At-Bristol have been a client of Octagon Consultancy for over 10 years. During this time we have worked closely with them to offer appropriate and relevant advice on their pension scheme.
We spoke to Cheryl Allen, HR Director, from At-Bristol about how our advice has helped their organisation meet legal requirements and add value to their staff.
How did At-Bristol manage their Group Pensions before Octagon Consultancy were appointed?
"Our previous pension was set up with Equitable Life – this was done directly with no adviser."
Were there any issues with your choice of pension scheme prior to appointing Octagon?
"Equitable got into severe financial difficulty in the early 2000s and it quickly became apparent a new provider was required to take over the group scheme."
What impact did this have on your organisation? Did it affect your businesses’ performance?
"It’s fair to say it didn’t impact profitability but it did create several admin issues as Equitable were pulling out of the group pensions market. Octagon were able to arrange for a new scheme to be put in place with Clerical Medical and subsequently Scottish Widows, that ensured all of the members were able to move to a new scheme without incurring a financial penalty."
Did staff ever comment on the pension scheme? If so, what did they say?
"I’ve been told by other staff that the general consensus was that no one really understood how the scheme worked. Many staff didn’t really understand about how their contributions work or how to plan for their future. Some commented that there was no one at hand to discuss any queries they had about the old group scheme."
How did you come to use Octagon Consultancy?
"Octagon Consultancy were appointed before I started here, however, I know their services were recommended by the previous Financial Director. He was a contact of Richard Adams (Octagon’s Director). However Rod Albright has been managing the scheme for several years."
What were your first impressions of Octagon Consultancy?
"I could tell immediately that Rod was a people person. When I met him he was instantly friendly, approachable and I knew he was going to work well with our staff."
Did you have any concerns about using another provider?
"Not concerned, more interested really as I have an interest in pensions and have a certificate in Pension Management for Trustees and Administrators. When I met Rod, he put my mind at ease as he clearly knew what he was talking about and had an excellent knowledge of the products and services he was recommending to us."
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How did Octagon Consultancy present their proposals for a new pension scheme to you?
"Rod proposed a new pension provider, Scottish Widows. As the majority of our employees didn’t have a great deal of knowledge about pensions and weren’t clear on the implications they would have as a result of the change, Rod came in and delivered a presentation explaining the benefits of Scottish Widows and answered questions on the transition.
In late 2012 Rod advised us there were to be some changes to pension schemes for all, as auto-enrolment had been announced. Fortunately, he gave us plenty of notice and we were able to adequately prepare. We had several meetings to discuss the costs and the implications of the change. If Rod hadn’t prepared us we could have potentially faced additional costs and our finance staff wouldn’t have had the right training to process auto-enrolment. Octagon Consultancy provided all of the necessary administration, such as sending draft letters in readiness for us to notify staff about auto-enrolment. In the end it was a seamless transition. This put everyone’s mind at rest and has resulted in only two people have opted out of the scheme."
Do you feel information was presented in a clear and fair manner?
"Definitely - Rod even helped with the registration document for the Pension Regulations, which has to be completed by the employer. He sat down with us and helped explain how to correctly complete the form. This saved us time and put our minds at rest by knowing the form was correctly completed."
Did Octagon Consultancy identify any shortfalls in your previous scheme? If so, did they suggest solutions to those issues?
"Yes, Rod and I both felt that we needed a more hands on approach in relation to explaining exactly what our group pension scheme provides. To resolve this, Rod visits us every other month to meet with staff who wish to discuss their pensions. He covers areas such as changes to pension contributions, maternity leavers, sabbaticals and also retirement goals. The staff really value his time and feel comfortable discussing areas of concern with him."
Do you feel you were adequately consulted by the advisor?
"Absolutely, I felt fully informed and completely involved in all decisions we made."
Do you feel your appointed advisor was experienced in working with pension schemes?
"Rod’s technical knowledge in the field of pensions is excellent. We have complete faith in his abilities."
Are you happy with the result of Octagon Consultancy’s work?
"Extremely happy, I feel that with Rod by our side through the transition to auto-enrolment made the outcome a success. His enthusiasm and approachability has resulted in a work force who understand their pension scheme and aren’t afraid to discuss their concerns with Rod or anyone else at Octagon."
Would you recommend their services to others?
"I would and I have!"
Do you have any other comments you’d like to add?
"It’s a great working partnership with both Rod and Octagon Consultancy. Having such a good relationship enables us to be more open, meaning I’m not afraid of asking questions which I think may sound silly! All in all it’s been a match made in heaven and long may it continue."
A Final Word ...
Are you happy with the result of Octagon Consultancy's work?
"Extremely happy, I feel that without Rod by our side through the transition to Auto Enrolment the outcome may haven’t been so successful. His enthusiasm and approachability has resulted in a work force who understand their pension scheme and aren’t afraid to discuss their concerns with Rod or anyone else at Octagon."