The Australians, Benjie Fraser tells us, have put their minds to a problem that will affect the pensions industry worldwide - where will the next generation of trustees come from?
At a recent industry conference in Brisbane, a thousand trade union trustees of the highly regarded super-system discussed for the first time the challenge they now face as a generation of highly regarded chairs and trustees consider retirement from the industry. Who will fill their shoes? These are hardworking individuals who were around at the inception of an industry whose reforms 30 years ago are still regarded as cutting edge. To loosely compare with forthcoming UK reforms, the Australians didn't just do NEST - they did NEST and all the REST. An incredible achievement.
Talent-pool management? Succession planning? Call it what you will, this is an issue not just for Australia but for a lot of the pensions industry as we enter the second decade of the new century.
Who will step up? The traditional alignments are no longer so clear-cut, whether you are describing the inter-relation between sponsor and scheme or the cross-generational responsibility neatly enshrined in the idea of duty.
No one is quite sure what will happen next. Certainly in Australia, a good deal of thinking is being applied to drawing up a new pool of trustee talent across as diverse a group of people as possible. It will be terrific to watch this change at work. It will bring new ideas into the business. Clearly, recruitment is key, which is where the regulator could begin to play a higher profile role via assessment. Trustees passing exams? Self-assessment, online, continuous improvement modules? Yes, the future's bright (as someone said somewhere) but 'up-skilling' (what a word!) may be the name of the game. Last week in Australia, the topic of the trustee board of the future was hotly debated along these lines. Have you recently discussed succession plans at your board?
European supervisors have already gently signalled in certain markets that there are not enough trustees to go round. The expectation from supervisors is likely to intensify that certain markets need to 'super-size' (industry speak for 'consolidate') trustee boards to handle all the crazy paving that lies ahead. A new impetus to manage the advent of the 'super trustee' is probably a huge exaggeration, but, at the same time, it is probably not too fanciful to suppose that regulators are at least giving some thought to how it will all look 10 years from now.
Benjie Fraser is Global Pensions Executive at JP Morgan's Worldwide Securities Services business