As one of the larger jewellery businesses in the UK, the multiple retailer’s staging date was back in October, 2013. Stacey Hailes talks to F.Hinds finance director Steve Cornwall about how the process works.
PJ: How much time did the process take?
SC: It’s well worth planning at least six months out, because there is quite a lot of technical jargon to get your head around. We were quite fortunate in that we had a payroll software that was already geared up and ready for it, so for our purposes it was more of a case of communicating with our workforce and making sure they were aware of the changes that were coming into. Then it was a case of making sure we had the correct letters in place for the different types of letter that you need to send members during the auto-enrolment process, and making sure the workforce was aware of their rights to opt out if they wanted to, and if they didn’t opt out what the consequences of that were.
PJ: How did you communicate to your staff?
SC: We sent letters to stores and we also have a weekly correspondence with all our stores, so it went on there about two or three times before we auto enrolled. We also have managers’ meetings a couple of times a year, so we used those as a time to inform our staff about changes. I think a lot of people still didn’t understand it because we had to word the letters such that it was still quite technical, but any of our staff can pick up the phone and speak directly to board members if they want to and ask for further explanation as to how it will affect them.
PJ: Did you already have a pension scheme in place before it was compulsory?
SC: We actually have a stakeholder plan for existing employees and new employees that is, in our opinion, better than the auto-enrolment scheme, but the auto-enrolment scheme is the one we have to adhere to by law. It’s a good thing that at least everybody is enrolled into a pension scheme but it is quite a basic level of cover that it gives and for slightly higher contributions our staff can actually go into the stakeholder scheme.
PJ: What happened if employers chose to join F. Hinds own scheme?
SC: By joining our scheme, because it offers a level of benefits that is at least as good as the auto-enrolment scheme, they didn’t then go through the auto-enrolment process. As an employer, if you can say your scheme is better and these members are in it they may not need to be auto enrolled [though you will need to get government approval regardless of the quality of an existing scheme]. You still need to send in a letter as part of the auto-enrolment process to say that they have been assessed.
PJ: How did you choose which policy to use for your auto-enrolment pension scheme?
SC: We decided between two providers. Our thought process was that they were both very good providers with experience, but we thought if there was going to be any legislative changes, we could more or less guarantee that NEST [the government alternative scheme] would get it right, and if they didn’t the government couldn’t blame us. What they charge employees were very similar, so there wasn’t any detriment choosing one or the other, so it was about making sure that we went with a scheme we trusted would comply with future changes.
PJ: How did the process of implementing the scheme go?
SC: It was actually very smooth because I think we prepared for it quite well in advance. Once it is actually in place and running, our payroll system is such that it just automatically auto-enrols people because we assess our workforce once a month, which we have to do, and the payroll system takes care of everything else.
PJ: What advice would you give jewellers about to go through the process?
SC: I think the most important thing to do is not ignore it. It is going to come whether you like it or not. The thing is to be open and honest with employees and to provide, in plain English, as best as possible, what the changes will mean for them. I think if employees understand it, they are more willing to accept it and take action, but if people don’t understand something they are more likely to bury their head in the sand.