Terry Ritchie , introduces a new virtual approach to training at the PLSA and beyond.
How has the Covid-19 crisis affected trustee training?
We’ve all had to change our mindset over the past year as a result of the pandemic. Face-to-face training still isn’t practical or desirable at the moment, and the PLSA has been developing its trustee training so that it can be delivered virtually.
In the longer term, when work and travel practices have stabilised, learners could have a choice between face-to-face and virtual methods, as both have different advantages. Face-to-face training brings benefits such as enabling presenters to observe delegates’ body language and gauge their level of understanding. Tasks that require collaborative working in a group, such as case studies, can also be delivered more easily in person. And, of course, you won’t have a problem with your wi-fi signal dropping out!
However, virtual training can offer greater flexibility – there’s minimal travelling time, and training can be delivered more cost-effectively. It also means that we can deliver information in bite-sized chunks. Rather than packing everything into a single day course, we can divide up the materials and have, for example, a session on legal requirements and actuarial work, then cover governance, investment matters, and annual reports and accounts on another day. Delegates also have more control over accessing training at a time that suits them. As technology develops and we get more comfortable with it, we’ll be able to replicate even more parts of the face-to-face experience online.
What are the key topics that trustees need to learn about?
Most core subjects – such as the role of the trustee, legal considerations, actuarial, governance, and understanding the annual report and accounts – remain the same as ever.
However, there will be new and updated directives from The Pensions Regulator linked to many of these areas. For example, the need to publish DB schemes’ Statement of Investment Principles online is new, as well as the requirement to produce an Implementation Statement for both DB and DC schemes. The content of the SIP is also changing, to include information on how schemes are addressing ESG issues and stewardship. Investment strategies are also coming under the microscope, with changes to the Defined Benefit Funding Code on the horizon.
Another key issue for DB trustees is the employer covenant. Even seemingly strong covenants could be severely tested by the effects of Covid-19 and ongoing uncertainty over Brexit. I have focused a lot on the covenant recently in my own trustee work, and we’re likely to see more emphasis from TPR on making sure trustees review the strength of the covenant regularly.
One key message that is applicable for all trustees is to make sure that they remain up to date with the latest requirements from TPR. Both new and experienced trustees need to make sure they stay on top of these, and we’ll always include a session in our training to recap on recent changes. All trustees should also make sure they keep their continuous professional development (CPD) up to date, reflect on whether their knowledge is sufficiently current, and ask themselves if there’s any additional training they need from their advisers.
We saw accreditation introduced recently for professional trustees – should member-nominated trustees also be required to have a qualification?
The Trustee Knowledge and Understanding programme from the Regulator is very user-friendly, and provides a lot of sensible guidance. That is augmented with CPD requirements which trustees should be addressing as part of their role.
Beyond that, a qualification might be a step too far for many member-nominated trustees, especially as the demands of the role are becoming ever-greater and TPR more vigilant. Pensions are always complicated, but with the overlay of the pandemic and other factors, there is already so much for trustees to consider and learn as part of their role.
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