Pension black holes have a history of weighing heavily on big corporations as amply illustrated by former retail darling BHS.
The retailer may have disappeared from the high street but its unwieldy £570m pension deficit has yet to be resolved. While the public glare over the BHS fiasco focused on the dealings of Sir Phillip Green and Dominic Chappell, comparatively few questions were asked about the role of the pension scheme’s trustees. Those questions include: what did they do to safeguard pensioners’ interests? Were they able to stand up to Green as he and his wife enjoyed chunky dividend payouts? Why did they not better challenge management on the spiralling deficit?
“I think trustees need education,” says Lady Barbara Judge, currently the chairman of the Institute of Directors and the former chair of the Pension Protection Fund.
Judge believes many are wholly unprepared for the responsibility of dealing with pension pots worth billions of pounds. “I think people get onto a board of trustees and they don’t have enough education on what it means to be a trustee, what it means to be a director, what it means to have fiduciary obligations.”
Pension scheme trustees are there to Pension trustees need education says IoD chair Lady Judge is cautiously optimistic about Trump represent the interests of members of a defined benefit scheme; to hold the company to account; to make sure that a viable plan is in place to manage any deficits and to provide a check on the company to ensure its actions do not adversely impact scheme members.
Judge says: “My suggestion is that every trustee of a big pension fund [should] be required to show that they either have appropriate financial acumen and experience or go on a course”. The more general financial education of Britain’s millennials is also of paramount importance, according to Judge.
“I want more financial education for the country’s youngsters,” she says. Turning to the recent US election result, Judge strikes an optimistic note. “I think Donald Trump has a huge opportunity. He is not a political person. He owes nobody anything”, she says.
Judge had a role in Ronald Reagan’s government having been appointed to the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1980. She believes that there are parallels to be drawn between Reagan and Trump. Because the President-elect comes with no baggage, “with no promises to donors”, he can attempt to do what Reagan achieved and “reach across the aisle”.
However, Judge cautions that this depends on Trump surrounding himself with the right advisers.