Common sense and political realism wins friends across Europe
Alan Pickering wears so many hats within the pensions arena that it would be impossible to hazard a guess as to why IPE readers and others selected him from 20-plus other individuals and organisations nominated for the Outstanding Industry Contribution Award. Our voting procedures do not go into motivation or ask voters to justify their decision. But we can be sure in Alan’s case there is a plethora of reasons why he has been chosen.
From a European context, he has been chairman of the European Federation for Retirement Provision (EFRP), the body that represents the national pensions associations in Europe, for the past three years. They have been three critical years for the EFRP, as it nudged the pensions directive (Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision) through the EU’s adoption process to successful acceptance by the Council of Ministers. This was the culmination of a decade’s work for the association and it required a deft pair of hands of the EFRP’s tiller to ensure that the directive came through the arduous birth rites involving the EC, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, to say nothing about influences at national level.
There may have been those who wondered if a Brit was the person to lead the EFRP during this crucial period. But any such doubts disappeared as Europe was given the ‘Pickering treatment’ of down-to-earth common sense and political realism. Shibboleths and fuzzy thinking do not form any part of his thought processes and utterances, which combine with a continuous reaching out to the common ground within Europe’s very disparate pensions systems and a determination to emphasise the good points within the different approaches. Even the French found their system lauded, which may even have been a surprise to them, but nonetheless a welcome change. If anything, there was an ‘entente cordiale’ extending right across countries and the different pensions pillars. Any less sure hands than Alan’s could have meant things coming adrift, although he would be the first to play down his role by pointing to the huge momentum for the directive within the EFRP and the groundwork that had been laid in Brussels and at national level long before he became involved.
He steps down from the EFRP this year after three years as chairman and there is no doubt that his contribution to the pensions directive and the subsequent promotion of the European Institution for Retirement Provision will have been the reasons why he has attracted pan-European support.
Alan Pickering: reaching out for the common ground within Europe’s disparate pensions systems
But Alan’s domestic constituency will be strong if not stronger, judging by his activities on the UK pensions scene. He is no stranger to the hurly-burly of the politics of pensions, having been chairman of the National Association of Pension Funds in the UK for the two years up to 2001. No sooner had he stepped down from the leading the association than the then secretary of state for work and pensions, Alistair Darling, asked him to lead a review of the simplification of the rules covering the operation of private pension provision.
Some might have regarded this as a ‘fool’s errand’ but, undaunted, he produced what has become known as the Pickering report, which appeared in double-quick time with a characteristically direct title ‘A simpler way to better pensions’. It is replete with sensible recommendations that, if implemented, could relieve some of the really heavy pressures under which UK schemes labour.
Before his NAPF role, he was a member of the then UK regulatory authority for pensions, the Occupational Pensions Board, from 1991 until 1997. He acted as deputy chairman during 1993.
While Alan has been a partner with international consultants Watson Wyatt since 1992, he cut his pensions teeth as a union official with the EETPU, where he obtained considerable experience in the whole area of employee relations, pensions and personal finance. Some 20 formative years of his career were with the union, where taking the mystique out of retirement issues was a daily task.
His grass-roots involvements with pensions continues through his chairmanship of the Plumbing Industry Pension Scheme, one of the relatively few industry-wide arrangements in the UK. Here he has been closely involved with the promotion and development of other industry-wide schemes.
But if there are at this point any lingering concerns about why Alan’s contribution to pensions must be regarded as outstanding, they will perhaps be banished by the fact that in the traditional New Year’s honours list of awards in the UK, he was awarded a CBE for services to occupational schemes.