A Trustee’s guide on how to select a Trustee (preferably me)
2nd November, 2020
The appointment of a professional trustee is now becoming the norm for pension schemes. This means firms like Dalriada see a lot more in terms of tender traffic. I would estimate appointments are being made in the hundreds each year.
I have been reflecting on the differing styles of tenders and wonder in many instances if the processes are really going deep enough to ensure the right candidate is selected. In a number of cases we are asked for a basic CV and some indicative pricing. From this, we may be invited to shortlist or we may not. I have yet to see a pensions CV which was worthy of a literary prize, and I wonder how can you make a judgement on price without meeting the person or understanding their firm’s approach?
The professional trustee will likely:
- have ready access to a high level of sensitive and personal data;
- be central to the strategic journey plan for your scheme;
- manage the relationship between the trustee board and sponsor;
- manage your costs and compliance;
- oversee future adviser reviews.
The key question is, how can you work out from a CV and a price, if the individual/firm is best placed to do all that? How have you got yourself comfortable with their data protection protocols and processes if you have not asked about it?
So, now to the guide. I would breakdown trustee selection into a few main stages:
What are you looking for?
Many processes go straight to shortlist before actually deciding the candidate being sought. The sponsor, and ideally the rest of the trustees, should consider the beliefs and skillsets they have and then work out the type of individual who would best compliment the board or, if preferred, challenge them. If you approach a firm with a clear specification of the candidate you have in mind, they will deliver the right person to you. If you involve the trustees the candidate will join the board with buy-in, rather than an air of suspicion.
Long list to shortlist
Rather than accepting a shortlist from an adviser, you should understand the long list first. If you understand the wider market and why the adviser has reached the shortlist, you can ensure they have considered your specification and not simply selected trustees that suit their own agenda. The best trustee for your adviser is not necessarily the best trustee for you. With this in mind, it can be helpful to do a little research to ensure you are comfortable with the list.
The Invitation to Tender (ITTs)
Whilst our marketing department will not thank me for adding to the number of questions in the ITTs to which we respond, I think this is important. You should ask a variety of relevant questions about processes, infrastructure, experience and technical views. You want answers that will differentiate candidates, not simply create replica responses. I would also ask for case studies and examples of practical experience which can be accompanied by appropriate references.
Whilst I don’t want to make my work harder, I would implore people to interview more candidates. If a candidate is to be ruled out for a fairly arbitrary reason, then just see them. Trusteeship is about interpersonal skills and they may wow you on the day. You may also be picking the best marketing teams, not the best trustee.
It is important to clearly set out your expectations of the day. If you don’t let the candidate know what to expect, you are unlikely to get the maximum value from the day. I would also look to agree some standard questions so you can see like-for-like responses to situations. It is helpful to agree in advance how you will rate candidates to ensure you have some parameters to compare and contrast.
Selection and the future
When you have selected your candidate you should ensure you consider and monitor performance. The role of a professional trustee is not a job for life and you should ensure they are providing value to the situation.
I hope this guide is useful when considering trustee appointments or reviews. I welcome the scrutiny of a full tender process and don’t mind if I just made my job harder!