The UK professional trustees industry may be facing a retention crisis as 80% of professional defined benefit (DB) pension trustees plan to step down from their role within three years, according to new research from Charles Stanley Fiduciary Management.

This is an increase from 62% of pension trustees who said the same in Charles Stanley’s inaugural research last year, the firm stated. Should this exodus intention bear true, pension schemes will find themselves with a sudden gap in professional oversight, it added.

Bob Campion, senior portfolio manager at Charles Stanley, said: “The volatility of recent months has shone a spotlight on how vital expertise and experience are in the management of pension funds. Professional trustees hold a critical position on the board as trusted and expert voices in deciding the best route for the scheme – from the asset allocation, to the payments of benefits – which has only become more entrenched as the landscape for DB schemes gets more complex.”

The research, which polled 70 professional DB trustees appointed on schemes with a total of assets of more than £60bn in July this year, sought to uncover the timings of when trustees plan to step down from their roles.

Concerningly, a massive 40% of professional DB pension trustees plan to step down in 7-11 months, while the same number (40%) plan to step down from their role in one to three years.

The final 10% plan to step down from their role in four to five years. This means that the average professional DB pension trustee expects to stand down in about 20 months.

The study also delved into the reasons behind why professional DB pension trustees plan to step down from their role: 28% said regulations are too burdensome; however, this is a significant reduction from the 56% who attributed their exit to this last year.

The research also showed that 20% also said that reporting requirements are too onerous to keep up with.

An increased proportion of trustees are retiring (35%) or reaching the end of their tenure (27%), while 28% have struggled with the transition to remote work. This may raise the question for schemes around how to ensure they run an inclusive and accessible trustee board.

 Year-on-year comparisons of reasons why trustees are planning to step down20212022

The regulations are too burdensome



I don’t feel I have the knowledge to perform the role



The reporting requirements are too onerous



I have health concerns



It’s taking up too much of my time



I’m retiring from all work



It’s the end of my tenure



I’ve struggled doing the role remotely



There are no key motivations in my decision to step down as my position as a trustee in the next three years



Source: Charles Stanley Fiduciary Management

Campion said that with a notable rise in the number of DB pension scheme trustees looking to step down from their tenure, pension schemes could swiftly find themselves in a sudden shortfall of professional oversight.

“It’s vital that the industry puts the work in now to find out what’s driving the move, and also try to attract and retain the required new influx of talent. The good news is that many professional trustee firms already have plans underway to recruit new professional trustees to the industry as it continues to evolve and navigate the changing economic landscape,” he noted.

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