Whitbread's pension scheme

The problem

Whitbread was one of the first employers to automatically enrol employees. This was challenging for a number of reasons. Engagement in pensions was historically low – of the company’s 40,000 employees, only 1,700 had joined their scheme. Employees were based across thousands of sites and many had low earnings – so a 1% pension contribution might represent 10% of their disposable income. On top of that, many spoke English as a second language.

The solution

We flipped the usual narrative about pensions on its head. And instead of overwhelming people with information, we made it possible for them to get as little or as much detail as they wanted.

The result

The project was a huge success. Our campaign delivered a 58% uplift in membership before Whitbread even started enrolling employees. Over a thousand people chose to join the scheme in three months, a 17-fold increase from Whitbread’s usual joining rate. There was even an 18% increase in the number of people making additional voluntary contributions. To date, only 4% of employees have chosen to opt out – one of the best results delivered by any employer.

How we did it


When we spoke to employees, we found that they viewed automatic enrolment positively. They didn’t need lots of detail to make a decision, and they didn’t want to be educated.

So our strategy was to ‘push’ as little communication as possible at employees, but to make it as easy as possible for anyone who wanted more detail to ‘pull’ what they needed. For instance, features on the website included a wizard that told employees whether they were likely to be enrolled or not, a box for entering their employee number to get information tailored to their circumstances, a jargon buster that explained unfamiliar terms and a searchable database of FAQs.

Because of that, our copy was geared around one key message – get more money when you retire. Unlike most pensions copy, this message sells pensions as a way to get an income, rather than a way to save – so it’s about what you get, not what you have to give up. And unlike most pensions copy, it’s simple, tangible and easy to understand. This addressed the two reasons why we believed most pension communication was failing. With a multinational audience in mind, we also targeted our material at a low reading age.