Rachel Pine looks forward to this year’s Investment Conference – the most ambitious we’ve ever presented.
Investment Conference 2020 took place from 11-13 March, and many of us arrived in Edinburgh just as the scale and import of the pandemic was becoming terrifyingly clear. Scotland began to close down around us, and none of us would have imagined that a year would go by and we wouldn’t have met in person again.
When we at the PLSA started to think about Investment Conference this past summer, we had been working from home for several months, and many of us had finished the first round of home schooling. Our homes became not just our offices and schools but our gyms and cinemas, too, and we had grown accustomed to not seeing family, friends and colleagues, and to not doing many of the things we enjoy. At the same time, the Brexit deadline edged closer and concerns about our future trading relationships with Europe and other nations were yet another source of worry.
Clearly, we had gone beyond any place, either physical or imagined, that we’d ever dreamed of. We had new ways of working and new ways of interacting with each other. The UK had new borders, in a sense, and our industry might need to work to different regulations, beyond ones that we had established in the past. Beyond any doubt, we were in a place that was – well, just beyond.
But the work of the pensions industry must continue – our members provide retirement income for some 30 million savers, with £1.3 trillion in assets – so we must push forward. And while things looked bleak, the investment community identified bright spots and opportunities in a world that didn’t seem to have many.
Those bright spots and opportunities are well represented over the three days of the conference where speakers from our fund and business members – 106 of them – will be discussing and presenting these ideas. We’ll be talking about investment in areas like residential property and logistics – who doesn’t know someone who bought a house this year, or shopped online a bit more than they’d like to admit?
New ways of considering how DC investment works – from including private markets in DC defaults (once nearly impossible), through assessing how the ‘safety’ portion of a DC portfolio can still deliver less-volatile returns in our nearly- no-interest world, to managing investment during the decumulation phase – are critical to understand as auto-enrolment matures and the amount of assets under management in DC schemes and master trusts builds.
The climate emergency is given plenty of attention here as well. As regulations around pensions’ climate risks tighten, we present several sessions that demonstrate how schemes can look at climate and ESG more broadly, with new research, ideas on responsible investment in equities and fixed income. We take a closer look at impact investment, with ideas on how pensions investment can assist in easing some of society’s historic inequities.
And that’s not to mention a good amount of nuts and bolts conversations around issues like buy-ins, longevity risk and the new DB funding code, for example, each of which is covered within the programme.
We’re using Investment Conference 2021 to go beyond pensions too, to get views on many subjects that will inform not just financial markets but society and governments around the world in the months and years to come. These views are coming from a wide range of speakers, including ITV’s Robert Peston, who will talk about goings-on at Whitehall; Lord Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry, on the health of UK plc – plan sponsors to us – and how they are evolving with the times; Dr Devi Sridhar, the epidemiologist who advises Nicola Sturgeon will talk to us about how this pandemic is likely to end, and what we can do to guard against other viruses that may be waiting in the wings; Miles Celic of TheCityUk, on how the UK financial services industry’s post-Brexit regulatory architecture is evolving; Baroness Helena Morrissey of the Diversity Project on why she has turned her attention to addressing gender inequality within the fund management industry; and Lord Adair Turner on the cooperation and pragmatism necessary to unite global governments to get to net zero by 2050.
All this is to say that we’ve gone beyond our previous benchmarks to try to present a programme of speakers and subjects that goes beyond anything we’ve presented before.
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