Pensions are boring, and that makes them fascinating

Scheme member engagement is an industry-wide problem – this article explains how the innovation team at Smart uses the B=MAP framework to facilitate behaviour change, and how it helped us create a successful “first time sign-in” feature


Dr Harry Brignull


User experience design courses usually start by teaching you that good design is all about understanding the problem you’re trying to solve for people. In the pension industry, this involves facing up to an uncomfortable truth. Something that every normal person on the street knows, but the industry is somehow in denial about.

Pensions are really, very, incredibly boring. For most people, they exist in the same psychological realm as tax, government paperwork and pairing your socks. Things that you need to do in order to exist in society – but you’d really 
rather not do if you could somehow get away with it.

Pensions exist in the same psychological realm as tax, paperwork and pairing socks

This totally defines the narrative on what good design is for pensions. No matter how you try to dress it up, nobody is going to be looking forward to spending a few hours of quality time this weekend looking at their pension figures.

In a survey carried out in 2018, a UK Master Trust [1] found that 72% of employees are not actively engaged with their workplace pension and 28% admit they never review their pension, and try not to think about it at all! This is known as the “scheme member engagement” problem in the pension industry. But the widespread acknowledgement of the problem has led the industry to not really try. As if it’s just unsolvable. At Smart Pension, we see it differently.

The B=MAP behaviour change framework

B=MAP is a behaviour change framework from professor BJ Fogg of Stanford University. It basically says that users won’t engage in a behaviour (B) unless you simultaneously provide them with the Motivation to do it (M), the easy ability to do it (A), and a trigger to Prompt them to start doing it at the right time (P). Without one of those three things, behaviour change will not occur. 

Another way to look at B=MAP is on a chart, where ability is on the X axis and motivation is on the Y axis. This is shown below.

The Fogg Behavior Model shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behaviour to occur: Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt.

Looking at this chart, we can see that users aren’t engaging in pension-related behaviours because we’re at the bottom left. Pension providers are not giving them the appropriate motivation, and not making it obvious and easy to do the things they should be doing.

Of course, not everyone is in this situation. Wealthy people can pay financial advisers to give them recommendations – they outsource the problem to professionals. And people who are highly educated about pensions don’t usually have this problem – they know the principles of long term financial planning, complex pension jargon and legislation (and boy, is there a lot of it). However, the problem still stands for everyone else – ‘normal people’ – who are generally stuck at the bottom left of the B=MAP chart. 

By framing the problem this way, a design strategy becomes obvious. If people are stuck at the bottom left, we should try a range of guidance techniques to get them to move ‘upwards and to the right’.

If we can help members spend just a few minutes doing a pension task every couple of months, they’ll pretty much cover off all the basics. They won’t suddenly become financial geniuses, but they’ll be informed and in control of their long term financial futures.


We’ve been focussed on building a series of stand–alone features, each one corresponding with a task from the list above. We’re doing this in a data-driven manner. For each feature, we run beta trials in which we’ll send email invitations to 5,000-10,000 scheme members at a time. We then track their behaviour using analytics and write up a findings report.

Encouraging members to sign in for the first time

 Here’s a video of our first feature – it’s quite simple. We identified that if people ignore the initial enrollment email that the platform sends, they tend to never sign in to the platform at all. We know from the B=MAP framework that we want to increase user’s ability (A)  by making it easier to do, and increase their motivation (M) by using a persuasively worded prompt (P). So we built this small webapp to encourage them to sign in for the first time. The user gets a concise email that directs them to sign in, where they’re shown their credentials and asked to create a password. It’s a linear series of steps – there’s no decision making. The user can’t get lost – which helps boost the completion rate. 


It turned out that email B performed a lot better, so that’s the one we use now. We sent email B to a thousand scheme members, and 14.6% of them signed in. Because it performed so well, it’s no longer a closed beta – it’s live for all Smart Pension UK Members. 

We now have it set up with a live segmentation and emailing system (using intercom). Put simply, there’s a script that runs every day and  looks at our scheme member records to decide who should get an email. Here’s how it works:

If someone is an active member who has been with us more than 6 months and has never signed in, they get the first email. If they ignore it, they get a reminder 3 days later. If they ignore that they get another reminder, after another 3 days.

These triggered reminder emails have proven to be very effective – in a sample of 114,000 recipients, 25% of them have responded by logging in. As a point of comparison, most pension providers see about a 1-4% response rate for comms that ask users to sign in. We’re in the process of adding more reminders and staggering them out over a longer period of time. 


We’re working on a number of other beta features to facilitate member behaviour change, and we’re going to write about them in the coming months. For example we’re making an “animated pension walkthrough” to help people understand their pension basics; a “one page retirement calculator” where people can see instantly their projected income in retirement; and a “detailed retirement planner” – to help people work out how their other sources of income in retirement (like the state pension) will help them when they retire. You can read more here

Hopefully this article has given you an idea of what the innovation team does at Smart. We’re focussed on behaviour change for scheme members, to guide them towards a more successful financial future in retirement. 

Image showing three upcoming new features - a retirement calculator, an animated pension walkthrough, and a detailed retirement planner.


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Written by Harry Brignull

Edited by Joe Russell, Alastair Driver

With thanks to the Smart Innovation Team

Pensions are boring, and that makes them fascinating

Scheme member engagement is an industry-wide problem – this article explains how the innovation team at Smart uses the B=MAP framework to facilitate behaviour change, and how it helped us create a successful “first time sign-in” feature

About Smart

Smart is a global savings and investments technology platform provider. Its mission is to transform retirement, savings and financial wellbeing around the world.

Smart partners with governments and financial institutions (including insurers, asset managers, banks, financial advisers) to deliver retirement savings and income solutions that are digital, bespoke and cost efficient. In addition to the UK, Smart is operating in the USA, Europe, Australia and the Middle East with more than a million savers entrusting over £10 billion in assets on the platform. 

Smart supports its clients with a global team.

Aquiline Capital Partners, Legal & General, Fidelity International Strategic Ventures, J.P. Morgan, the Link Group, Barclays, Natixis Investment Managers, DWS Group and Chrysalis Investments are all investors in Smart.

For media enquiries

Email: pressoffice@smartco