The Coronavirus has been, rightly, taking the headlines recently, but it’s important to take a step back sometimes and appraise just how well our industry has coped during these difficult times says PLSA Chair Richard Butcher.
I have been having many virtual trustee meetings. These things aren’t easy, but over the last few months we’ve worked out some pretty good rules to get through them. In fact, the scheme actuary later mentioned to me that this was an “unusually jolly board” (maybe actuaries have a low bar for jolly), so it can’t be all bad. Certainly I love the chance to see attendees homes – the wallpaper, the pictures, the books, nick-knacks and of course, and this is one inviolable rule, the passing children, partners or pets who have to wave hello.
The Coronavirus crisis has been a hugely testing time for us all. I’m conscious that we, the pensions industry, are, generally, really lucky. The demands on us have continued (although maybe not quite as normal) and, as a tech-based business, we have a set-up that allows us to work from home. Compared to, say, the hospitality sector, our jobs feel safe and our future fairly assured. If you take, for instance, NHS staff (and I speak as the husband of a nurse) we don’t have to put our health much less our life on the line to go to work. The worst extents of our crisis has been having to balance a laptop on the ironing board in the spare bedroom.
But, that all said, I think we do need to pause for a moment.
The pensions industry doesn’t have a spokesperson but, as chair of the industry association, the PLSA, I guess my job description must come as close as a few others to that function. So I want to say something.
It occurred to me as my team of trustees, our actuaries, consultants, secretary and investment consultants weaved our way through a long, almost, BAU agenda today: we, my team but also the wider pensions industry, have done a fantastic job. Despite the personal tragedies we individually have had, the discomfort we’ve all felt or are feeling, the upheaval of losing our workplaces and proximity to our colleagues, we have cracked on.
The pension payroll has been run every month, providing security to millions of people. We have continued to debate and pay deaths in service benefits, providing, if not comfort at loss, at least some financial reassurance at the time it’s most needed. We’ve continued to try and steer DB funding in a sensible, prudent direction despite the unprecedented circumstances. We’ve debated and executed investment decisions, we’ve assessed covenants, we’ve communicated to members, signed off the annual audit and updated member records. We have, put simply, carried on with business as usual albeit in an unusual way. And we’ve done that with minimum fuss, disruption or drop off in quality. All from a laptop balanced on an ironing board.
Maybe I’m getting above myself, but as Chair of your association, can I just say how proud I am to be one of you and, also, of you for the way you’ve handled this situation. We may not get, or even deserve, a Thursday evening round of applause but there are millions out there who owe you a debt of thanks.