The Covid-19 pandemic is transforming society forever, according to a new survey of pension scheme members by the Defined Contribution Investment Forum (DCIF). The ways in which people expect society to change will have far-reaching implications for those who look after their pension savings.

The research, which was conducted by Ignition House among 1,000 defined contribution (DC) members, reveals an overwhelming 82% believe that the Covid-19 pandemic will change society forever. People believed this irrespective of age, gender or pension pot size.

How will society look different? Over three quarters (77%) of members feel there is more of a community spirit now than before the crisis, with women more likely to feel this way than men (84% compared to 71%).

Many people have tried to shop locally during the pandemic. This trend is set to continue after the crisis is over, with 79% of members saying they are now more interested in supporting small or local businesses.

When it comes to corporate behaviour, people have long memories. Three quarters (74%) of members would consider boycotting brands or companies who have not treated their employees well during the Covid-19 pandemic, rising to 82% of those with pension pots worth over £50k.

People will also vote with their feet. Three quarters of members say that they will look at how well companies have treated their employees when thinking about their next job move (excluding those who report it does not apply to them). Those with pots over £50k are more likely to agree (81% compared with 79% for all members)

Working patterns also seem likely to change. Over half (57%) of people who can work from home will try to do so more often, even when the restrictions are lifted.

As well as the myriad lifestyle benefits that working from home can offer, members’ enthusiasm could stem from their concerns about the environment. Having enjoyed clearer skies, fresher air and less noise pollution, members may not want to go back to the status quo.

Asked whether they would try to reduce their carbon footprint by attending more online meetings and reducing travel via public transport, 59% of members said they would. This was particularly true of members with larger pots: 68% of members with DC pension pots worth over £50k agreed with this statement.

More broadly, people are increasingly concerned about environmental, social and governance issues. The DCIF surveyed DC savers two years ago to explore their attitudes to responsible investment and found that, even in 2018, they were very concerned about the state of the world. This concern has only heightened in the last two years.

Well over half (66%) of members are more worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible for making a difference, compared to 59% in 2018. Women feel more strongly about this than men (71% compared to 61%).

Hilary Inglis, chair of the DCIF, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has posed many challenges to our way of life and had tragic consequences for many people. Although this has been an overwhelming time of stress and anxiety, halting everyday life in this way has caused some people to reflect. Seeing clearer night skies, enjoying fresh air and relieved of the daily grind of a daily commute, many people have no desire to go back to the way life was before, as this survey reflects.

She added: “At the DCIF, we think that Covid-19 could accelerate an already growing momentum which is propelling the pensions industry towards responsible investment. As more and more people realise that their pension savings are invested in companies which power the world around us, pressure will grow to make sure their money invests in well run companies, more supportive of the environment and wider society. In turn, this will put pressure on pension scheme decision-makers like trustees, finance and HR directors to consider these issues when they choose their pension scheme.”

Louise Farrand, executive director of the DCIF, said: “Making a change for the better requires action from all players in the pensions chain, from investment managers to the consultants which advise schemes and the trustee boards which hold them to account. Members of the DCIF are committed to learning and finding real-world ways to help. We want pension savers to be able to investigate how their money is invested and be satisfied by what they find. As they re-evaluate some aspects of the world they live in, this will become more important than ever.”

These Covid-19 findings are part of a larger research paper the DCIF is writing on responsible investment. The paper, which will comprise quantitative consumer research on attitudes towards responsible investment, plus a guide to how UK pension schemes can comply with the existing regulation, will be released in June 2020.

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