Challenging the grey cells
The Pensions Management Institute (PMI) was established almost 30 years ago in the UK with the specific aim of raising standards.
Since then the institute has built a strong reputation for providing industry standard qualifications, and its members are recognised throughout the pensions industry as having wide-ranging and practical knowledge of pensions and employee benefits.
The drive to raise standards stemmed from the 1970s and a recognition that there was a need for an appropriate qualification for those working in pensions.
Although other professional bodies, such as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and the Chartered Insurance Institute included pensions as one of the subjects in their curriculum, the increase in legislation and the resulting complexity of pensions led to a need for a professional body dedicated to providing suitable education and qualifications.
PMI was therefore established in 1976 by a working group of industry bodies the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF), the Society of Pension Consultants (SPC), the Association of Consulting Actuaries (ACA) and the Life Offices Association, a predecessor of the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Representatives of those four bodies formed the first council of the institute and their hard work and dedication ensured that the institute was duly established. Raising standards was the main aim and remains a cornerstone of the PMI’s work today.
Key to the PMI’s objectives is the aim to work with the industry to provide services that are relevant, adaptable to the changing work practices, and that meet the requirements of the varying sectors within the pensions field.
At the outset, the PMI was set up partly to develop examinations to meet the requirements of the emerging pensions professional. The Associateship qualification was the result and this has become PMI’s flagship qualification and a recognised industry standard. Over time it has extended the range of qualifications on offer, seeking to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse market place.
PMI now has a range of qualifications, including: NVQs for those working in pension administration; an international diploma for those working beyond the confines of the UK; an introductory certificate for those just starting out in pensions or those for whom pensions is a part of wider responsibilities; and certificates for financial advisers and trustees of pension schemes.
During the PMI’s existence pension provision has changed enormously. PMI constantly looks ahead to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the industry, and also build on its aim for higher standards. This has led to the PMI’s most amibitious initiative yet.
While most areas of pensions activity are regulated, the management of pension schemes is not. PMI is concerned that those doing this vitally important role are given support and guidance to enable them to do their job to a high standard. Earlier this year the PMI introduced the pension plan executive certificate (PPEC).
This builds on the knowledge already gained through qualification and experience by providing a unique development tool – accredited professional development (APD). APD examines upcoming legislation and current work practises and identifies those that need to be addressed over the year in order for pensions managers to keep up to date.
The holders of this certificate will be listed on PMI’s web site, enabling employers, trustees and scheme members to know that the person responsible for their scheme has achieved the necessary qualification and is maintaining that knowledge through the formal personal professional development programme. The certificate will be renewable annually.
The maintenance of knowledge through the personal professional development programme will be controlled and monitored by PMI which awards the certificate. It will become good practice for the person responsible for managing the pension scheme to be a holder of PPEC; good practice will soon become best practice, and then it will be established as the industry standard.
When PMI was set up there was also a need for a form of recognition for those who had reached the standards required for pensions practitioners.
This was provided by membership of the PMI, and this continues to reflect the status of holders and their knowledge and commitment. It is also the basis of a vibrant PMI community.
To establish the PMI, membership was offered to those already working in senior positions in pensions who had a suitable professional qualification and experience. Thereafter, student members enrolled to sit the examinations. Most of the current membership has been through the exam process and have qualified as associates (APMI) and many associates have also gone on to gain the highest level of membership – fellowship (FPMI). Ordinary membership (MPMI) is also offered to those completing the PMI’s diploma level qualifications. Membership is drawn from the wide spectrum of pensions professionals, including pension managers, advisers (actuarial, legal, investment, accounting), benefit consultants, communication consultants and administrators and all members are subject to a professional code of conduct.
The PMI community includes a large number of members who volunteer their time freely to give something back to the profession by aiding the education and qualification of the next generation of students, as well as their fellow professionals. In addition to acting as tutors, examiners, and tuition writers they also contribute to the PMI’s other services.
These include a regular monthly journal, technical updates, technical seminars and major twice-yearly conferences, all structured to raise the standards of the profession. They also run the nine regional groups providing the opportunity for local membership. These groups are an important means of bringing members together, offering technical meetings, social events and the opportunity for networking – they are a vital link in the communication chain between the centre and its members.
The PMI is also able to call upon the considerable experience and expertise of its broad-based membership to respond fully to all the various consultation documents issued, and publishes its responses on the PMI web site. In particular, the PMI is now working with the pensions regulator on the codes and ensuring that the trustee certificate meets all the requirements of the regulator.
PMI is not just for its members. The trustee group of the institute was formed to bring together lay trustees. Its almost one thousand members receive technical support through the regular newsletter and the opportunity to attend technical seminars to help them to keep their knowledge up to date. With the increasing responsibilities placed on trustees, it is expected that membership will grow. Again, PMI seeks in a practical way to raise standards for all those involved in pensions.
PMI is the only professional body dedicated to pensions in the UK, providing education and qualifications solely in this field. Of course, there are many other groups and bodies involved in pensions.
These include employer organisations such as the NAPF, SPC, ACA and ABI, member representative organisations such as the TUC, government departments such as the DWP, the Treasury and the Inland Revenue, the regulatory bodies (TPR and FSA), the pensions ombudsman and the pensions advisory service, and the other professional bodies such as the actuaries, lawyers, accountants, and insurers. The PMI works closely with all these bodies to meet the needs of the market and continually to raise standards, having regular contact and sharing information.
This year, former minister for pensions, Malcolm Wicks, asked the PMI for help in establishing a trustee panel made up of lay trustees whom he could meet regularly to hear their views on current issues, and the PMI was pleased to be able to draw together other pensions bodies to set this up.
Since its establishment almost 30 years ago, the PMI has developed and matured into a fully-fledged professional body. It has evolved and changed to meet the ever changing and increasing demands of the pensions market, and it will continue this steady evolutionary process to ensure that it continues to raise standards among pension professionals.
Roger Cobley FPMI, FIA, ASA, president of the Pensions Management Institute