The IPE European Pensions Awards is an event now firmly lodged in the calendar of the pensions community across Europe. But more important is that the desire to participate grows stronger each year, whether by attending the event itself or submitting entries for the Awards programme.
These two aspects, of course, go hand in hand, as the more entries submitted the more pension funds like to attend the event. In Paris this year, around 25% more representatives of pension funds are expected, with a similar jump in the entries for individual awards - just the opposite.
We have kept the number of Awards to 34, which is the same as last year, although with some variation in the topics of the Themed Awards. One logical consequence is that, with more funds competing per award, there has been no diminution in the standards.
This makes the winning of a trophy all the more satisfying and all the more significant and IPE and the sponsors of the IPE Awards offer our warmest congratulations to this year's winners. In many countries and themes it was a close run race, with just a whisker between entrants. In fact in two cases, it was a dead heat and joint Awards have been made - to Inarcassa and the Strathclyde funds for their approach to Specialist Investment and in the UK Country Award to the Environment Agency and SAUL schemes.
This year the supreme award goes north again, but even further north, where a dazzling display of northern lights brought Finland's pension provider Ilmarinen the ultimate accolade, perhaps not too surprisingly since the fund managed also to carry off the Silver Award for best Industry-wide/multi-employer category, as well as two Themed Awards.
Last year's prize-table sweeping fund, Denmark's ATP, certainly kept up the pressure this year by coming in to win Silver as best Public Pension Fund, as well as two of the Themed Awards. A reprise is always difficult, so that is a magnificent performance.
An achievement that must rank as a unique combination is that of the Bosch Pensionsfonds - a relatively new German fund - that with dazzling style has pulled off Best Corporate and Best Small European Pension Funds Awards. Not bad for a fund with €444m in assets - who says the ‘precious metal' awards are just the preserve of the big boys?
The Outstanding Industry Contribution Award goes in a most unlikely direction, that of a pensions regulator - but anyone familiar with Anne Maher, chief executive of Ireland's Pensions Board, will know that she is a ‘regulator plus' and it is not surprising that she headed the poll among IPE and IPE.com readers.
She is not just an embodiment of how the supervisory role should tackled, but her total commitment to the cause of developing effective pension systems both in her own country and across Europe comes across to anyone who has heard her speak or read what she says. That she is retiring from her role on the same day as the presentation makes the Award all the more appropriate.
But we would also like to congratulate and thank all those other funds which decided that 2006 was the year they would take the step of entering for the first time and the many funds who have submitted entries in the past and continue to do so, whether or not they have ever carried away a trophy.
Their efforts maybe unsung individually, but they are the backbone of the IPE Awards. It is the commitment of this body of funds in 24 countries deciding off their own bat to take the time and effort to submit an entry that makes it all possible.
Hopefully, the reports based on the winning entries in this Awards supplement will act as a guide and a prompt, by nudging even more funds to say ‘We can do even better than that'. We believe it should be an inspiration too - just look at what the AZ Obligatory Pension Fund in Croatia has done or how Ireland's Construction Workers' Pension Scheme is welcoming the influx of new members from CEE countries.
Our team of some 80 judges (page 76) can testify to how difficult it can be to separate the winners by the quality and diversity of the entries. If there is one message that comes clear from the body of entries it is the variety of approaches there are to solving our common human goal of retiring in comfort at some point in our careers. IPE wants to acknowledge its debt to our judges and to thank them.
The success of the IPE Awards can be judged by a range of quantitative measures, but their full significance has always to be assessed by the quality of the entry and the support it obtains from the pensions community across Europe. These are in the last analysis immeasurable, but are noticeable when they are absent.
This fundamental element comes from the willingness of pensions people to play their part and feel that the event is beneficial and worthwhile. This support is something that IPE and the Awards sponsors are always aware of and very grateful for, but never take for granted.