Chief Executive's Opening Speech at ESG Conference 2022 | PLSA

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Chief Executive's Opening Speech at ESG Conference 2022

09 March 2022

Hello. Welcome to the PLSA’s first major event of the year.

I’m sure it won’t be the last time I speak to PLSA members on a screen, but I hope it will be the last time that this is the only way I get to speak to you.

It has been almost two years: we were last all together in person on 13 March 2020.

This conference is online because we planned it when we were facing the peak of Omicron. And because it’s about ESG and the relationship between pensions, people and planet.

Coming together digitally means that unlike some other climate-related conferences, any Hollywood celebrities in the audience don’t need to arrive by private jet.

But this year we will speak to PLSA members in-person and on a big scale once again, in Edinburgh, in Gloucestershire, and in Liverpool.

Face-to-face events have always been central to our role. the way the PLSA serves our members, fulfils our role and shapes the pensions industry.

STRATEGY

The PLSA exists to help everyone achieve a better income in retirement. That has been our commitment for the seven years we’ve been known as the PLSA.

Of course we’ve been around a lot longer – 99 years this year in fact.

A mission statement that talks about scheme members might sound like one for the modern pensions world of defined contribution and difficult choices for savers.

But pensions came into being to eradicate poverty in old age rather than as an employment benefit.

And this organisation’s earliest policy work focused on convincing the government that pensions tax relief would help. So that debate has been going on since 1923.

Today the meaning of a better income in retirement might be very different to 1923.

A better income depends on better contributions, better choices made at retirement, and now a commitment to investing contributions in better things than industries or businesses that threaten our planet.

All of this – and much more – is within our power, and as the voice of workplace pensions and savings, the PLSA is here to help our members improve retirement incomes.

And as we approach our 100th anniversary in 2023, we’ve taken stock of the needs of our members and their members and set five key objectives to make sure we continue to serve you.

They are:

  • Improving pensions policy
  • Engaging our members effectively
  • Investing in our people and systems
  • Maintaining our financial sustainability
  • And bringing our industry together.

Improving pensions policy

Our work for PLSA members starts with our policy and advocacy – the work we do on your behalf to change the pensions world for the better, and avoid regulation that might change it for the worst.

It’s absolutely central to what the PLSA does and why we exist. And we’ll continue to lobby for the right policy framework, producing thought leadership reports and major policy initiatives to set out our vision.

Earlier this year we set out our policy goals, and at the top of the list is championing a policy framework that means most people will have an adequate income in retirement.

That means:

Making sure the government follows through with its commitment to extend automatic enrolment to include younger people and pension saving from the first pound of earnings from the middle of this decade.

Increasing minimum employer pension contributions from 3% to 5% - to match the level of employee contributions - by the end of this decade.

This would take us towards our ultimate aim:

That from the early 2030s we see an extra increase of 1% for both employers and employees, to bring total automatic enrolment pension contributions to 12%.

Our other key goals are to help all of our members – DB, DC and local authorities – prepare for pensions dashboards and make sure consumers are protected.

We’ll also continue to represent you in responding to TPR’s proposals for a reform of the DB funding code, with flexibility a key aim.

For DB and DC members, we’ll play our part in Responsible Investment and Stewardship, working across our industry to follow-through on COP26 and continuing to produce guidance and support for schemes.

Local Authorities are a huge and influential sector of our membership, and we’re articulating the challenges facing the Local Government Pension Scheme and the action required.

And in DC Decumulation, we’re campaigning for the adoption of our Guided Retirement Income Choices proposals to help members get the right support when they draw their pension.

We’ll work with you in those big strategic aims to secure the right policy framework. And meanwhile we’ll continue to represent your views tactically as we deal with regulatory change.

In 2021 we responded to almost 50 government and regulatory consultations on pensions – including more than a handful on ESG issues.

Responding to these on your behalf isn’t glamorous work even when the subjects are, and it comes with relentless tight deadlines, but it’s vital to representing our members. Over the next three years, we’ll keep responding to whatever comes our way.

And to get all of this across to the right people, we’ll continue to increase our profile with the media and key stakeholders.

Our Retirement Living Standards update launched shortly after I spoke to you at our Annual Conference last year had significant national media courage,

– and the standards themselves now reach around 15 million people as more and more schemes and providers make them part of their tools.

Engaging our members effectively

I often talk to PLSA members about the support we give you through accessible and expert content based on your needs.

Over the next three years we’ll be working behind the scenes to improve the way we measure your engagement with the work we do and to better use the data and intelligence we get from you.

And better use includes playing back that insight to more of you. We want you to understand how your insight and support contributes to the difference we make through policy and lobbying.

That’s one way we’ll aim to improve PLSA member feedback on every area of our work: policy, advocacy, events, networking, digital, communications, engagement and overall value-for-money.

Investing in our people and systems

Internal growth is essential too. Not in terms of recruitment, but in terms of developing and retaining the great team we have who work incredibly hard for our members.

We will invest in them and equip them with tools they need to have the maximum impact for you.

We will prioritise doing the right things in the right way. With new digital platforms, new skills in tech, and high staff engagement with the PLSA and its work. As you know, happy people perform better.

Financial sustainability

Of course to underpin all of this we need to look after the PLSA’s finances on your behalf – because our members own us.

Over 2022-2024 we’re implementing the phased increases to member subscriptions that we consulted on last summer. This means our membership income base will reflect consolidation in the industry.

But we know we have to earn that money every year. We have high membership retention rates, and all of the work I’ve talked about will keep them high.

Bringing the industry together

And of course, the reason I’m talking to you today: bringing the industry together, digitally or in-person, remains critical.

We think it’s best practice to share best practice through genuine interaction between everyone involved in our industry. You can’t achieve anything, follow any purpose, without a community.

We want to create and share insights that build the pensions community and add value to your jobs.

And we also want to inspire you – if investing in the future of our planet isn’t inspiring enough – with voices and perspectives from science, the arts, the media and others we can learn from.

So we’ll continue to put on the best pensions conferences, and support them with the digital events we’ve all adjusted to in the last 24 months, and target the highest levels of satisfaction from you, the people attending them.

Responsible Investment / ESG

This week, we’re bringing the industry together to talk about ESG.

Over the last few years we’ve seen such a surge in desire to invest responsibly.

We’ve also seen a surge in regulation and reporting.

That’s why ESG has been the number one priority for our members for over a year.

The PLSA is working over the long-term for the long-term future of our pensions, people and planet.

We’ve seen the successful implementation of a large number of the policy recommendations from our Changing Climate report, published in late 2020.

Last year we published Towards a Greener Future: Case Studies From The Pension Sector – which sets out what our members have learned on how to embrace green investing, including producing a first TCFD report.

And since then we’ve worked with Investment Association and the Association of British Insurers on a new template to help schemes obtain the data they need for TCFD. Our work on the CTI and Implementation Statement templates proves that these tools help our members.

We’ve also been working with the IA on a project to encourage good stewardship throughout the investment chain.

And meanwhile our voting guidelines, with their increased emphasis on ESG issues, as well as our research on social factors, continue to be influential.

conclusion

Whatever your responsible investment aim, the PLSA is here and working on your behalf to help you achieve it.

We’re improving pensions policy in this and many other areas across DC, DB and the LGPS.

We’re bringing our industry together to help you combine your expertise to help everyone achieve a better income in retirement.

And in our 99th year, we’re making sure the PLSA continues to have the strength and expertise to make an impact in the future.

So thank you for watching – live or on demand. And thank you to all of the speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, and the PLSA team, who have all worked so hard to make this conference happen.

We look forward to working with you.