repaid. Also, harnessing the economies of scale presented by a sponsor's plan also helps ensure a better interest rate than individuals could secure on their own.
But it's not just only about financial wellness. Plan sponsors want to help participants in other areas of their lives. For example, in lockdown Merchant Navy Officers Pension Fund, Surrey, England, introduced webinars over 13 weeks — run by Wellbeing People Ltd. — aimed at helping participants to manage their health and well-being in the pandemic, including dealing with lack of movement and lack of sleep as well as managing nutrition and mastering time.
"The response was phenomenal," said Rory Murphy, chairman of the £1 billion ($1.4 billion) pension fund. "People have said it was an absolute lifeline for them in terms of having coping mechanisms," he added.
Mr. Murphy added that out of 24,000 participants in the fund, 400 people attended a webinar every single week at any given point. Mr. Murphy added: "It has indicated there are more things that we can do," such as potentially negotiating better rates on car or life insurance on behalf of participants.