Encouraging diversity in trustee boards

We’re very proud to have a diverse trustee board, believing that this diversity helps to make sure that scheme members' best interests are always put first

Encouraging diversity in trustee boards

At Smart Pension, we’re very proud to have a diverse trustee board, believing that this diversity helps to make sure that scheme members' best interests are always put first. And I agree – diversity and challenging the status quo are key to delivering better member outcomes.

I was speaking at the recent Pensions Management Institute (PMI) NextGen conference 2021 with Anna Darnley, Trustee Director of Smart Pension Master Trust and others. We were discussing diversity on trustee boards and how to encourage new faces on decision-making boards, including sub-committees. I’d like to share that discussion with you because, for me at least, it was very thought-provoking.

We talked about the recent challenges we’d all faced, and as you’d expect COVID-19, the furlough scheme and changes in technology and legislation all came up. We discussed how it’s likely that there will be fewer face-to-face trustee meetings in the next decades, which is of course no different to what will happen in other industries.

One of the biggest challenges, we all acknowledged, will be keeping members engaged with their pension. Indeed, it’s a huge challenge for the whole industry. How can we keep someone who has been auto-enrolled interested in their pension so they can build a great retirement for themselves?

I believe that fundamental to understanding and delivering on members’ needs is diversity in trustee boards. Challenging the status quo is one of the best things we can do. It’s about asking why we do something in a particular way – ask, then challenge, and always keep an open mind. It’s something I see a lot of at Smart Pension. Anna spoke about how, despite having previous pensions board experience, her “day job” was nothing to do with pensions. In her full time role, she works as a digital strategy consultant specialising in customer experience and digital product design. Currently she’s working on building a virtual bank. She brings this technological perspective and strong sense of member advocacy to the board.

Anna has a passion for great member communications and sees so much potential around leveraging technology to improve the way we engage with members and the industry as a whole. It's good to have trustees from diverse and personal backgrounds reviewing the communications that are sent to members to ensure they resonate and are understood. There's traditionally been a concentration of certain skill sets on trustee boards – predominantly lawyers and actuaries – but we need to bring together more varied perspectives to challenge the status quo.

It surprises me how often challenging how something is done, or something that has been in place for years, can lead to innovative solutions for members. That’s why the role of chair to make sure every voice is heard when making decisions is so important. Inclusivity is key. Many years ago I read some research from the Rockefeller Group that looked into language and how the phrase ‘the future’ is used by different people and communities. I was amazed at how one term can mean many things. The research showed that the  words ‘the future’ can vary from ten years for Anglo-Saxons to the next century for Asian communities. That difference in perspective from what, in theory, is common language, has really stuck with me.

A final thought – I believe it proves that continuous learning is key. Anna says that she's had a steep learning curve coming from a non-pensions background. And I’ve been consulting on pension schemes for over 35 years and I certainly never stop learning, especially in recent times. It’s not just circumstances in the industry that change – I’ve learnt to change and evolve my approach, too.

Got a question for our Andy, Anna or any other of our trustees? You can email trustee@smartpension.co.uk.

About Smart Pension

Launched in 2015, Smart Pension exceeds £5bn in assets under management (AUM) and now serves over one million members and more than 70,000 employers. It is powered by Keystone, Smart’s global savings and investments technology platform.

Aquiline Capital Partners, Barclays, Chrysalis Investments, DWS Group, Fidelity International Strategic Ventures, J.P. Morgan, Legal & General Investment Management, Link Group and Natixis Investment Managers are all investors in Smart Pension.