We are now moving optimistically into the brighter, warmer weather of the spring and summer, the lockdown slowly lifting. While we all look forward to enjoying the lighter evenings and the re-opening of restaurants and pubs, in the pensions arena there is still a lot of work to be done.
As the lockdown dragged on… (and on), we saw trustees and schemes with work piling up, some of it being deferred, and lots of changes in key team members and resourcing. As we begin to mix the old and the new ways of working, it is essential that the day-to-day running of schemes continues to deliver quality services to members and to support the trustee in achieving their objectives.
Key team members retiring
The pandemic gave everyone pause for thought and many have brought forward their retirements or looked to make long hoped-for career changes. We have seen Pension Managers and key trustee support staff retiring over the past year, leaving some schemes struggling to fill in for key people and the loss of knowledge and history that comes with it.
In many cases, the gap has needed plugging with interim support whilst longer term decisions are taken. On a number of occasions over the past year, we have stepped in to provide that immediate support to trustees and sponsors to help make sure that the scheme is able to continue to deliver its day-to-day activity, drive forward strategy and run effective trustee meetings.
This has often been at short notice and with a ‘baptism of fire’ to get up to speed, familiarise with the schemes ongoing activity and to establish good, collaborative working relationships quickly.
One of the early trends we saw over the past year, was the decision to defer or delay projects. At the time, we highlighted the need to avoid getting bogged down in the urgent at the expense of those important projects that move the trustee strategy forward or deliver much needed operational change. As we have all settled into remote working, these important projects have regained focus and impetus.
With resourcing challenges being such a common theme, increased project workloads made the issue all the more acute. Several clients have asked us to step in to drive forward discrete project activity collaborating closely with the existing wider pensions team – who have been very grateful for an extra pair of hands.
Meetings and agenda
Remote meetings have become the norm in the Trustee world, but will this continue once face-to-face meetings become a real possibility? Or will we be finding ourselves in a hybrid way of working – some people in the room and others on video?
Experience to date shows that running these types of hybrid meetings can be challenging. It can be manageable where one or two joins virtually but adds complexity where a meeting is split half and half; particularly around technology, but also for the Chair when trying to build consensus or keep discussion moving.
Equally, virtual meetings are efficient; saving travel time for all and allowing advisers to ‘come and go’ easily from meetings, which keeps costs down. We don’t think we will be abandoning our online etiquette just yet.
It hasn’t been unusual to see Trustee agendas more jam-packed than ever and the pandemic came with a steep learning curve as everything was shunted into the virtual world. Evolving this into new ways of working will require careful management.
A lot of the stresses involved can be alleviated through good planning and meeting management, making sure that meetings are focused, the decisions required are clear and that all are singing from the same song-sheet. This has been an area where we have really helped trustees and sponsors settle into the rhythm of virtual scheme management and trustee meetings, establishing ways of working and making sure that meetings are conducted as effectively as possible through the past year.
Our Trustee Executive Services (TES) has helped a number of schemes both before and during the testing times of the pandemic, by acting as an executive extension of the Trustee Board. Our support can help you to keep momentum on projects or drive forward your strategic agenda, as well as benefitting from the lessons learnt from our work across the market.
If you would like to share some wisdom or recognise some of the issues this short Musing raises, do get in touch. Emerging into new ways of working will be on our collective agenda for some time to come.