Reasons why trustee boards should take training seriously

27 April 2022

Trustee training is an essential component of good scheme governance, for new and existing trustees alike.

Every board member should have a training plan that will equip them with the skills they need to complete short-term projects and work towards long-term goals, whether that’s DB scheme buyout or improving member outcomes in a DC scheme.

Here are eight reasons why all trustee boards should be taking training seriously:

Comply with regulations

TPR expects all trustees to fulfil its Trustee Knowledge and Understanding (TKU) requirements, which include scheme funding, investment, and a working knowledge of their scheme documents. TPR strongly recommends that all trustees review their skills at least annually. Trust-based DC schemes must detail their approach to training in their scheme’s annual chair’s statement, including how they identify and address any trustee knowledge gaps.

Help new trustees to become effective

All trustees must meet TPR’s TKU requirements within six months of starting their role, by completing its Trustee Toolkit. The Toolkit has six core modules that apply to all trustees, plus additional sections depending on the type(s) of scheme they manage. As well as being a legal requirement, helping new trustees to acquire the skills and knowledge they need as quickly as possible will help them to become confident and productive in their role.

Support new scheme needs

Beyond compliance, there are good reasons to make sure that trustees continue to expand their knowledge. All schemes will face new challenges over time that require extra skills. Those could include dealing with changes to the strength of the sponsor covenant or introducing new ways of communicating with members. The types of skills trustees need and when they will need them will be scheme-specific. TPR’s own training also recognises that trustees’ skills needs are changing. For example, it has recently added a new TKU module on scams which it expects all trustees to complete.

Make well-informed decisions

Keeping up to date with ever-evolving areas such as Responsible Investing is essential to good decision-making. Consultants and asset managers can comment on investment developments and keep trustees up to date both with global economic trends and scheme-specific needs that will underpin decision-making.

Encourage diversity

As boards become more diverse and welcome trustees from a wider range of backgrounds, offering access to a comprehensive, personalised training programme will become more important than ever. Trustees from different backgrounds will need to fulfil core TKU requirements and still be able to excel in their own unique areas of expertise.

Challenge advisers

There is a wealth of different sources of trustee training, in addition to TPR’s Trustee Toolkit. A training plan that blends expertise from consultants, specialist providers and independent third-parties will equip trustees to ask advisers searching questions, conduct robust due diligence and make good quality decisions. A positive outcome from the Covid-19 pandemic has been greater use of online platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. That means trustees can receive targeted training in a timely fashion.

Share knowledge

All trustees will have their own experience and knowledge, based on work they have done within the pension scheme, and also in other areas of their professional lives. For example, trustees that are communications experts will be able to use the experiences and best practice they have learned in other roles within their scheme. Professional trustees such as ZEDRA are also in a great position to enhance the knowledge of all the trustee boards we work with, by bringing our collective shared experiences from the schemes that we work with.

Consider qualifications

There is no requirement for member-nominated trustees (MNTs) to have any qualification. Given the demands on MNTs’ limited time, qualifications could be difficult for trustees to achieve – and the decision to pursue a formal qualification has to rest with individuals and their own schemes. The Pensions Management Institute offers a range of qualifications for trustees who do want to pursue this route.

All trustees, from new recruits to experienced board Chairs, will have a blend of unique training needs including refreshing the basics of TKU, and learning skills that will help their scheme deliver particular projects. Recognising, recording, and addressing these should be part of every scheme’s long-term strategy.

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