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PMI
5 June 2020

Beware those who are subverting professional trustee standards

Alan Whalley says professional trustee claims of “provisional” accreditations are undermining the process and creating confusion in the market.

The conviction in 2011 of Graham Pitcher for his role in the GP Noble scandal demonstrated that there were unscrupulous and incompetent individuals offering their services as professional pension scheme trustees, yet there was no system for assessing trustees' credentials or monitoring conduct. While the professional trustee market never resembled the Wild West, the absence of an adequate regulatory regime exposed the buyers of professional trustee serviced to serious risks which urgently needed to be eliminated. 

 

In 2017, The Pensions Regulator (TPR) finally grasped the regulatory nettle and formed the Professional Trustee Standards Working Group (PTSWG). The PRSWG was tasked with devising a set of professional standards which professional trustees would be expected to observe, albeit on a voluntary basis. It would also agree an accreditation regime to enable those working in this field to demonstrate continuing compliance with the standards and that they were suitably qualified to fulfil their role. The PTSWG was a multi-disciplinary body which sought to include input from a broad range of stakeholders. Its members were drawn from TPR, the Pensions Management Institute (PMI), the Association of Corporate Trustees (TACT) and the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA).

By the spring of 2019, the PTSWG had issued the standards and was well advanced in the design of an appropriate accreditation process so it decided to disband. The standards that it had developed were passed on to the APPT for future review and maintenance, while PMI was selected by the group as the accrediting body.

At that point, the story of developing a regulatory regime for professional trustees ought to have reached a natural conclusion. That it did not should be a cause of concern for everyone.

TPR has spent almost a decade working hard to ensure that standards for professional trustees are high and that their supervisory regime is credible and robust, as a key element of their drive to improve standards of pension trusteeship generally. Yet it has adopted a curiously passive stance when there have been developments which fundamentally subvert the core objectives and agreements of the PTSWG - whatever happened to 'clearer, quicker and tougher'?

Much has been written about the APPT's decision to become an accreditation provider in addition to the PMI, and it would not be appropriate to revisit that topic here. However, the emergence of two accrediting bodies has clearly confused the market, and some major firms of professional trustees are still undecided as to which body is the more suitable. There is an important role to be played here by those plan sponsors seeking to appoint a professional trustee and it is critical for the industry to be able to identify those with all of the appropriate credentials as distant from those claiming to have them.

The first task is to verify the accreditation credentials of candidates being considered for a professional trustee appointment. The PTSWG resolved that the names of accredited professional trustees should be publicly recorded so that an individual's accreditation status can be checked at any time by inspecting the accrediting body's public register, where it exists (the PMI'S register is now available online).

It is also important to be wary of anyone claiming "provisional" accreditation: this concepts has no validity whatsoever. There are, after all, no examples of "provisionally" accredited doctors or lawyers and a provisional driving licence only enables the holder to drive under the supervisions of a fully qualified driver! Equally who is to say which parts of the accreditation process constitute "provisional" status? If you have passed one exam does that make you provisionally accredited? It creates confusions which is not helpful.

It is also particularly concerning that there have been so many recent examples of individuals claiming to have been accredited when they have yet to complete the accreditation process. Indeed some of these people have not even registered, let alone sat the exam, passed it or received a certificate for the required (CPT Unit 1 and 2) qualifications. This is something which a credible accrediting body should eradicate immediately. It is also an issue which - reasonably - should be of concern to TPR. It undermines the whole process.

Professional trustee firms seeking accreditation for their directors should also be asking the following questions of an accrediting body:

  • What past experience of accreditation do you have?
  • How robust are your data protection procedures?
  • How experienced are the staff dealing with membership and accreditation?
  • Are the disciplinary and appeals processes robust and effective?
  • Can we conduct a site visit to examine working practices?

It would seem logical that all stake holders in the professional trusteeship sector - and TPR in particular - should be keen to ensure that the highest standards for accreditation are implemented and enforced. That these standards are being compromised should be a serious concern.

It is in everyone's interest to ensure that the highest professional standards are observed and that any activities which would subvert this objective are stamped out promptly. It not, the flexibility of self - regulation may rapidly turn into legislaive prescription!

 

Notes/Sources

This article first appeared on Professional Pensions.

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Last update: 11 June 2020

Alan Whalley
Alan Whalley
The Pensions Management Institute
Board Chairman

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