Should trustees think more like corporates to get what they need?

To do the best for members, Karein Davie asks if there are other tips that can be taken from the way that a corporate operates?

As a corporate adviser, it always surprised me that it was often the corporate who was driving the strategy on pensions. Strategies presented by the corporate sponsor to the trustees – aimed at de-risking and moving towards self sufficiency or buy-out, for example – could equally have been developed by the trustee board. I would encourage trustees, for whom the members’ interests are the top priority, to be the ones driving the pensions agenda and taking ideas to the sponsor to develop together.

To do the best for members, I wonder if there are other tips that we can take from the way that a corporate operates?

Use the right language

We can achieve what we need to for the scheme members, and build a true partnership with the sponsor, if we think more like a corporate board. If we can present the strategy for the scheme in a language that they can understand, then they will be more likely to buy into it. Think about how your plans for the scheme can be a benefit to their business. If it is possible to define success as a stable balance sheet, lower risk for the sponsor, known cashflows for the long term, reduction in management time or a positive P&L impact, you may be able to start a more constructive conversation about improving funding and reducing risk.

Shop around for the best ideas and advice

Trustees have traditionally stayed loyal to their scheme actuary – trusting them to guide their funding strategy and perform many tasks, from calculations to member communications. This consistency can be helpful, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend changing your current advisers unless there is a concern, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to other people.

Just as my son tells me that the same Lloyd minifigure cannot be placed interchangeably into each of his Ninjago Lego sets (how many parents out there can really tell the difference between the Ninja outfits from one series to the next?), I wonder if the same adviser can perform brilliantly in all the scenarios that a trustee places them in?

To design engaging communications that resonate with different groups of employees, a corporate probably wouldn’t start by talking to someone with an actuarial qualification. As trustees, try having a conversation with a pensions communication expert – they may just give you a completely different perspective. Equally, if a corporate is going to engage in a significant project, they are likely to bring in an adviser that is an expert in that field. As trustees carrying out a project, we should also explore all the different options in the market and engage a firm that is highly experienced in that area.

There are lots of great ideas out there and huge value in getting a second opinion. Pick up the phone to another adviser – I’m confident that they would be happy to have a coffee and share their views. You can be sure that your corporate sponsor is having several similar free conversations about their business.

Assess the skills of your board

The board of a corporate will be made up of specialists with the collective skills required to run the business. Ideally a trustee board should be configured in the same way. Unfortunately, there are often not enough candidates for trustees to make this possible. Advisers can often fill the gap but, just as a corporate would bring in a specialist for a project where they do not have the required skills or time to devote to it, efficiency and decision making could be improved if trustee boards brought in a new trustee on a long-term or project basis to fill key skills gaps.

Of course, not all corporate approaches are necessarily appropriate when applied to a trustee board, but if we walk in their shoes we are better placed to truly understand their point of view and genuinely work towards achieving outcomes that are best for the scheme, the sponsor, and the member alike. 

This blog first appeared in Pension Funds Insider. To continue reading, please click here.

Share this post

About Us

PTL is an award-winning provider of independent trustee and governance services, serving clients across the UK. Our specialist team of professional trustees deliver a pragmatic, personable and professional service to help you effectively manage your scheme.