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Why become a pension scheme trustee

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Taking on the role of a trustee, is a significant responsibility. The decisions, trustees make will hugely influence member outcomes, ultimately impacting the lives of members currently in pension schemes.

I entered the pensions industry as a trainee actuary in the wake of the Robert Maxwell scandal, when new legislation in the form of the Pensions Act 1995 was being introduced. It was a time for optimism in the pensions industry, with new safeguards coming into force to protect pensions and restore public confidence in the system.

Now, nearly twenty-five years on, there are new challenges to face. Dramatic falls in interest rates have given rise to sizeable pension scheme deficits. There have been further significant events with serious implications for pensions – Enron, BHS and Carillion to name just a few high profile cases. Freedom and choice, whilst giving members considerable flexibility, has introduced additional complexity for members when making decisions at retirement. With advances in technology, pension schemes and their members face new threats from cyber-attacks and scams that can have devastating consequences.

There is much work still to be done in order to repair deficits in poorly funded schemes and help members engage with their pension schemes, understand the value of their benefits and become more empowered to make informed decisions.
Taking on the role of a trustee of a pension scheme is therefore, without doubt, a significant responsibility. The actions you take and the decisions you make as a trustee will hugely influence member outcomes, ultimately impacting the lives of the millions of members currently in trust based occupational pension schemes.

It is not surprising that the bar for the expected standards trustees need to meet is rising, and over my career I have seen some big changes on trustee boards, with a genuine drive to improve the standards of governance, and with trustee boards diligently taking steps to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out their responsibilities. In some cases, this has included recruiting a professional independent trustee to the board and this is a trend that I would expect to see continue, with the constantly changing pensions landscape becoming ever more complex.

Often the decision to recruit an independent trustee can arise because trustee boards find it increasingly difficult to recruit new trustees, whether as employer-nominated trustees from within the business, or member nominated trustees from within the pension scheme membership (which can, for example, include former employees currently in receipt of their pension).

It is understandable that someone who has not spent their career as a pensions professional would feel daunted by the prospect of acquiring all the necessary knowledge and understanding in order execute their duties as a trustee appropriately. There is no doubt that a significant time commitment is required to take on the role of a trustee. However, I would argue that becoming a trustee is also a very rewarding experience. It is an opportunity to help others and make a difference, and it is well worth the time commitment gaining the necessary pensions knowledge and understanding.

Trustees from different backgrounds can also bring a wealth of different skills, experience and perspectives and with an increasingly diverse workforce, it is so important that pension scheme trustee boards are fully representative, to ensure they have an in-depth understanding of the membership and their needs.

So I would encourage anyone who, next time, is approached about becoming a trustee of their pension scheme, to take the time to consider this carefully. You may have diverse skills you can bring to complement those of other existing trustees, and so long as you are willing and able to put in the required time to discharge your responsibilities diligently, by becoming a trustee of a pension scheme you could make a real difference to member outcomes.

Clare James, Client Director at PTL