The PLSA’s Trustee Training courses bring industry experts together with trustees at different stages in their careers. Maggie Williams caught up with Carolyn Saunders, leader of our ‘Part 1: The Theory’ introduction to trusteeship and co-developer of and trainer on our Part 2 and 3 courses.
What are some of the highlights of the Part 1 trustee training? What can delegates expect on the course?
The Part 1 course is an introduction for new trustees with less than 12 months’ experience, and for prospective trustees with no experience in trusteeship at all.
It covers basics such as trustee powers and duties, decision-making, how schemes are financed including the basics of scheme funding for DB schemes, investment, and how to ensure good standards of governance. Everyone should leave the course with a much better understanding of their role and feeling that it has put trusteeship into context for them.
One of the biggest strengths of our course is the practical way in which it’s delivered. It’s not a dry session that simply pumps delegates full of information – although, of course, we do provide a lot of detail. We want to help trustees put their new knowledge into context, understand how they fit within their scheme, and explore ways they can work effectively with advisers. We make the course as interactive and accessible as possible, to encourage plenty of questions.
That means no two courses are ever the same because, alongside the core materials that we deliver, the sessions are shaped by the questions that we’re asked by delegates. There’s usually between 12 and 20 people on the course, which allows everyone an opportunity to participate and get answers to the questions that are important to them. We are as flexible as possible and really want to accommodate individual trustee needs.
Why is it important to do trustee training with an organisation like the PLSA?
It’s important to train in a live environment like the one the PLSA offers because it facilitates questions and interaction between trustees, both in the sessions and also during breaks. Delegates who haven’t had a chance to ask their question, or who feel a bit inhibited about asking in front of a group, can chat to the presenters during breaks, giving them a further opportunity to explore their questions and concerns.
Another important aspect of live training which it’s difficult to replicate online is the opportunity to swap experiences with and learn from other trustees outside your own scheme. Many trustee boards will have live training sessions with their advisers, and that is also very valuable. But meeting with trustees from other schemes helps provide wider perspectives, especially for new recruits.
All of the presenters on the PLSA’s courses are also practitioners, so that adds real-world experience to the content. We can help trustees to see how ideas and knowledge work in practice, which gives a different flavour to the training.
The courses also give trustees the opportunity to network and build connections with their peers, which is invaluable. They will meet other trustees who are at a similar stage to themselves, which they won’t necessarily get from their own board. Participants can swap experiences on the day and continue those networks after the training course has finished.
What are the current hot topics that you’ll be including in 2023’s training courses?
There is a lot of change coming. The next few years will be very busy for trustees and their advisers. Many of the trustees we see are responsible for DB schemes, so The Pensions Regulator’s (TPR) DB Funding Code will be very significant, and we’re anticipating that will be operational from October 2023. TPR’s Single Code of Practice is also imminent, which is more than a simple consolidation of existing codes. It will require trustees to prove that they have an effective system of governance, and to carry out annual assessments of that governance.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment is ever-present and fast evolving, although trustees’ commitments will depend on the size and complexity of their scheme. However, diversity will become more of a focus for all schemes this year. TPR has published its action plan for equality, diversity and inclusion, and I think we’ll see more about this in the finalised single code of practice as well.
Pensions Dashboards are another important area, especially for larger schemes that will need to comply sooner.
Beyond specific topics, the biggest ongoing priority for trustees is understanding what types of questions they should be asking and how to challenge their advisers. Trustees don’t have to understand the technicalities of something to be able to ask good questions; quite often it’s enough to say, ‘I don’t understand’. A scheme’s advisers should be able to explain anything that’s unclear, and it’s important to help trustees understand how to question advisers and consultants. Having practitioner experience on the course is invaluable in this respect.
What do you personally look forward to about the courses?
I’ve been teaching on the PLSA’s courses for over 14 years now. During that time the courses and the way in which they’re delivered has evolved significantly. I enjoy doing what is needed to make the courses as engaging as possible, and I enjoy the fact that every group of delegates is different. They have different questions, which keeps everything fresh and interesting for me and the other presenters. It keeps us on our toes – and it keeps me in touch with those issues that are at the top of trustees’ minds.
You’ll often get asked questions in training that trustees feel they can’t ask in their own board environment, because they feel they should know the answers already. We hope that through this course we give trustees competence and confidence, demystify key topics, and say that it’s okay to ask questions and fill knowledge gaps. And if you don’t understand what your adviser is telling you, it’s important to ask them to explain it.
How does Part 1 of the training link to Part 2 and Part 3?
Part 1 is very much the foundation. As we’re working with new trustees, we need to make sure that everyone receives a good grounding in the basics of trusteeship, in a practical way. As we move onto Parts 2 and 3, these are more case-study based and focused on putting skills into practice.
In Part 2 and Part 3, we divide trustees up into groups and encourage them to think through real-life situations such as how they might handle a death-in-service benefit, or how to deal with corporate events such as a takeover. It’s about making sure that trustees don’t feel intimidated by what might appear to be a very complicated situation, that they know how to drill down into detail if they don’t understand something, and have some commonsense questions that they can ask.
Find out more about our training dates for 2023.