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Pension funds need dissenting views on boards, says Dutch supervisor

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  • Binnenhof, The Hague

Dutch pension funds could benefit from dissenting views on their board, as those espousing them could provide a fresh perspective and encourage proper decision-making, Joanne Kellerman, director pension funds at supervisor De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) has argued.

“A colleague who doesn’t agree with business as usual, could act as an eye opener for risks or problems others fail to spot,” she said during a symposion of magazine Pensioen Bestuur & Management (PBM) last week.

In her opinion, dissidents on the board could be external experts on risk or asset management, pensioners or younger participants.

“Expertise and diversity are useful on a board,” she stressed.

Currently, pension funds are busy seeking new board members and internal supervisors – following new governance legislation which is to come into force on 1 July – who all need to pass an assessment by DNB.

Kellerman indicated that even people who have never been on a pension fund’s board could pass the test. “We not only assess individual board members, but also look at the board as a unit. Therefore, a fresh look could be a welcome addition to the collective,” she said.

“The smartest person is not by definition the best board member,”she continued. “We also assess whether he or she can hold his or her ground within the board.”

According to audience members at the conference, appointing external board members could prove advantageous. “They are motivated specialists with expertise, as they are familiar with other board and know best practices,” summarised Jillert Blom of Fidelity Worldwide Investment. “And if they don’t fit, the board can replace them with others.”

“They also provide a cheap way of acquiring expertise,” argued Olav Loeber, an adviser for the National Register for external board members.

“The costs of having an external board member for one day a week is €25,000 a year. This compares very favourably with the costs of a consultant.”

That said, according to Blom, a pension fund’s long-term policy and culture is not guaranteed, if it has too many external board members. “For the internal communication, it is important that a board member knows the sector or the company,” he pointed out.

Frans Prins, director of the €4bn pension fund PWRI, remained sceptical about external board members, and fretted about the costs of somebody who did not know the sector.

In his opinion, it would not prevent the need for a consultant, “as an external board member also understands very well that he needs an actuary”.

Therefore pension funds should take care themselves of a proper education of their board members, he made clear.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Not happening! Dissenters cost time. Or even the necessity to think! Not the cup of tea of pension boards and no incentives at this time to change their ways!

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  • I have no doubt that docile board members exist. They are part of the problem of keeping the board effective. It is a real problem, but it is not necessarily solved by mavericks. I am not aware of any board where reps of employers and employees always agree. I am aware of a "shut up and do as I say" attitude at DNB.

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