Resistance is futile....to effective collaboration
CRITERION’S BILLY BURNSIDE AND LIFE-LONG TREKKIE REFLECTS ON WILLIAM SHATNER’S TRIP TO SPACE AND WHY RESISTANCE TO EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION IS FUTILE.
It was fantastic to see William Shatner recently become the oldest person (at 90) to go into space, on the Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship. It turns out that Captain James T. Kirk made it into space by 3.5 miles, but hey, space is still the final frontier! 2021 also marked the 55th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek, The Original Series, on US television, which introduced all to Captain Kirk and his mission to boldly go where no one has gone before. 1966 also happens to be the year I was born, and I have to admit to being a bit of a ‘trekkie’ all my life. I’ve grown up with Star Trek, and all its various guises, but my personal favourite has to be The Next Generation. Why? Well, it’s not because of the main characters (Picard, Riker, Data, Worf etc.) – as great as they were – it’s because of the Borg! Despite first appearing on our TV screens in 1989 the Borg still appear in the 2019 Rolling Stones ‘Greatest TV Villains of All Time’, at number 9 (wedged firmly between JR Ewing and Montgomery Burns). They appeared in 21 episodes across the Star Trek franchise and have definitely left a lasting impression on our (collective) psyche!
The Borg are famously remembered for their catchphrase, “We are the Borg. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.” Which brings me to the key point in this article – as tenuous as it may seem – Collaboration through the STAR initiative to deliver improved customer outcomes for transfers and re-registrations. But don’t worry, I will come back to the Borg!
What is STAR?
The problems that consumers and advisers face when transferring investments and pensions from one company to another are well publicised and has been a problem for the industry for many years. Transfers and re-registrations can take many weeks, often months to complete. Despite progress with electronic transfers over recent years the perception is that the pace of change is unacceptable.
This was recognised by the industry several years ago when they formed the Transfers and Re-registration Industry Group (TRIG) comprising 10 trade bodies. In addition, around 2 years ago the FCA announced that enough was enough and suggested the industry get their house in order, to avoid the introduction of regulation or legislation. It was concluded that a voluntary, industry-led solution was by far the best answer for everyone: the industry owns the problem and should define how it gets fixed.
This is where STAR (Speedy Transfers and Re-registrations) was born. Criterion was appointed, as a not-for-profit joint venture with TEX, to take on the governance and administration of the standards under the brand ‘STAR’. We have spent the last two years supporting the industry to ultimately improve customer experiences. Not just consumers in fact, it is in everyone’s interest to get this sorted. Effective collaboration and governance are at the heart of the initiative, and standards and governance are the lifeblood of Criterion. There are close to 80 companies actively involved in the STAR initiative which will become the single, authoritative source of transfer data across the whole industry on how firms are performing – the output of which will be a quarterly industry index and an annual accreditation scheme for participants. Annual STAR Accreditation Awards of bronze, silver and gold will be awarded so that performance can be evidenced, rewarded and improvements encouraged across the industry.
The FCA, The Pensions Regulator and the Department of Work and Pensions (and ABI, Investment Association) continue to support STAR’s aims and objectives and participate as observers at the STAR Steering Group. Since the FCA’s initial approach to STAR, it has carried out its Investment Platform Market Study. A key element of this work has been on the portability of investments to drive up competition and increase choice, and improved outcomes, for customers. The FCA has been clear throughout this process that pension providers, platforms and fund managers must deliver efficient, timely transfers and that it is looking to STAR to be part of the industry solution.
We continue to make strong progress despite the challenges of dealing with Covid-19. The last year has been an intense period of work with the industry galvanised to drive forward this solution. Covid has of course proved challenging for an initiative that involves so many organisations across the whole industry. We have not been able to meet face to face which we have overcome, harnessing technology. Despite these challenges STAR is now ready to start to collate MI across the participating organisations to allow Accreditation to start.
We have been involved in standards and governance for decades, but our recent experience with STAR reaffirms the key to successful collaboration. I thought I would share what we believe are the key elements of effective collaboration and governance.
- Build a strong team – we joined forces with TeX, which played to both their strengths and ours. We could not have done this as single organisations. We also built capability in our own team to ensure that we had the right balance of skill sets, experience and personalities.
- Have very clear objectives and never lose sight of the desired outcomes – taking the time to understand the issues and perspectives of all involved is critical to success. We had very clear objectives from the outset that were the culmination of a considerable amount of industry thinking. We have never lost sight of these objectives and are all focussed on the outcomes – win for the consumers, win for companies and win for the industry.
- Get an effective Chair – we were very lucky to have an exceptional founding Chair in Tom McPhail who was then with Hargreaves Lansdown. He passed the baton to Andrew Marker of Vanguard who has been a highly effective and diligent Chair. Andrew has made a significant commitment to STAR ensuring the monthly Steering Groups are a key part of Governance. It is vital to have the right capability to steer the governance ship.
- Have in place robust governance – from the offset we had a clear governance framework that has been developed over several decades of driving industry change with appropriate governance arrangements. Clear and agreed protocols exist around such things as roles and responsibilities, decision-making, deadlines, scope, progress reviews and evaluation.
- Give everyone a voice – a willingness / commitment to participate. Where a collaboration opportunity exists and is recognised, collaborative effort will be optimised where there is a commitment or willingness to participate. We are very inclusive and give all participants a voice be it in meetings or using feedback mechanisms that are in place.
- Encourage sharing of ideas – collaboration can only succeed if participants are willing to share ideas and best practice. Fundamentally participants have to realise that working collectively as a wider industry team, they can make better progress that they could as an individual company, so sharing ideas is essential so all participants can improve.
- Get the right people in the room – collaboration is pointless if the participants are not able to make decisions within their own organisation. For STAR, it is vital that people have the right level of technical expertise and the ability to take responsibility for representing their organisation and ultimately making decisions. We also have to manage important industry stakeholders and take them on the journey. These include the FCA, The Pensions regulator, The ABI, The Investment Association and technology suppliers. They have all had representation where necessary and been included in the decision-making process.
- Keep energy levels up and have fun – we’ve been very conscious through Covid that it is important recognise that there are some hard yards and a way to alleviate this is with a good sense of humour.
- Be effective time managers and organised – we have run hundreds of meetings, workshops, working groups, Steering Groups and suppler forums. All this has had to run very effectively and efficiently. Our Implementation Group has over 60 participants so a minute we waste is wasting it for 60 people / organisations and we are very conscious about that and therefore very diligent and disciplined.
- Trust one another – Effective collaboration is aided when there is pre-existing trust, respect, honesty and openness in relationships. We are lucky in that many of us have worked in the industry long enough to have formed networks and built trust over the years. Usually with any of the governance we do, it is because we are trusted to do a professional job and that trust has been built up over several decades.
The Borg arguably took collaboration to the extreme! In creating the ‘Borg Collective’, they assimilated other intelligent life forms, adding new technologies to their own and thus improving themselves. Unfortunately, the outcome was to destroy these civilisations!
STAR, unlike the Borg, is not seeking perfection (or to destroy civilisation), however it does, like the Borg, prize efficiency. When ‘7 of 9’ severed her connection with the collective she looked down upon the humans and talks about how inefficient they are at performing their tasks. Well, we all know that is what is driving the delays and problems for customers and advisers when processing transfers. STAR is setting out to standardise the transfer process and collate MI on how each individual organisation is performing against agreed, step by step, service levels. From this data organisations will be accredited (Gold, Silver and Bronze) and therefore readably measured against how they are performing against their peers. It is hoped that this level of transparency will drive organisations to invest in their processes and technology to improve their individual performance and, collectively, improve transfers across the industry over time. Afterall, the Borg were only powerful because they functioned in unison.