Data, and the safe and intelligent use thereof, is key to any financial administration in the 21st century.
Whilst the pensions industry may not yet have seen the back of pen-and-paper administration – the bulging archives have shrunk but are not empty, and the spectre of microfiche still haunts administrators dealing with long-tenured members – digitisation of data is at an all-time high, and the software that uses it is becoming much more sophisticated.
With administrators looking towards bulk processing of simpler work, a focus on data quality improvement, Pensions Dashboards coming into view and wider use of AI looking inevitable, there has never been a better time to get into pensions systems and data.
How you can shape the future
As the use of digital assets grows, so too does the number of ways you can build your career.
Data analysis is a common entry point; it brings a greater understanding of how data is received, held, and processed, so data analysts have a rounded knowledge base from which to strike out into other areas. Business or systems analysis are valid routes from here and can give you a real stake in business change.
Database administrators are always in demand, and this can be the gateway to a career in coding and software development, testing, or DevOps. Another growth area is cybersecurity; pensions data includes personal and sensitive data, and is increasingly being targeted by hackers.
What you can expect
Peeking beneath the front end of your pensions administration platform is much like going into an attic – at best there’s cobwebs and everything could do with a good tidy. At worst, there’s damage that can put your whole infrastructure at risk.
But imagine what you could do with that if it were upgraded and maintained – the possibilities are endless! Bringing order and structure would make it infinitely more usable… And that’s where you come in.
The first thing you can expect is a challenge. A steep learning curve, coupled with trust-building with existing IT staff, means you’re not going to get where you want to be straight away. Patience and a willingness to learn are key here.
The second thing you can expect is resistance – not everyone is going to see the issues that you do, and they will need these issues communicated in a way that brings home the impact of any problems and the benefits of solving them. A string of tech-speak isn’t going to cut it; to drive any real change, you’ll have to be an adept translator.
How to get there
A degree-level education is increasingly sought for new starters, especially above entry-level. For people who have less IT-related degrees, there are often graduate programmes that will grant entry straight into this field, and for those of us well past our teens, experience and enthusiasm will still count for something when it comes to moving sideways into these types of roles.
AI is threatening to take off right now, so education and experience in that area will be particularly eye-catching to some businesses – but it’s a good idea to have other skills to back that up in case adoption is less than total.
The most common route in my experience is from another part of a pensions business; I started as a team leader in charge of bulk administration projects, and after showing an interest in the mechanics of the system as well as the output, was given increased access to solve my own problems and got a reputation as an able hand with source data.
When my then-employers started a data integrity team, my name was the first to come up as a good fit – and I never looked back. If you’re looking to move into IT from pensions administration, my advice would be to befriend your current systems experts and absorb as much knowledge as possible!
The workforce of tomorrow is learning programming languages, as the education system wakes up to a digital future. SQL is still the leading database language and a must-have for any relational database work, but other languages like Python and R are increasingly being used for analysis, and fluent users are increasingly in demand. C++ and Visual Basic are often used for software creation and never seem to go out of fashion.
Data visualisation expertise can also be useful when you want to get key stakeholders on board with your ideas, so you may want to investigate PowerBI and Tableau, two commonly used visualisation tools. You’ll want to have top-notch Microsoft Office (or equivalent) skills too – a lot can still be done in that space with Excel and PowerPoint.
In terms of soft skills, you’ll need to be a good problem-solver, used to thinking on your feet and a quick learner, but above all, you need to be able to communicate your ideas to people who don’t have the same level of technical understanding as you; all of the above is meaningless if you can’t bring what you’ve found to life for the people who can cheerlead for your changes.
The future is yours
Hopefully, I’ve shown you why this is a key part of the pensions industry, and how you can be a part of it. To leave you with a little advice from my dubious experience: keep an open mind and ask questions – having the enthusiasm to learn and get stuck in is half the battle won.
But bear in mind that change can be slow, and people can be equally slow to move on, or be attached to archaic processes and systems – but the change will come. Patience is a virtue, and delivering your message to the correct people in the correct tone is key to winning hearts and minds on your journey to the pensions industry of tomorrow!