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Some member-nominated trustees are feeling the pull of the industry and would like to apply their experience as professional trustees. Can this work?
More and more defined benefit schemes are being transferred to the insurance sector, giving company-nominated trustees more time to focus on their day job but potentially leaving MNTs – who are often retired – wondering what to do next.
Encouraged by the Pensions Regulator’s recent proposal to have a professional trustee on every scheme – requiring either vastly more professional trustees or a drastic cut in the number of schemes – some MNTs have developed an appetite for joining the growing professional trustee sector.
MNTs keen to ‘plug the gap’
There is scope for experienced MNTs to move into that line of business, believes David Weeks, who co-chairs the Association of Member Nominated Trustees.
“I think there is a role for MNTs to spread their wings,” he said.
Referring to the regulator’s proposal, he added: “There are just not enough professional trustees for 5,500 schemes. Shouldn’t you grab all the sources you’ve got? If you have this pool of MNTs, why not plug the gap?”
But not all MNTs approve of the desire among some to turn professional, saying that trustee work should be carried out pro bono. Currently two-thirds of AMNT members say they are not remunerated.
Before any MNT can think of becoming a professional, they need to have built up a long and strong track record of experience, most trustees agree.
For Terry Alleyne, a member-appointed trustee at the Citibank UK Pension Schemes, this includes experience of buy-ins and buyouts.
“That said, if MNTs have been on a trustee board for 10-plus years, they will have learnt a great deal about the pension industry, their member needs and challenges and taking this forward and making themselves available to other schemes in a professional capacity I believe can only be a good thing,” said Alleyne.
MNTs could also bring a different outlook and skill set to “the usual professional trustees that virtually all emanate from actuary or investment consulting backgrounds”, thus adding diversity of thought, as well as a better understanding of member needs.
Professional trustees give cautious welcome to MNT ambitions
There is scope for MNTs to move to professional status, agreed Nita Tinn, who chairs the Association of Professional Pension Trustees, noting that she knows of some who have thought about such a move.
But Tinn adds that the long-term direction of travel is towards professional trusteeship as “a career choice rather than something which people do once they retire or alongside their day job”. However, MNT experience could be an “excellent starting point for moving to a career in professional trusteeship”, she added.
Moving an MNT to professional status could be seen by some sponsors as “a cheap way of ticking a regulatory box”, but if the individual meets all the requirements and is accredited it is up to them to agree an appropriate market rate for their services, she noted.
Tinn doubts however that MNTs would improve the diversity of trustee boards, “as the typical MNT is now likely to be a retired professional with an ongoing interest in the governance of their own scheme”.
Former MNTs are unlikely to bring something that no professional trustee already has as the existing pool of professional trustee is likely to be more diverse than many realise, argued Jane Beverley, a trustee director at Law Debenture.
But she admitted that “MNTs may bring different cognitive approaches to professional trusteeship, where trustees can use analytical or other skills from their own areas of professional expertise” and “they may well bring considerable experience of liaising directly with pension scheme members, which can be very valuable, particularly at times of change or when dealing with individual member decisions”.
For becoming a professional trustee, the key will be the extent of the individual MNT’s engagement in their existing scheme(s), their knowledge of pensions, governance and investment and their ability to demonstrate that they can contribute to and possibly chair trustee meetings effectively, she said.
“Potential clients would also be likely to expect candidates for a professional trustee appointment to have the PMI’s Award in Trusteeship,” she added.
A job application from a former MNT would be given serious consideration she said. “We already consider a wide range of candidates to ensure that we have a diverse group of professional trustees – and indeed a number of them started their trustee careers as MNTs /trustees in their previous organisations,” according to Beverley.
Professional trustee at Dalriada Trustees Vassos Vassou noted that the tendency for MNTs to have a background in business rather than pensions is a positive attribute, but caveats that “it’s still pensions work we do". While MNTs “might have been strong in the business world, they also need to be strong in the pensions world. When you find somebody like that it’s like gold dust, but it’s hard to find,” he said.
The industry would “very much welcome them as professional trustees”, said Vassou. “There is a skill they bring," he says, "but on a personal level I would just look for the really good ones”.
What is your view – do MNTs have the background to work as professional trustees?