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Martha Lane Fox outfit waded through auto-enrolment noise to strike the right chord

When it comes to auto-enrolment, Martha Lane Fox’s karaoke firm Lucky Voice has found the right pitch in order to get workplace pensions on the right track.
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Karaoke chain Lucky Voice is well into its auto-enrolment experience, and is part of a movement seeing millions of workers in the UK divert a slice of their pay packets to a savings pot.

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Co-created by the founder of Lastminute.com, Martha Lane Fox – who is now its chairman – Lucky Voice is capitalising on the rising popularity of karaoke, a pastime traditionally undertaken at pubs or home. Through this Tokyo-inspired venture, however, groups of up to 15 people can hire small rooms and sing to their hearts’ content.

Of her business, Lane Fox once explained that people don’t want to just sit in a bar “and get smashed”. She said: “They want to be doing an activity together, and karaoke plays a lot to trends in the past decade, such as the rise of talent competitions like The X Factor. More people want to be stars.”

But to make consumers feel like stars, the service needs to be on par. For Lucky Voice, being able to encourage and support staff to to lead a healthy lifestyle, is key. While some firms have tried to reduce workplace stress in novel ways, employers such as Lucky Voice believe that the process of achieving financial stability can cause a significant amount of stress, and it has vowed to help deal with any money worries. That’s where auto-enrolment comes in.

Auto-enrolment has been a long time coming, with its implementation being staggered over five years. As a result of the government requiring large employers to stage first, with smaller employers following on after, many won’t be reaching a staging date until 2017. That’s the stage at which Lucky Voice – with 45 members of staff and a 2015 turnover of £2.7m – finds itself at.

Recent growth in employee count meant the company sailed through a compliance staff volume, but won’t have to play catch up as any business founded after April 2012 received a staging date of either 2017 or 2018.

“The process isn’t easy though,” explained Megan Stoughton, financial controller at Lucky Voice. “To be able to fulfil auto-enrolment duties, you’ll need to put a pension scheme in place. It’s important that you choose the right one. However, we found that a lot of the information out there was incorrect or outdated.

“There were also far too many available providers and not one advertises the same thing. It’s confusing, no matter how much advice you get given – especially the part where each provider seems to charge their own unique fees. It becomes difficult to pick out what the norm for providers is.

“We didn’t want to merely be throwing a dart at a board, see where it landed and pick that option. So we went to a financial advisor for help. The company helps you plan and implement your pension scheme. It even completes the necessary regulatory reports on your behalf. And, important as well, the company will hold your hand and let go in a gradual process to insure you’re ready for everything on your own two feet.”

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Helping Lucky Voice whittle down the options was The Pensions Regulator website, which proved a helpful source in rounding up the top five providers. Its independent financial advisor then further helped pick the winning choice. Now awaiting Lucky Voice’s staging date, Stoughton suggested communicating with staff was the next hurdle to overcome.

“You need a strong communications strategy to ensure employees fully understand the implications of auto-enrolment,” she said. “It includes making people think about retirement goals and highlighting the benefits of being in, and staying in, a workplace pension scheme.”

The problem, she suggested, lay in the fact that many employees have never before contributed to a pension scheme and – among younger staff specifically – don’t understand how important it is to focus on the here and now to build up savings for later in life. As such, it helped to highlight the value of employer contributions and tax relief, in terms of cash amounts.

“They should also be told which provider the company has gone with – and that means being transparent and letting employees check things up on their own as well,” said Stoughton.

Her advice for employers is simple. She’s urging them to understand their priorities, working out how much the business can realistically contribute to staff pension pots – over and above the minimum one per cent contribution.

Whether you’re a butcher, baker or business app maker, do not ignore workplace pensions.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business