Progress in uncertain times #PLSAinvest20

Democracy 1 – Digital 0


The PLSA’s investment conference made it to its end without drama and with considerable dignity.

Emma Douglas’ question took on a new meaning as it turned out many “delegates” never got north of the border and “attended” the conference “remotely”

It may be that is we have “remote-controlled” Government over the next six months if Government bans physical meetings of more than 50 folks. Emma and her team were – bravely- in the hall and the conference was the better for it.


Some delegates made it to Scotland but never made it to the hall.  They could be found having fringe meetings in the coffee shops and restaurants of West Lothian, presumably under instructions not to mingle with the hoi-poloi.

Some speakers tried, with varying degrees of success to deliver content remotely. This ranged from the disastrous (the battery failure of the laptop supporting the stream) to the dismal (Gregg McClymont trying to pay attention while his infant charges harried him).

Perversely – the Coronavirus was the making of this event

My normal objection to conferences is that they are dominated by the commercial agenda of suppliers and never gets to grips with what we are supplying pensions for.

The event succeeded because it didn’t focus on commercial issues  but on how pension investment interacts with the environment , society and what it contributes to good governance. I found this extremely refreshing.

Despite the atrium of the event being decked with banners proclaiming the virtues of “defensive equities” “diversified growth” and such other fund management tropes, the conference spoke a language I could understand.

This may also be as a result of the very low consultant head- count.

Progressive content

The program was serious but not sententious. The answers to the problems the conference was addressing will not come from the delegates in the room but from innovation, not least in the construction of trustee boards. The panel on diversity on the Friday morning suggests that innovation is on its way and that the male pale hegemony may be on its way out.  The good grace with which this was accepted by the largely grey male pale delegates was encouraging.

As reported yesterday, Guy Opperman’s approach was full on and shows the Government is likely to intervene to make change happen. Whether this be on measuring the scheme investment’s carbon footprint or displaying people’s data on pension dashboards, there is intent within the DWP. Opperman’s anger is clearly born out of frustration at the rate of change.

There was also a recognition that data drives this innovation.

What was missing was the technology to show how. FinTechs, or more rightly “pentechs” had no voice. It would have been good to hear from Tumelo in the climate debate, from Pension Bee in one of the DC streams and the conference failed to engage with the FCA’s Open Finance initiative. I understand the PLSA intends to have a technology conference in November, but technology drives everything we do and should be integrated into both the investment and benefits conferences

In uncertain times..

Coming back on the train, I wondered whether I could justify three days out when the world was spinning randomly. At 8am on Thursday I was sitting in Scottish Widows reception when the FTSE opened in a see of red.

It struck me that having a meeting to discuss how we can get savers to pay attention to their pension, was good news. The following day, my trip to visit Aegon was curtailed by the mass evacuation of its office for health reasons. The meeting went ahead – having travelled 400 miles – it went ahead by phone! Sadly, I suspect that will be the way of it , these next few months

Being at the conference gave me  the chance to talk with people I would not normally meet . It also gave me chance to people I know well and speak to them in a different environment. “Networking” seemed a facile word , when I look back at some of the conversations I’ve been inolved in

Opperman’s speech was as good a Ministerial speech as I have heard. The debate following his speech was the single highlight of the conference and  I can endorse this tweet

There are people who feel it was irresponsible to have had this conference at a time of Coronavirus. Had it been scheduled a week later, it would not have happened. If it had not happened, a lot of good would not have happened.

Thanks to the PLSA for getting this conference right. Thanks to the many excellent speakers and let’s hope that by the time we get to the autumn, the PLSA will be able to reassemble with a better understanding of the outcome of the pandemic.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
This entry was posted in pensions, PLSA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply