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Technology supporting governance
9 October 2020

Technology supporting governance

Administration – such a simple word. Trustees could be forgiven for thinking overseeing administration is the easy part of governance. But times have changed. Whether you’re a trustee of a Defined Benefit (DB) or Defined Contribution (DC) scheme – technology underpins how benefits are delivered to your members. Innovations in technology mean that many members can now interact with their schemes online. Even with DB schemes, enriched functionality is allowing people to transact and engage online with their schemes. Administration platforms are now largely cloud-based which helped enormously during lockdown when remote working was forced on the nation. Similarly, biometric identity verification (IDV) means people don’t have to post precious certificates in order to receive their benefits; they can prove conclusively who they are simply by using a mobile device.

As a trustee, you’re not expected to understand the underlying technology of remote systems, enriched web functionality and biometric IDV, but you are expected to appreciate they need to be overseen differently. Governance is more complex and different questions need to be asked of administrators. Their management information should reflect this in the Stewardship Report. The Service Level Agreement (SLA) for wholly online transactional processes are practically meaningless, it is better to understand the web experience to see how it can be improved. Trustees can see how different cohorts within their membership are behaving and interpret their needs. They can understand if they have pockets of digitally disadvantaged members and ensure these people are not forgotten in the race for fully automated self-service systems. They can survey their members to appreciate changing attitudes to investments – such as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors. They can understand where there are bottlenecks in a web-based system which could indicate areas of poor data, or poorly designed processes. Innovations in the technology underpinning administration means that historical peer review and checks should be replaced. After all, it’s no good having a high-tech administration system where every calculation is coded correctly but then manually checking each one! But regularly audited benefit specifications and test packs are vital to ensure that systemic error doesn’t creep in. Web-based systems must also be cyber secure and trustees should insist that this is independently audited. Whilst technology shouldn’t mean cheaper, it should mean better value and trustees need to become adept at measuring this.

People are more vulnerable in economic downturns and no trustee wants their members to become victims. Although not all linked to technology, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) reported over £30m has been lost to pension scammers since 2017. The Pensions Regulator (TPR), FCA, and the Pension Scam Industry Group (PSIG) have great collateral to support schemes in combating scams. Administrators are the front line in protecting members through robust processes to spot potential scams. Trustees should engage with their administrators to ensure innovation and technology delivers a high quality service, better member experience, and protects their members.

Being accredited – I believe that being a PMI Accredited trustee is an important step for any trustee and the first in ensuring you do the best job you can when you have responsibility for people’s pension money. It is the baseline to test you understand the governance needed for this important role. But, built into accreditation is continuing professional development and this is vital to ensuring you keep knowledge up-to-date.

Notes/Sources

This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine October edition

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Last update: 16 October 2020

Kim Gubler
Kim Gubler
KGC Associates Ltd
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