Our CEO recently spoke to Mandie Bird, senior pensions management consultant and Fellow of the Pensions Management Institute. She gave her take on how her role has changed and developed in recent years.
Mandie Bird is a senior pension management consultant specialising in providing pension scheme trustees with secretarial and governance services. She is responsible for liaising with the trustees’ advisers and the scheme sponsor to ensure that actions from trustee meetings are followed up and that the trustees are meeting all of their statutory obligations and Pensions Regulator guidance. She also provides trustee training. She is qualified as a Fellow of the Pensions Management Institute.
‘I can be involved in reviewing premiums for indemnity insurance and other governance issues, for example having an up-to-date risk register in place, complying with conflicts of interest and anti-bribery legislation. Trustees might also delegate some of their duties to me, for example dealing with any member disputes, making suggestions for payment of discretionary death benefits or authorising the expenses of the scheme.’
‘One example of a difficult situation I might deal with on defined benefit schemes is employers who are struggling to meet the financial burden of the pension scheme. This is quite often in relation to a workforce that isn’t there anymore – the employer can be contributing a significant amount of funds to provide benefits for people who have either retired or left employment, but the employer is still under an obligation to provide these benefits. This has contributed to some employers going into administration and schemes moving to the PPF (Pension Protection Fund).’
‘There is a negotiation process between the sponsor and the trustees to agree a schedule of contributions that can be certified by the scheme’s actuary as adequate in order to meet the benefits promised by the scheme. There is also dialogue around the length of the payment period. My role is to help manage the meetings, minute the advice and negotiations correctly, and make sure that the trustees are meeting all of their statutory obligations. I will also help the trustees to meet their roles and responsibilities in considering all the facts in order to make an informed decision.’ The advice and decision making process needs to be recorded correctly and, once a decision has been made, I will monitor actions of the relevant parties.
I am also involved in member communications: providing details of current topics relating to the scheme, headline accounts figures, what’s been happening on the trustee board, and any new legislation that affects members’ benefits.’
The Changing Face of Pensions
Mandie told us how her role has had to change over the years.
‘There’s so much regulation and guidance in force these days; every time there is a change in pensions it just adds to the trustees’ responsibilities. More often than not, you can’t take away what was there before, you still have to meet those obligations, but then comply with new requirements as well. It’s an ever increasing burden on trustees’ duties and that’s why the pension scheme secretary role, which is what I do, has become much more of a professional appointment. In years gone by it might have been one of the trustees who also acted as secretary, or there may have been a secretary from the sponsor attending meetings to take minutes. However, in today’s environment there is much more governance on the trustees’ agenda and the scheme secretary has become a full-time appointment in its own right, with much more responsibility than just writing minutes. You could probably write a job description for a scheme secretary (in fact some people do), and that’s one of the reasons why as a firm we offer this role as a standalone service. More and more trustees are appointing professional secretarial services these days.
It’s almost like a new profession, rather than just an add-on to something else. When I first started my pension career we provided secretarial services as part of our administration or actuarial services. Today’s pensions world needs administrators, actuaries and pension scheme secretaries. That’s the way it’s evolved.