The price of a better future

Smashed crystal ball image illustrating a blog on educating the finance industry.
Last week the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) launched an advert featuring Workie. Workie is a giant furry creature who wanders through a park raising awareness of the next phase of auto-enrolment into workplace pensions. But Workie has also raised some hackles.

Although Workie has its fair share of supporters, some people think this oversized rainbow-coloured Furby is patronising. Others snipe at the message. Even more baulk at the £8.5 million price tag that includes making the ad and buying the air time to show it.

I happen to be in the pro-camp. Workie got my attention. And the fact that people are talking about Workie and therefore about pensions, leads me to believe it’s doing its job.

Sweating the sums

But the criticism of that price tag got me thinking. In a former life, I was a commissioning executive for Culture Online. We were using public money to commission arts and culture projects that used new technology. And we took the responsibility that came with spending public money very seriously. We sweated over what each part of our project was worth, and how it matched with what Culture Online had been set up to do.

After much debate and benchmarking where we could, we might decide that getting someone older to use the internet for the first time was worth a few pence per person. And we might also agree that helping children with autism to recognise emotions – as we did with one of our projects – was worth much more. We thought about immediate things, like how much enjoyment our projects brought. And we considered the long-term benefits of what we commissioned, like giving people a skill they could use for life.

What’s enrolling four million people worth?

Presumably conversations like the ones we had at Culture Online were going on at the DWP as Workie came to life. Pensions Minister Ros Altmann has said that the government is looking to get nine million people into a workplace pension through auto-enrolment. So far more than five million have signed up, and Workie supports the push to get the next four million. That’s four million people who could have a more secure future because of Workie. Or put another way, it’s just over £2 per person.

I haven’t yet seen anyone from DWP frame Workie as a £2 investment in an individual’s future. But perhaps they should.