Tuesday 24 April 2018

Professionals seldom have all the answers

Brendan Kennedy of the Pensions Authority
Brendan Kennedy of the Pensions Authority
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Describing someone as an amateur is generally an insult. But amateurs have a role, and can make a valuable contribution.

After all, professionals made a fair mess of things in this country in the past few years and continue to do so.

The banking collapse, ongoing problems with dodgy buildings, and our monstrous private and national debts are testament to the poor work of professionals.

Auditors, bankers, those tasked with regulating building standards, auctioneers, valuers, investment advisers, and various forms of financial regulators are among those who have been found wanting.

A greater input by lay people may not have prevented many of the legacy problems we have, but it is likely some brake would have been put on the excesses of bankers and their professional advisers if amateurs were given a proper role in questioning what was going on in the bubble years.

The usefulness of a lay person's perspective is something that is now being recognised by the likes of the bodies that regulate and represent lawyers and doctors. The input of lay people is needed to counter professional conceit.

The smarter professionals recognise that one of the biggest risks to their own effectiveness is an unduly favourable estimation of their own abilities or worth. An amateur can operate as a check to that.

If the proposals by the Pensions Board to diminish the role of lay trustees on scheme boards is implemented, it risks jettisoning the benefits of a viewpoint that is not clouded by professional myopia.

The Pensions Authority is proposing that it would be mandatory to have a professional pension qualification to act as trustee, a move that would remove most worker trustees.

Head of the Pensions Board Brendan Kennedy is adamant that if his body brings in the new rule, it would be purely voluntary.

He agrees that pensions regulations are too complex, but stresses that trustees need to be highly qualified given that there is so much at stake for scheme members.

There is a huge irony in the body responsible for implementing increasingly complex regulatory rules seeking to effectively exclude lay trustees from scheme boards.

However, the regulators and the professionals are largely responsible for the mess many pension schemes are in. Allowing them to cosy up to each other even more, with no dissenting voices, is a mistake.

As a trustee myself, of a pension fund that has had to be restructured, hitting hard the future pensions of its members, it strikes me that lessening the role of amateur trustees is misguided.

Being a lay trustee is an unpaid, voluntary and thankless role. But it is a necessary role. Employees are entitled to have a say, a role best fulfilled by lay trustees.

After all, it is employees' money and their future incomes that are at stake.

Irish Independent

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