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Peter Sparkes: Member nominated trustees: A professional approach

6 Aug 2019

The trustee role I perform is a responsible one and one I take very seriously. After all, the decisions I make along with my fellow trustee affect the life plans and dreams of many thousands of scheme members. 

It concerns me, therefore, to read in the press that many are currently questioning the viability of scheme members as trustees. I believe that member nominated trustees (MNTs) have a unique part to play as they are the only kind of trustee that can see the pension world through the eyes of a member. This is vital, as after all without members, there would be no pensions, nor an industry to support them. But that the question is being asked is right, so it requires a response.

Being an MNT is tough. The role must be balanced with your day job, the expectation that you know what you are doing, the ever-changing demands of regulatory changes/expectations and, of course, your home life.  

For those brave enough to take on the role it becomes clear very quickly that learning on the job is simply not enough, and that if you care to execute it properly, you have to sacrifice personal time in order to learn and develop to an acceptable and ever changing standard. 

We hear from The Pensions Regulator about the need for trustee knowledge and understanding but apart from the toolkit, chargeable education and seminars, you quickly find that options for gaining this are limited to conferences and the few free offerings that are made available. While these are a useful introduction, a base line and framework, they only get you so far.

Adopting a professional approach to the role is, in my view, a key characteristic of any trustee, and for MNTs it is particularly important. Constant development is a must, as is the desire to learn and to constantly upskill in a fast paced ever changing environment where taking a professional approach to the role is key.

When I became a trustee, I recognised that one of the key challenges was the pace of change. Change is here to stay, so keeping up will be key. This is the view of the regulator who clearly understands that the pensions landscape is changing, and there is no reason to believe that this change will stop, as its evolution continues. If the landscape is changing, then so should trustees, and not just MNTs. 

So, is it the end for the MNT? Well yes, for those who are not willing to invest in themselves and their members while pursuing a path that has the members best interests at heart.

For those who are willing, my challenge to the industry is to recognise the unique position a MNT has and the value they can bring to the table, and to see that without this, it’s ultimately the member who would lose out.

As a member nominated trustee, I’m very much alive, and see my position as one of huge responsibility. My primary focus is ensuring that the best possible outcome is achieved for members in a professional, sustainable and well governed manner.

Peter Sparkes is a member nominated trustee of a large defined contribution (DC) scheme and sits on the committee of the Association of Member Nominated Trustees.

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