You may be wondering what a 21st Century pension trustee is? The phrase was coined by Lesley Titcomb, Chief Executive of the Pensions Regulator (tPR), as a way of developing a vision of the skillsets required by pension trustees to deal with the ever-changing complex world of pensions.
To gain a better understanding of the challenges facing pension trustees and to find ways to provide support and training, tPR commissioned OMB Research to engage with a sample of trustees to gather information.
Between March and May 2015, OMB Research surveyed 816 trustees from Defined Benefit (DB), Defined Contribution (DC) and hybrid pension schemes with the aim of assessing the ability of their pension scheme trustees and the effectiveness of the trustee boards to fulfil their roles and responsibilities.
During October 2015, tPR published their initial findings report which made for an interesting read. Some of the headline findings include:
- 49% of schemes with non-professional trustees believed that all of the trustees had a level of Trustee Knowledge and Understanding (TKU) that met the minimum levels set out within the TKU code of practice.
Worryingly, 5% of schemes reported that none of the trustees have the required knowledge while 10% of schemes had not heard of the TKU code.
- 92% of trustees believed that the training and development opportunities for the non-professional trustees were sufficient.
However, less than 50% of the schemes reported that their trustees had undertaken any formal training during the previous 12 months. The majority of trustees reported to have undertaken informal training, with the largest training resource utilised being tPR’s Trustee Toolkit (71%). Furthermore, 32% of schemes do not have a training plan in place or keep a trustees’ training log.
- 58% of schemes rarely disagreed with external advisers (auditors, legal advisers, actuary, etc.) with 24% never disagreeing. No further information was obtained in relation as to whether agreement was reached through lack of understanding or through reaching the same conclusion as the external adviser.
The largest knowledge gaps identified – those areas between what trustees should know and what they do know – included the understanding of pension scheme investments, pensions law and the role and responsibilities of trustees.
Larger schemes displayed better governance than medium and small schemes. The average amount of time spent on trustees’ duties for large, medium and small pension schemes were 16, 12 and nine days per year respectively.
For DC only schemes, an average of nine days per year were spent on trustees’ duties, whereas for schemes with both DB and DC elements more time was spent on DB issues (an average of 10 days per year) than DC issues (an average of two days per year).
So how will these initial findings report help shape what a 21st Century trustee should look like?
An underlying message promoted by the initial findings report is that trustees should actively pursue training and development opportunities to ensure that they are equipped with the requisite knowledge to positively contribute to the running of their respective pension schemes.
Not all trustees will have a background in pensions and it is expected that certain trustees will be more experienced than others on a pension scheme board, however each trustee has the same duty and responsibility to the pension schemes’ members. Therefore, ensuring each trustee is capable of drawing their own conclusion on pension matters will be key.
What training and development opportunities are available to support trustees?
As a starting point, it is recommended that trustees should complete tPR’s Trustee Toolkit. This is a free online learning program which can be tailored, via the Toolkit’s various modules, to meet the needs of their pension schemes and provide trustees with the minimum statutory level of knowledge and understanding. It is worth noting that from time to time tPR updates the Trustee Toolkit modules. Therefore, even if trustees have successfully passed all of the learning modules, it would be beneficial to occasionally log-in to the Trustee Toolkit to check for any updated/new modules which have been added.
Trustees can also undertake the PMI Certificate in Trusteeship which provides knowledge and understanding in line with the requirements of the Pensions Act 2004.
The trustees’ advisers will be able to provide both formal and informal training sessions. Quantum Advisory runs trustee training sessions (for clients/non-clients alike) throughout the year which can cover general areas of trustees’ duties and responsibilities or tailored sessions to meet the trustees’ specific needs. Quantum also runs periodic pension seminars covering topical pension issues. For more information, please visit www.quantumadvisory.co.uk/events
What will 2016 bring?
The initial findings report identified the top two ways of improving the standards of trustees as “training, information and development (47%)” and “qualifications (11%)”.
We would not be surprised if tPR put in place a requirement for trustees to undertake a minimum amount of training and keep an up-to-date log of any training received. Each year more information is required to be disclosed on tPR’s annual pension Scheme Return and we feel it is only a matter of time until tPR may want trustees to demonstrate and provide evidence of any training that has been undertaken if called upon.
On the back of the initial findings report, tPR is currently undertaking further research into the effective operation of trustee boards and the role of training in enhancing board effectiveness. It is expected that tPR will publish these reports during the first half of 2016.
The initial findings report discussed above is entitled “Trustee Landscape Quantitative Research” and can be found under “Trustee Research” at www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/doc-library/research-analysis.aspx