The future starts here

THE FUTURE STARTS HERE

Julian Mund may only just have taken up his role as the PLSA’s CEO, but he is already looking at the next five years.  Be prepared to get involved, says Maggie Williams

“Busy, intense - and enjoyable.” Julian Mund is describing his first month as the new CEO of the PLSA. “And, it’s really exciting. This is a fantastic organisation with huge potential. There’s lots to get my teeth into.” 

We are sitting in Mund’s office, recently vacated by the PLSA’s long-standing former CEO, Joanne Segars. A well-respected face across the pensions industry, Segars was also a figurehead for the PLSA and its campaigning activities.  In comparison, Mund’s four years as the organisation’s Commercial Services Director are his total experience in pensions, although he has worked in related fields. How does he feel about following on from her remarkable tenancy? “Joanne is an impossible act to follow and I don’t want to try to replicate her. My emphasis will be on running the organisation, of setting and driving our strategy.”

PLSA Chief Executive Julian MundWhile Mund might see himself as strategist rather than spokesperson, the PLSA will not be reining back its policy positions.  “Policy remains at the core of what we do.  We have an incredibly strong Director of External Affairs in Graham Vidler. He and his wider team are visible and passionate. Our members also come together through the Councils to discuss policy positions and future work.”

Mund’s vision involves giving members a greater say – and is far from ‘business as usual’. “We have the potential to do so much more and be so much stronger.  I want to be clear on what we will achieve over the next five years, to 2022. What will be different, and what will success look like?”

Now, argues Mund, is the ideal time to look at the component parts of that vision. It starts close to home, with the 50 people who form the core staff of the PLSA. “I want to make sure that, with a change of CEO, they really continue to enjoy working here, and for there to be a great atmosphere and vibe.  It’s important that they feel they can buy into the new leadership and vision.” 

The change in leadership extends beyond Mund’s appointment. Current Chair Lesley Williams is due to hand over the role to Richard Butcher, managing director of PTL, at the Annual Conference in October.  Both the DB and DC Councils will also welcome new chairs at the same time, with Chris Hogg taking the helm at the DB Council (replacing Frank Johnson), and Carol Young the DC Council, replacing Butcher.

“Yes, it’s a lot of change, but different people bring different ways of thinking, different approaches, new priorities and a breath of fresh air,” explains Mund.  “The PLSA is used to a changing leadership on the board, so really the impact is minimal.  And, the new chairs have all been involved in the organisation’s governance already.”  With Williams continuing on the PLSA’s board after she relinquishes her current position, that blend of continuity plus new ideas looks set to continue into the future.

Mund intends to use the influx of new faces and new ideas to best advantage right from the start.  He is currently reviewing the PLSA’s strategy, to ensure that, given the ongoing changes in the industry it represents, the organisation and its values remain fit for purpose. “We need to think about what these changes mean for members.  What are their policy priorities and their financial objectives?  We also need to think about whether the PLSA itself has suitable skills and capabilities. We need to give ourselves the time to do an expert job on what is required, and deliver value for money.”

The views of PLSA members sit at the heart of Mund’s approach.  Through his Commercial Services Director role, he is well versed in the priorities of the PLSA’s commercial partners. Now, he is on a mission to learn as much about the pension scheme membership as possible, to really understand how the organisation can best represent and support them.

“We are laying the foundations for a bigger mandate,” he says.  “But we need to be member-centric and listen to their concerns. I want to explore a more disciplined approach to how we do that, and to make sure that the information members give us really gets absorbed into what we do. How can we find ways to make it easier for members to engage with each other, and with us?”

Surely the PLSA’s conferences already provide the ideal opportunity for all of the PLSA’s members, both scheme and commercial, to meet up face to face. “The conferences are a great way to bring people together, but I think there needs to be other routes too, such as taking advantage of mobile devices.”

The operational and strategic direction for the PLSA is only part of the picture. There is also the small matter of the changes and challenges within the pensions industry itself.  “The pace of change is incredible, and there are so many areas to address. Adequacy – coverage, contribution rates and outcomes - is a big issue now and for the future. I want the PLSA to be at the heart of that.” The enduring challenge of engaging scheme members (“our members’ members”) of all ages with their pensions and broader savings is also high on the agenda.

A third area of focus for Mund is the future of DB pensions. This was placed firmly in the spotlight at the 2017 Investment Conference, when the PLSA’s DB Taskforce released The Case for Consolidation, a proposal looking at new solutions to the funding and governance challenges faced by DB schemes. This, says Mund, will continue to be a “really important” focus for the organisation.

This year’s annual conference theme is “Decoding the future”, delving into the worlds of work, savings and retirement, and how these might change in the future.  “These themes aren’t just about the cutting-edge leaders and keynote speakers, but about equipping delegates with tools they can use, helping them think about what they need in the future.”

As Mund and his new colleagues set about decoding the future of the PLSA, the organisation is clearly at the start of a new chapter in its history. With the help of its members, Mund is confident that he will build on the PLSA’s current strengths to help steer not only its own future but also that of pensions and lifetime savings in general.

Quick-fire questions

Which university did you go to? 

I studied at the University of London for my bachelor’s degree in maths, and studied for my master’s in policy research at Bristol University. 

Football or rugby?  

When it comes to football, I’m a passionate Aston Villa supporter.  I’m trying to convert my seven-year-old son, but their current form isn’t helping my case.  I really enjoy watching international rugby, but despite a fondness for Birmingham Moseley, I don’t follow it at club level any more.  

What are you reading?  

I’ve just finished The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, a fictionalised life of the composer Shostakovich.  Next in my book pile is Nutshell by Ian McEwan.  I like to have a work read to dip into as well. At the moment that’s Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must-Reads On Strategy.

What’s your favourite driving music?  

I drive to the station every work day, but then I’ll favour the Today programme rather than music. When my wife and son are in the car, they take control and that means my son’s pop music.  

What was your last holiday?  

I’ve just come back from a break with immediate and wider family in Gran Canaria.  I’ve also been to Dartmouth Regatta, where we watched the Red Arrows, military planes, and ships coming down the Dart river.

What’s your favourite meal? 

If you offer me a chilli-con-carne and a jar of jalapeno peppers, I will never complain.  But my all-time favourite is a Balti. It reminds me of childhood meals in Birmingham. The restaurants always served naan breads that seemed to be at least as big as the table – no matter how large the table was!