Friends Life Pension Scheme Brochures

The Problem


Creating and maintaining the documents that define and explain company pension schemes administered on behalf of hundreds of thousands of employees is a constant challenge for firms like Friends Life.

They have around 25,000 pension schemes on their books and while many of these are small and quite standard, several thousand have bespoke literature to detail the specifics of the scheme and all of them are required to be kept up to date.

Creating scheme documentation was a lengthy process that started by marking-up existing documents with the changes necessary to describe the new scheme. The mark-up was sent to a designer who would create a new set of documents accordingly. There would typically be several iterations of the design before the documents could be shown to the client for their approval, which would often generate further rounds of modification and amendment. The process up to this point typically took six weeks or more.

When both client and Friends Life staff had signed off the documents, they would go through the necessary compliance process, after which they could be sent for printing. The document maintenance phase would then begin. Since pension schemes typically run for decades there is a requirement to keep the documentation up-to-date. Scheme documents are reviewed at least once a year and typically more frequently, as dictated by client re-branding or legislative changes; if an investment fund within the range changes or if there is a tax change, this can affect thousands of documents. Although many of these would be based on similar design templates, the manual production process meant that keeping up with these changes was time-consuming and expensive.

The Solution

Friends Life approached Interlagos in 2005 with a brief to design and implement an automated solution for document production. The primary aim was to reduce the time and cost associated with generating new documents but without compromising the ability to customise them for each new scheme.

Using APS, Interlagos developed a series of templates for the different types of document that Friends Life required. Using a simple web browser interface, this system allows users to specify key data to customise each document. This information includes company name, scheme name, independent financial adviser (IFA) name and the funds in the scheme. Images and logos specific to the client can be uploaded to further brand the documents appropriately.

Once all the customised content has been provided, APS combines it with standard text such as legal disclaimers in the template to automatically produce a PDF proof copy of the desired documents for submission to the client for approval. Tables of contents and page numbers are automatically generated and pagination is increased automatically to allow for standard text and for the offset printing requirement to have total numbers of pages that are multiples of four. Any corrections from the client are then made via the web interface and a new PDF generated. Once client approvals are in place and the compliance process completed, APS then generates a print-ready version of the document, complete with bleed and crop marks and spot colour split for sending to the printer.

The implementation of APS effectively eliminated the design stage, significantly reducing the costs of production, and typically cut the period required to create these documents from weeks to a matter of days. The system was able to process around 85 per cent of Friends Life’s bespoke scheme literature and if updates were required, the changes could be made and new versions made ready within hours.

In 2009, Friends Life asked for further developments to the system. In the existing installation, the marketing communications team was responsible for entering all the variable data necessary to customise each new document. This they did using data supplied to them in the form of a spreadsheet created by the sales team that was responsible for selling the pension scheme to the client.

The next logical step was to further streamline the process so that the sales team could directly generate the documents themselves. Documents generated using APS could then be routed to marketing for review and further processing as before, but there was also a second application desired, in which sales staff could generate sample documents for use as part of the sales pitch.These pre-sales documents would not need to be handled by the marketing team because as ‘dummy’ documents – albeit customised with the clients’ names and business details – they would not need to go through the approvals cycle necessary for real pension scheme documentation.

Interlagos designed an HTML form that would allow the sales staff to enter the necessary information themselves, avoiding both the time taken for marketing staff to re-enter it and the possibility of them making mistakes while doing so. To avoid errors at the form-filling stage, Interlagos implemented a variety of checks. The sales team is also able to upload client logos and select which images are used in the brochures.

Once the form has been filled in, a proof PDF is automatically generated and made available to the sales staff. At the same time, an email is automatically sent to notify the marketing communications team that the documents have been created. The documents are reviewed by the marketing communications team, who can upload client specific images and create refined versions if necessary to give to the sales team to show their clients, after which the usual approvals and compliance process occurs, leading to the production of both print-ready PDFs for the commercial printer and downloadable versions that can be put on client company web sites.

This part of the system went into live use in late summer 2010 and immediately proved a great success. In one instance, documents were ready for client approval within only two hours of the sales team submitting their requests. As part of a wider overview of processes within Friends Life, in which the turnaround times for various parts of the document preparation cycle were shortened, the production time for documents ready to go into the compliance process has typically come down to about six hours, assuming fast turnaround for approvals.

APS has made it very easy to produce and maintain documents. The demand for quick turnaround times means that documents might be requested on a Friday afternoon for a pitch meeting the following Tuesday morning. They can now produce the documents within hours, which has empowered the sales teams and reduced the paper flow through the business.

APS also benefits Friends Life from a risk management perspective. The guided construction of documents via the Interlagos system means there is less risk of getting it wrong, so they have ‘de-risked’ the process. PDF meets FSA requirements to supply documents via a ‘durable medium’. Most clients are happy to download and print PDFs but a large percentage of schemes require printed documents still so they print these in runs anywhere from just a few to 5000.

APS also helps to de-skill the document maintenance process, which makes it easier for Friends Life to bring in extra staff on a temporary basis at times of high volume. Friends Life have been more than happy with Interlagos’s support during the project and subsequently, as there is an ongoing need for template development. Interlagos are always ready to help, understanding our business and recognising the urgency, providing their input in a timely fashion or even ahead of schedule, even when they are thrown things out of the blue.

Since this project has been completed, similar systems have been implemented at AXA and Winterthur and all 3 systems have recently been upgraded to handle the new Auto Enrolment legislation.

Once the spreadsheet data had been uploaded each page could be manually overridden with non-standard text to cater for non-standard fund guides. Documents published varied in length from 30 pages through to 60 pages. A complete audit trail is maintained by the system showing the date of every stage of the document creation and the user who completed that stage.

The system has been live since January 2014 and currently has over 300 documents maintained on the system.