Addressing poor data with ECRS technology – PenCom

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The National Pension Commission (PenCom) has introduced an Enhanced Contributor Registration System (ECRS) meant to solve the challenges faced with the existing Contributor Registration System (CRS). Aside helping to lift contributors’ confidence in the industry and bring in more people into the financial system, the enhanced application is expected to open up transfer window for Retirement Savings Account (RSA) holders to switch Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs). The ECRS also enables Nigerians based abroad to participate in Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and deepen contributors’ confidence in the industry.

In this brave new world, technology is seen as the way to go. It is embraced daily by institutions that think and act ahead. Technology does not only make agencies’ operations seamless, but brings efficiency and trust to their services.

For PenCom, one of the biggest challenges confronting Nigeria’s pension industry is cleaning up existing data of contributors and pensioners under the CPS. Thus, in order to fix this challenge, it became a priority for PenCom to transit from the use of the precursor application, the CRS, to a more robust ECRS to enable the Commission entrench efficiency, transparency and contributors’ confidence in its operations.

PenCom said the ECRS was designed, developed and deployed to provide a more dynamic and friendly user interface even as it fully addresses the issues identified with the CRS. Thus, the deployment of the ECRS, the commission said, will greatly enhance the integrity of contributors’ data and also provide a platform for registration of Micro Pension Plan participants and Cross Border participants including Nigerians living abroad and foreigners living in Nigeria who wish to contribute under the CPS.

“Electronic submission of employer code requests by Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) on employers and the full automation of the process of issuing employer codes. Updates and edits of contributors’ information on the National Databank maintained by the National Pension Commission by the PFAs. The deployment of the ECRS is a major step towards the introduction of the transfer widow, which will enable contributors change to the PFAs of their choice, in line with Section 13 of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2014,” the report said.

The Commission said that the ECRS has been integrated with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) for authentication of the uniqueness of individuals seeking to register under the CPS. “The ECRS is an electronic platform for the submission of requests by Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) for the registration of contributors and issuance of Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). Consequently, the Commission has transited from the use of the existing Contributor Registration System (CRS) to the ECRS,” the statement said.

The Pension Reform Act mandates every employer with a minimum of three employees to open an RSA for the workers, which would be funded by both employer and employees. The employer is required to pay ten (10) per cent while the workers are required to contribute eight (8) per cent of total monthly emolument.

Under the CPS, the PFAs manage the funds which are in the custody of the Pension Fund Custodians (PFCs).

Acting Director-General, National Pension Commission, Mrs Aisha Dahir-Umar said the Commission introduced the ECRS because it has seen the tremendous positive impact which technology can make on the pension industry.

The Commission’s Acting Director-General further explained that the ECRS consists of six major functions: contributor registration to generate unique pin; recapture for existing contributors; bio-data update; update of signature and picture, where applicable; temporary PIN for employer initiated registration and Retirement Savings Account (RSA) verification service.

Dahir-Umar, said that the assets under the CPS had continued to rise hitting N9.03 trillion “since the introduction of the CPS and I am pleased to note that appreciable progress has been made consistently,” she said. According to her, the statistics are clear evidence that the CPS has greatly improved access to retirement benefits for employees in both the public (Federal Government) as well as the private sectors.

For contributors’ data integrity, the enhanced registration system also has the following capabilities: dashboard availability for Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) to view status of their requests and summary reports and PFAs can also receive notifications via Dashboard, emails and Error Codes.

Head, Corporate Communications Department of PenCom, Peter Aghahowa, said that PenCom’s authorised staff can also use the ECRS to view status of submissions by PFAs, generate reports and approve requests that require authorisation. In addition to download responses, latest upgrades, patches, employer codes generation, the system also has capacity for National ID verification with NIMC.

The system went live on June 24, 2019, after PenCom assessed the environmental readiness of PFAs and pilot run for the PFAs to use ECRS. This new development is significant for the pension industry as it may pave the way for the implementation of other critical policies hitherto prevented by poor contributors’ data.

One of such policies is the transfer window provided in the Pension Reform Act, 2014 (PRA, 2014), allowing RSA holders to switch PFAs if they so desire. Under the CPS, a comprehensive and reliable data of RSA holders had been a huge challenge, a development some sources said was the reason why PenCom has been reluctant in opening up the transfer window.

The PRA, 2014 provides that an employee may, not more than once in a year, transfer his or her RSA from one PFA to another without producing any reason for such transfer. Section 13 of the Pension Reform Act 2014 also provides that, “subject to guidelines issued by the commission, a holder of a retirement savings account maintained under this Act may not, more than once in a year, transfer his account from one Pension Fund Administrator to another.” Despite this provision, PenCom is yet to authorise PFAs to allow RSA holders to transfer their RSAs from one PFA to another.

The implication of non-availability of the RSA transfer window is that RSA holders, whose PFAs are underperforming in terms of return on investments, are stuck with such PFAs as they cannot move their contributions to PFAs with better history of high returns on investment.

Indeed, poor contributors’ data integrity has been a major hindrance to the opening of the transfer window.  There are concerns among pension managers and operators that until existing data of contributors are properly refined and deemed reliable, there will be cases of identity theft and large-scale frauds.  The coming of ECRS is one of the innovations of the Commission to clean up the database of RSA holders to ensure that issues such as duplications and misinformation are tackled.

In this regard, PenCom recently directed all RSA holders to provide their National Identity Number (NIN) to their fund managers.  The new development involved both active and retired RSA holders and is in line with Federal government’s policy mandating all Nigerians to have a National Identity Number.

By law, the NIMC has the mandate to implement the National identity system in Nigeria and the harmonisation by all data gathering agencies may be part of federal government’s strategy to have a clean National Identity System. PenCom advised RSA holders to approach their PFAs to provide their Bank Verification Numbers (BVNs), NIN as well as other needed biodata. These latest innovations, ECRS and integration of BVN and NIN with RSAs, may be a golden opportunity for PFAs to clean up their databases to combat identity theft as well as prevent fraud in the pension industry.

A Lagos based pension contributor, Mathias Abiodun, said a clean database in the industry will also pave the way for the introduction of the transfer window that will enable RSA holders to switch accounts from one PFA to another to get better services. He believes that the issue of the role of pension funds in economic development had moved into the focus of public attention, particularly with regard to Nigeria’s growing need for long-term capital.

Abiodun explained that successful mobilisation of pension fund assets and contributions to the economic growth of any nation were essential policy objectives. “For the first time, our country can now boast of a long-term funding base and the impact to date has included the funding of the government and government projects, development of the capital market as well as increased foreign development inflows,” he added.

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