I’m a fan of the PMI. My firm is a member and the PMI are a force for good, helping generations of pensions people to raise their game and do their jobs better.
I got a lot out of its conference at Savoy Court yesterday. It was a conference that engaged with wider pension investments, the needs of those who don’t get advice and the use of pension investment for social good.
Pensions do not exist in a political and social vacuum.
Two sessions in particular caught the wave of wider issues than GMP equalisation (not that getting the technical right isn’t important).
The first was a debate on CDC which featured the main protagonists in the dispute that played out last year at ACAS. Royal Mail and its principal union CWU avoided a damaging strike by finding a way out of the binary DB/DC dispute. Terry Pullinger and Hilary Salt spoke for the Union, Douglas Hamilton and Richard Campbell for Royal Mail.
Pensions should be very proud to have responded to the demands of both sides and created a solution that has captured the imagination of a wider constituency than attends PMI conferences, from 140,000 postal workers to Amber Rudd.
The driving force behind UK CDC pic.twitter.com/qn6h2RxIuO
— Pension Plowman (@henryhtapper) April 3, 2019
The relevance of ESG in pensions
Ask anyone young enough to think their pension pot an investment and they will have a view on responsible investing. It’s the politics of pensions and how the pension industry puts itself forward as the promoters of responsible investment is important.
The debate at the PMI conference was first class, bringing together an all female speaking panel , young enough to speak for the investors of the future. Thankfully this was a debate that did not get bogged down in arguments about definitions and agonising about “conflation” but looked practically at how DB and DC trustees could write meaningful SIPs and act upon them.
If pensions are to embrace ESG , there must be a code of conduct to which we all sign up.
What happened next…
It is a tradition for PMI conferences to be followed by PMI dinners and this year’s was no different.
— PMI Pensions (@PMIPensions) April 3, 2019
But what was different was the venue, which had to be switched from the Savoy to the Dorchester.
— PMI Pensions (@PMIPensions) April 2, 2019
The exclamation after “Dorchester” was presumably there to solicit a whoop of delight, but to me and to many delegates I spoke to, it solicited a gasp of disbelief.
The Dorchester is owned by the Brunei Sovereign Wealth Fund, money paid to it , supports a regime that this week announced it would stone gay men to death for being practicing homosexuals.
BBC News – Brunei implements stoning to death under new anti-LGBT laws https://t.co/qPZxR6EG0o The owners of the Dorchester Hote
— Pension Plowman (@henryhtapper) April 3, 2019
As a result, a boycott has been called on using these hotels. Look at the number of retweets and likes on this tweet to see how widely this issue is being spread across the wider public.
Tomorrow, the country of #Brunei will start stoning gay people to death. We need to do something now. Please boycott these hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Raise your voices now. Spread the word. Rise up. pic.twitter.com/24KJsemPGH
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) April 2, 2019
I was not at the event last night and have only the tweet from PMI as evidence that it did go ahead at the Dorchester. I was not invited , I know people who disinvited themselves, but as far as I can see , the PMI went ahead , broke the boycott and promoted this on twitter. That does not play well.
An opportunity lost
Pensions is about long-term investing. Pension funds have the opportunity to change things by investing for good. Stoning and whipping people to death , for their views and beliefs breaks red lines for me. Supporting a regime that introduces these practices breaks all the Social and Governance rules.
There was an opportunity for the PMI to give back the money they had charged their members and cancel the event. It might have incurred cancellation fees, it would undoubtedly have been out of pocket. But it would have done something for pensions , that pensions could have been proud of.
It didn’t do that, instead it went ahead and those who attended the event and the PMI itself should feel compromised.
We have conduct rules which apply both to our investments and us. Indeed, as the primary industry body, the PMI has a greater responsibility to pensions.
The opportunity to show that pensions is serious about social and governance issues was last night lost. The capacity of the PMI to speak authoritatively on ESG weakened.
Practicing what we preach
The PMI got it wrong. It may have found itself between a rock and a hard place, but it had to abandon last night, or at least reconvene.
All of us are tempted by marketing, I have been on conventions abroad and have received plenty of rucksacks and pens and I’ve been to a lot of dinners.
But last night was different. Delegates who had sat and listened to experts talk about social responsibility , went out and partied – covertly supporting the hideous cruelty of the Brunei regime.
It is time that the pensions industry took a stand and practiced what it preached
I commend my friend, #GeorgeClooney, for taking a stand against the anti-gay discrimination and bigotry taking place in the nation of #Brunei – a place where gay people are brutalized, or worse – by boycotting the Sultan’s hotels.https://t.co/8ymurW7hqm
— Elton John (@eltonofficial) March 30, 2019