Winter is coming...

5th October, 2020

  • Any Game of Thrones fan out there will recognise those words, from the very first episode of the first season, and now firmly established in popular culture. The phrase can have several different meanings (depending on which fan site you search) but the most common is of a warning, and the need for extra vigilance. And who would disagree with that sentiment in the current environment, whether in our personal or professional lives, and as we head into Winter and what’s looking like another very uncertain six months.        

    It’s certainly been a tough period for many pensions schemes, whether that’s from the perspective of covenant/funding, investment, administration, or member communication. Overall though, from a governance and operational perspective, it’s fair to say the industry has risen to the challenge. Adapting to the issues forced upon us by the pandemic has provided an opportunity to fast forward new approaches, embrace technology, and be much more agile than is typically the case in our industry. Even though it can feel exhausting at times (there are only so many hours of Zoom and Teams calls you can take in a day!), we should try to continue with that optimism and resourcefulness in the months ahead.        

    There were many articles back in Spring about what pension schemes, sponsors, and trustees should be doing in response to COVID-19, and there continues to be a plethora of detailed guidance online from The Pensions Regulator, PLSA, PPF and PASA to name a few. The PLSA’s COVID 19: Top Ten Tips are particularly helpful – very clear and succinct.   

    So, as Winter approaches and we look ahead to the next six months, perhaps one of the first things we should do (if we haven’t already) is take a bit of time to step back and assess what we’ve learned from the last six months. Then, to the extent that we can (because in reality we have very little idea of what might happen) think about what issues might affect the scheme and membership in the months ahead. Where do we need to be extra vigilant, what back up plans are in place for this new norm, are there any weak links in the chain?

    Some high-level areas to revisit on our COVID 19 ‘checklists’, where continued vigilance is essential in the months ahead, could include:

    • Business continuity and disaster recovery – e.g. readiness for Winter storms, power outages, and/or flooding with so many of us working from home.
    • Re-assessing cyber-security – an ever-increasing threat and heightened, again, by the number of home workers.
    • Incident management plans – spend time now thinking about and documenting how we’ll deal with material incidents ahead of time.
    • Sponsor financial information sharing protocols – making sure it’s received in real time.
    • (Re)prioritising the business plan – focusing on the ‘must-dos’.
    • And last, but definitely not least, member communication protocols – (more) guidance, (more) reassurance, (more) support, wherever it’s needed.  

    Winter is most definitely coming (and you could say, in Game of Thrones terms, it never really left) but, looking on the bright side, before we know it, Spring will be here. And let’s hope that, with it, come the early signs of a new, better version of, normal for everyone.

    Find a selection of guidance and resources on COVID-19 preparedness and actions at:

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    • Published byAlison Stewart

      Alison is an experienced industry professional and senior professional trustee, and is Accredited as a Professional Trustee by the Association of Professional Pension Trustees. She is based in Dalriada’s Glasgow office and leads the Dalriada business in Scotland. Alison is a...

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