EXCLUSIVE: Grant Thornton opted to postpone auto-enrolling its employees by three months, but found that the move presented significant challenges.
The professional services organisation opted to auto-enrol its staff on 1 October, three months after its staging date of 1 July.
Employers must offer employees the ability to auto-enrol on their official staging date, regardless of whether or not they postpone the auto-enrolment process.
Martin Todd, head of reward and policy at Grant Thornton, said: “One of the biggest challenges for us is that when you defer your staging date you do everything for that deferred date, but your actual staging date means you have to offer people the opportunity to go into the pension at your original staging date.”
A handful of employees opted into the scheme before 1 October, but around 1,000 staff were auto-enrolled on 1 October.
Prior to staging
Prior to staging, around 50% of employees were in a group personal pension (GPP) plan provided by Scottish Widows. The organisation also has a legacy defined benefit pension that has around 500 active members.
Grant Thornton offers its GPP via a salary sacrifice arrangement during its annual flexible benefits enrolment period in January. Employees can join the scheme at any point during the year, but without the benefit of salary sacrifice.
Staff receive a minimum employer match of 3%, up to a maximum of 8%. Todd said: “[Previously], if [employees] put in 1% or 2%, we didn’t match, but this will now change because of auto-enrolment.”
To communicate with employees, Grant Thornton wrote to each employee individually. “We had to identify all the different [staff]and write to all those who were already in our scheme,” said Todd.
“It all sounds very straightforward on the surface, but the [staff that we] have to get involved – finance, HR, payroll, communications – to get it rolled out [means that it is not]. “We also hadn’t appreciated early on that [we] had to write to everybody.”
Grant Thornton used Scottish Widows’ Assist Me product to help identify its eligible employees. Todd added: “We have got [staff] who are already in the scheme, so it eliminates all that necessity to trawl through that and make sure we’ve got everybody captured.”
In the final stages of the project, in March and April 2013, the organisation posted articles on the intranet to let employees know that auto-enrolment was coming.
In July, the employer wrote to all of its current GPP members and ineligible employees to tell them they did not have to take any action.
“The final sweep was of [staff] who may not want to opt into the scheme, but who we had to tell would be auto-enrolled,” said Todd. “This was done via email, but each one was personal to each employee.”
Todd also said it would have been useful to align Grant Thornton’s auto-enrolment staging date with its flexible benefits enrolment window.
“Because our flex window and our staging date were six month’s apart, we didn’t have the option to do that,” he said.
“If employers were looking to do this, and they do have a flexible benefits window, that’s a good place to do it. If there had been flexibility for organisations that have flexible benefits to be allowed to line that up, that would have been really helpful.”