Building financial wellness from the ground up

How Zurich helps wholesale broadband provider Siro keep pensions pertinent and at the top of its benefits tree. This article is an Irish Times Content Studio production.

Human resources practitioners typically inherit a corporate culture. Blanaid O’Regan helped build one from the ground up.

She is director of people and culture at wholesale broadband provider Siro, a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone that was set up eight years ago.

“The then chief executive was very conscious that we had two very big parents, with two very different cultures, so we put a huge emphasis on developing our own culture. It has been an incredible opportunity to create one from scratch,” she says.

Today Siro employs 150 people and Blanaid, who is from outside Bandon in Co. Cork, regularly surveys them, gathering employee engagement feedback to continually improve its culture.

“A huge priority for us is employee engagement and in the last few years we have done an awful lot of work in relation to wellness, including financial wellness,” she explains.

“One of the issues we recognised is that some people don’t like to think about pensions, they tune out. Having experts come in and talk to our staff about financial wellness, including on a one-to-one basis, is a good way to address that.”

She trained as a psychologist before taking a master’s degree in human resources. “Back when I graduated, HR was still quite a new field and it was suggested as a good career for psychologists. It certainly sounded interesting to me. What I like about HR is that you are working with people. I also like the creativity of the role, the problem-solving aspect, such as how do you make people more interested in pensions, or indeed any of the other benefits you offer,” she explains.

Generous contributions

Siro introduce its defined contribution occupational pension scheme on Day One with both Siro and employees contributing.

“This is tax free, which people don’t always realise. When we do talks for staff about saving money, we always explain that the best way to save tax is through your pension,” says Blanaid.

“All staff are encouraged to join. We also run an annual bonus scheme. As part of that we always ask people getting a lump sum if they would like to put some of it into their pension as an AVC (additional voluntary contribution),” she says.

Securing a pensions partner

When Siro was set up, its management invited the country’s top pension providers to pitch to them. Zurich won. “It made a really great presentation and had a really compelling offer, so it wasn’t hard to go with them,” she recalls.

“The back office help it offers was so appealing too. Like any startup we had a headcount plan but not lots of people, so we needed our pension scheme to be fully externally managed.”

It is very much a partnership. “Zurich comes in a number of times a year to talk to new people joining the scheme and to existing members about how their pension is doing,” says Blanaid.

“They have one to one conversations with people coming to the end of their career, and help new people who want to bring their pension from previous jobs. In the tech sector people move around a lot, often ending up with pensions all over the place. They need help sweeping them up. Zurich will advise them if it’s better to leave them where they are. They will always act in the best interest of the employee.”

Siro is on a growth path. In a tight labour market, many businesses in such a position find it difficult to recruit. That’s not an issue for Siro because it has very high retention rates.

“We have a very low staff turnover. The fact that we retain so many people is something we are very proud of, and we do it by creating opportunities for them to progress within the company. Retention is something we see as being important, which is why we manage employee engagement so closely, including through engagement surveys twice a year,” she explains.

The company’s pension scheme scores highly in such questionnaires.

“It actually comes out as the top benefit which surprised me. But we know from feedback that some people get an independent opinion of their pension and independently verify that we offer a very good scheme,” she says.

Zurich Master Trust makes life easier

Siro’s pension scheme will soon be managed under Zurich Master Trust (ZIMT). Master Trusts differ from traditional Defined Contribution (DC) pension schemes in that multiple employers all coexist under the one trust deed.

All trustee duties are carried out by ZMIT, which means Siro won’t need to appoint its own trustee boards to manage associated governance and compliance requirements.

“It will also take away the need for us to audit pensions,” she explains.

Zurich’s team meets with the managers of Siro’s pension scheme, including Blanaid, twice a year, to brief them about investment performance.

“They invite us offsite to meet with their other clients too, which gives us opportunities to see what other companies are doing and find out what’s going on,” she says.

“It is how we learned all about Zurich’s ESG (environment, social and governance) investing. That’s something we are looking at very closely as we have moved deeply into sustainability,” she says.

“Our pension fund is the only investment we make as a company, so it’s important to know it is being done properly.”

It’s not just management that feels that way. “We know from our engagement surveys that sustainability is something that is important to staff of all ages,” she adds.

For over 40 years, Zurich has been providing retirement solutions and today, we are one of the largest pension companies in Ireland. The Zurich Master Trust leverages our experience, expertise, innovation, and dedication to scheme governance to provide you with a pension scheme that is streamlined, providing peace of mind for you and your employees.

The information contained herein is based on Zurich Life’s understanding of current Revenue practice as at 1st May 2023 and may change in the future.

Please contact us to learn more about Corporate Pensions from Zurich.

Contact Us   Call us on 01 2092299

About: Zurich Master Trust

For over 40 years, Zurich has been providing retirement solutions and today, we are one of the largest pension companies in Ireland. The Zurich Master Trust leverages our experience, expertise, innovation, and dedication to scheme governance to provide you with a pension scheme that is streamlined, providing peace of mind for you and your employees.

Contact your Scheme Advisor or Financial Broker to learn more about Corporate Pensions from Zurich. You can also contact Zurich directly here or call us on 01 209 2299.

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