Not for profit organisations – what good do they do?
All year I have been speaking with institutes and associations from the ABI and IA through the PLSA and PMI to ICAEW, ICAS and ACCA . As soon as you start, you don’t know where to stop. Some speak for insurers, some for fund managers, some for pensions , some for accountants. Representatives of these organisations turn up at lobbying events and host meetings of their members.
They publish papers and issue press releases. But what do they actually do? What impact do they have on the market to justify their existence? Do they really speak for the people who pay the subs or are they a leftover from a different era, where social media didn’t exist and where we got our information from bulletins issued by Institutes and Associations.
The democratization of information
Now there is no monopoly of information, nor is there a monopoly on access to Westminster. Consultations are digital and we tend to contribute to the debate ourselves. The days of contributing to an institute’s response to Government are -save for the Institute’s internal workforce, a thing of the past.
As members are empowered to act in their own right, the role of the institute as trusted intermediary is reduced. However, Institutes, unlike associations , have a charter to train. The qualifications from the PMI,CII and the ICAEW and ICAS are meaningful, they confer rights and – so long as those rights are respected, their significances is what Institutes do.
Associations have always been seen as more commercial, they are trade bodies representing a vested interest and their grounds for independence are weak. The worry for Associations is different, if they cannot speak for their members then members will leave and their is no obvious plan B, other than to become a commercial reseller. This is pretty well what the NAPF became, and – I suspect – why it had to rebrand to the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association.
The breakdown of the commercial model
The problems come about when the funding model breaks down. As I mentioned above, the NAPF hemorrhaged members because its fees could not be justified to trustees (and employees who paid the trustees bills). After an aborted attempt to merge with the PMI, the rebrand is an attempt to appeal to a broader constituency. The jury is out on whether the wider constituency of employers staging auto-enrolment will engage with the newly formed PLSA. If they do not, the PLSA looks like an association in search of a membership.
The PMI on the other hand, has ongoing relevance as a trainer and gong hander-outer and in not merging with the NAPF, it maintained its focus on doing these things. So long as we need professionals in pensions we will need the PMI.
The conflict between social and commercial purpose
In my dealings with these various institutes and associations , it has become clear that the distinction between commercial and social purpose is becoming blurred. It may be a good idea to have choice and a good idea to have a means of making informed choice, but before an institute is going to endorse a product that promotes and enables choice, a large sum of money must change hands.
If the social purpose of an Institute or Association is to provide their members with a means to do the right thing, then the cheque should be sent in the direction of the organisation doing the right thing! At the very least, there should be an attempt to value and nurture ideas that lead to good.
“For profit” is just more transparent!
But it is not the “not for profit” institutes and associations that have valued and nurtured, ironically it is the market participants for whom an informed choice means “the best man wins”. So Pension PlayPen has received grants from the large mastertrusts and insurers so it can fulfill its function. By disclosing the support of People’s, NOW ,ITM and Legal & General through advertising and on this blog, I have not had to lose my independence. I wear a NOW rucksack – but I am a harsh critic of them when this is needed.
My websites are for profit- very much so- even this blog is here to advertise my views and enable me to participate in debates that -were I not a blogger – I would not get access to.
I am aware that in challenging the hegemony of associations and institutes as purveyors of thought leadership, I am diminishing their influence and so are they. We compete for the same eyeballs. In the case of the PLSA, who recently set up their own means to choose a pension , we compete for transactional revenues too.
Is the Pension PlayPen playing at being a trade association?
It could be argued that the community that reads this blog (around 30,000 I am told) and the smaller community that is a member of the Pension Play Pen linked in group, are a trade association in their own right. This is stretching the boundaries of what an association looks like! I make no attempt to speak for anyone but Pension PlayPen (and First Actuarial when asked).
Where Pension PlayPen is strong, is in its clear social purpose
It is strong in knowing what it does
It is strong in having a simple management structure and minimal overheads. It therefore charges no fees for membership of henry.tapper.com or pensionplaypen.com or the linked in group.
We know what we do, we restore confidence in pensions through engaging, educating and empowering employers to take good decisions for their staff.
One “NOT FOR PROFIT” that Pension Play Pen can endorse!
There is one institute I have not mentioned – the CIPP (Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals). If you want to see a training organisation with a strong social and commercial purpose, use the CIPP as a model. It has a CEO who has the support of his membership and his staff, it has a commercial department with a clear understanding of its role and its role as the provider of payroll training is unrivalled.
The CIPP is young and vibrant and is a model for many of its more august counterparts. It is hardly surprising that Pension PlayPen pins its colours to the CIPP’s mast!