The “New Norm”: a George Jetson view of Trustee meetings

6th April, 2020

  • I am all for looking for positives in a world in turmoil. Doing so has been a fairly tall order at the moment. I am also all for crafting random themes throughout any blog. The Jetsons are a futuristic cartoon family with George as the hard working futuristic patriarch.

    Like George, I have now seen the future. Whilst completely enforced (rightly so) we are running Trustee meetings virtually using video technology. I am finding a lot of themes I have believed in for quite some time are now coming to the fore.

    How many items can you fit on an agenda?

    I am sure George has never been happy seeing 40 points on a Trustee agenda (neither is Chris). The industry has a nasty habit of putting everything it can think of into its agendas. The majority of people have a limited tolerance of video conferencing which means that Trustee meetings tend to be shorter. This is allowing people to focus on what they need to speak about without trying to pay lip service to any conceivable subject. I am a firm believer in focusing meetings on key areas and rotating focus throughout the year. If you have a hybrid scheme this is particularly important or the DC section tends to become the poor cousin to the DB. This is one of the many reasons for TPR pushing DC Governance hard.

    Reading the travel brochure for the Titanic!

    I have sat in meetings over the last month where the quarterly investment report to 31st December 2019 is on the agenda! This I have likened to reading the sales brochure for the Titanic … we all know what happened next (although if the Titanic had a diversified strategy it may have saved Rose and Jack). I have always thought Trustees should focus on the most up-to-date data and position meetings to make them nimble, allowing them to react to any de-risking opportunities. The current meeting calendar “norm” does not really lend itself to this.

    More meetings, less problems (but not for meeting sake)

    Trustee meetings tend to create a lot of work. This generates cost which is a barrier to meeting as often as we perhaps would like. The use of video conferencing technology will allow for more efficient meeting services which can mean more meetings throughout the year without increasing costs. This will improve decision making and the ability to deal with developing issues.

    360 Degree Governance

    I am sure everyone has been at a Trustee meeting where governance is rushed at the end (see too many agenda items). Governance isn’t something to nod through every three months. Governance is the work which ensures good decision making. I am a firm believer that risk registers, business plans and related documents are meant to be organic and updated in real time. They are not documents to be hurriedly updated for a meeting pack and then given one minute of air time. The move to more condensed meetings will allow us to position governance as an ongoing exercise, not an agenda section.

    There is no ME in ESG?

    How many of us are going to sit listening to 30-45 minute presentations on ESG delivered by consultants who have travelled 300 miles on a  plane to speak to us? Before flying home. Whilst the Jetsons may have perfected emission free travel, back in the real world we have not! We can really drive efficiency both financially and environmentally by no longer demanding to see “the whites of the eye”…

    To infinity and beyond!

    Whilst shamelessly switching futuristic references, I must now bring this to a close. There is no one-size-fits all solution. Ultimately, if my client wants to meet in the park on a Tuesday at dusk – if this is what works for them (and we can make it GDPR compliant) – I will do my best to deliver that service. However, I am hoping all will see that we can create a better “new norm” and take some positives out of these challenging times. Alas, while a robot dog like Astro is slightly too futuristic, it would be greatly appreciated as it would be unlikely to jump on your table in the middle of a video conference. Stay safe all.

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    • Published byChris Roberts

      Chris is managing director of Dalriada Trustees and a professional trustee who set up our Manchester office in June 2015.  Chris previously worked for two large benefit consultancies and as administration manager for a large in house pension scheme in...

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