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Seeing the pensions light

What was your first full-time job – do you remember what you were paid at the time?
I started work in 1958 as a booking office and parcels clerk with the London Midland Region of British Railways’ and I earned about £6 (€8.70) per week. One of the saddest days was when the passenger service was withdrawn from the branch line on which I worked as part of the railway cut backs by Dr Beeching in 1959.

What was the best piece of advice that anyone gave you career wise and did you take it?
Because I am first and foremost a Salvation Army Officer, my vocational training means that I believed all my appointments were God-given, therefore I had no career plan as the world would understand it. I accepted each new appointment with its challenges and opportunities always seeking to do my best for others.
In many ways my initial period with the pensions was a question of on-the-job training and so I was very grateful for the advice of our actuaries and generally accepted what they recommended

3. How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?
After a number of years leading Salvation Army Centres, our Churches, throughout East Anglia, family circumstances dictated a change of appointment to our headquarters where I took up clerical work within the finance department. There I was involved in various bookkeeping, cashiering, mail order and distribution roles.
As part of my administration duties I was given the pension fund accounts to organise and record, along with the payroll. Subsequently, the pension payroll was added to these responsibilities. Following an internal reorganisation I was given the added responsibility for administration of the main pension fund. Gradually other funds were added to my portfolio until all the Salvation Army in the UK looked to me for their pension administration.

What was the most satisfying achievement during your career – and why?
I was given control of a paper-based pension fund, with two sets of record cards, a manual ledger and cash book, for which interest had to be calculated bi-annually using a calculator and then entered on the record cards.
I negotiated with a third-party administrator to take the fund over and saw the fund grow and stabilise, including the introduction of regular benefit statements. During the negotiations I learnt a lot as we whittled the possibilities down from an initial list of 18 companies. I found it very satisfying to be able to oversee all the various aspects of the takeover and establishment of the fund.

And what was the worst moment in your career – and why?
Being given responsibility for the fund at a time when the then secretary was nursing a very sick partner and so was unable to cope with the administration and to keep up with the record cards, but was also unwilling to pass on information regarding other duties. This was a very trying time and it coincided with an investigation by the Pensions Ombudsman into a situation that I inherited.
This series of unrelated but simultaneous events resulted in a great
deal of overtime and considerable stress and strain on myself and a number of temporary staff, some of whom were experienced but the majority of whom were very naïve when it came to pensions administration.

How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?
I would encourage anyone entering the pensions arena to gain a knowledge of the background and history of pensions and I would emphasise to them that underlying the whole process is the aspect of helping people to provide for their own future requirements. I would also suggest that they find a position with a smallish fund where they would be able to see the overall picture from ‘application forms’ to ‘death benefits’, and have an overview of the accounting and investments processes along the way. Pensions can be a fulfilling and exciting career for anyone with the correct attitude and aptitude.

What would you do differently?
When I first came into pensions I learnt the basics but did not follow this up by taking any formal qualifications. This was a mistake because later I was too busy and mentally unable to cope with extra study along with the normal reading and study of new legislation that this would have required.

Do you have any unfilled
ambitions?
The pension fund for the Salvation Army’s officers was created by
an Act of Parliament in 1963 and is also a registered charity in its own right. My ambition was to bring the rules of the fund more into line with current thought and practice by getting an amendment adopted by parliament.
Ministers of religion, which included Salvation Army officers, were included in the National Insurance modernisation law of 1979 but exempted from much of the equalisation legislation that followed,
for example in the areas of sex discrimination, equal opportunities, contracts and pensions. Therefore, these aspects have not been catered for within the pension fund. However, the necessary support and adequate time were not available for me to bring this to a successful conclusion.

Are you retiring or are you be recycling yourself into some new role?
I hope to be able to use my knowledge in a new role. At the moment I am still helping the Salvation Army with its overseas National Insurance payments and with queries.

Your words of wisdom for those in the pensions industry?
There are many people who earn less than you do and they need just as much of your help and guidance as the ‘fat cats’ at the top of the lifetime allowance.

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