Practicing what you preach


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 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.

But what was different was the venue, which had to be switched from the Savoy to the Dorchester.

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.

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.

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


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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3 Responses to Practicing what you preach

  1. Mark Meldon says:

    Well said, Henry!

  2. Mark Stanley says:

    Henry, you raise an important subject here. Logically though, the same could be said of other venues less in the public eye (for now at least), including the Savoy, where your conference was yesterday (Saudi, which has the same penalties as those introduced in Brunei)
    and other often used venues such as Grosvenor House and Claridges (both Qatar where there’s considerable disquiet ahead of the 2022 World Cup). Transparency and a willingness to look beyond the headlines are equally important.

    • henry tapper says:

      You may be right and all such places may be tarnished. But I think the days of such events are over. Pensions are under scrutiny for VFM and ESG – on both counts , the Dorchester never made sense. The timing could not have been foreseen but could not have been worse.

      You know the Pension Play Pen way. We don’t need this extravagance to be good at pensions.

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