Public Pensions See Potential in Automation

Public pension leaders around the world agree that technology will improve participant services and administrative efficiency—though some skepticism remains in the U.S.

A report from Accenture suggests public pension leaders in the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia are eager to explore and implement time-saving technologies in support of benefits administration and delivery.

The research assessed public pension organizations’ leadership “perceptions, attitudes and experiences” regarding use of digital technology and automation for processing routine requests or tasks, also known as “straight-through processing.” Accenture says public pension decisionmakers clearly see potential benefit in using more straight-through processing—especially when the right support is in place from technology and finance experts.

For example, nearly all public pension officials interviewed in Australia said straight-through processing technology would improve member services and improve internal efficiency. Fewer in the U.K. believed automation technology would improve member services (81%) or internal efficiency (85%), howerver, and the same goes for the U.S. In fact, far fewer U.S. public pension decisionmakers (63%) thought more straight-through processing would improve client service.

Accenture says the research indicated that adoption rates of straight-through processing by public pension organizations vary widely across the three developed countries studied. It seems that, at the national level, a more positive perception of straight-through processing is tied to the prevalence of such technology.

“In the U.S. only 23% of managers said their organization has adopted any straight-through processing,” the report explains. This compares with 42% in the U.K. and 94% in Australia, where perceived favorability is also higher, especially on the question of improving participant/beneficiary services.

NEXT: U.S. lagging behind peer nations

The Accenture report finds more than half of U.S. public pension leaders (56%) feel governments in this country are “lagging behind comparable organizations” when it comes to supplying workers with quality retirement benefits. This compares with 39% in the U.K. and 42% in Australia.

But plan leaders remain optimistic, notes Owen Davies, managing director in Accenture’s pensions practice. They want to find technology providers and consultants who can create implementation plans and help participants get the most from innovation on straight-through processing.

“The digital revolution is just beginning to reshape the way public pension organizations operate and serve their members,” Davies says. ”Pressures for increased administrative efficiency and modern customer services are waking pension organizations up to new and emerging digital opportunities to transform how they operate.”

The report concludes that a variety of barriers to adoption of straight-through processing are perceived across all three countries. Prevalent are information technology concerns—notably data security and the potential for faster-moving and deeper-seated problems to arise through more powerful automation. Others cited the “complexity of required organizational change, lack of budget and lack of leadership support,” according to Accenture.

Important for plan service providers to consider, most respondents in all three countries agreed these barriers “can feasibly be overcome in the next five years.”