PMI DC and master trust symposium -a welcome anchor!

“an anchor”

I got a surprise but most welcome last minute acceptance to this event, having been on the waiting list. The event was a sell-out with well over 200 delegates, a healthy exhibition and a day long event that kicked off at 8.30 and was still going after 6pm.

It was a decidedly on-line affair with sessions well attended and questions being asked by show of hand – not by Slido. If there was a way of getting online, I didn’t find it but it didn’t matter, you were listening to and interacting with real people in a pleasant environment. Thanks PMI – it worked.

The state of the nation

Despite it being billed a conference about master trusts, there were few master trusts speaking or exhibiting. Andrew Warwick-Thompson spoke on illiquids but as a panelist, Eve Reid and Anish Rav were similarly Smart’s panelists and Nest’s Katherina Lindmeier formed part of a panel on socially responsible investment.

My take is that the PMI represent the fiduciary , by and large this was not a commercial conference but a conference that looked at what best practice looks like , for today’s practitioners. This may reflect the absence of media mentions  for what was a substantial event.

This was not a conference that courted controversy or pushed at the barriers of current thinking, it was certainly not political, it reflected the views of the PMI membership who are the people who do most of the hard work in pensions.

Where there was challenge was in the opening session where Emma Botton , a “non-pension” person who leads Tesco’s  marketing team in “harnessing insight and analytics around customer behaviour to create to create strong and distinctive brand propositions”.

Feedback on the session suggests that pension providers are lagging in understanding the data they have on their “customers”, possibly because their priorities are complying with complex regulation rather than finding new ways to improve the customer service.

Several times during the day , the audience was asked to remember that the primary purpose of pensions is to provide a secure retirement income for those who save towards their retirement and this tension between “what the customer wants” and “what pensions do” was alive throughout.

Those sessions which challenged most, were those that addressed the “nastiest hardest problem in finance”, the conversion of pot to pension. The legal position of trustees was spelt out by Linklaters, the moral obligations as fiduciaries discussed by panels. There was considerable tension between what trustees want to do and what they can do. This tension needs to be addressed and I expect it to be a theme both of the FCA’s thematic review and the upcoming review of retirement income expected from DWP.

The subject of CDC was mentioned several times with the consensus view seeming to be to wait till Royal Mail had sufficient evidence of a satisfactory member experience. I fear it will be a long wait, longer even than the wait Royal Mail has endured to get its CDC authorised.

Where I saw innovation was in a very technical but interesting presentation by Ruffer which hinted at an investment solution that might well be adopted by those who want to see DC push to and through retirement and convert the lifestyle of a target dated funds to meet the life cycle of those use them. People’s lifecycle’s happily do not end at their retirement dates!

A similar disquiet about adopting change, centered on the pension dashboard, which played little part in the day’s debates. Robert Cochrane carried one session on engagement with some important insights gleaned from data provided from his association with Lloyds Banking’s customer data. This showed what can be done when open sourced data is shared to the benefit of all, but pensions are a long way from accepting this as a good idea – as other sessions showed.

There is a reassuring solidity about the work the PMI does. As with the PPI , it grounds its work in current practice and does not speculate on what best practice will be. As one pension manager told me, “I come here to make sure that I am getting the right advice“.

While many of us, enjoy pushing at the boundaries of the possible, the PMI nobly maintains the standards of the “actual” and its conference is an anchor.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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