Why the role of a specialist trustee scheme secretary is so important

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

It’s probably quite easy for people outside of the pensions world to imagine that the role of a pension scheme secretary is largely made up of arranging lunches, meeting rooms and taking a few notes at a meeting.

This is, however, far from the in-depth and highly important role that has become a recognised, respected and highly interesting career in its own right.

The amount of legislation and governance that trustees must comply with has grown year on year and I have yet to see a board function to the best of its ability without a strong scheme secretary supporting and guiding it. It is not a role required by statute but in practice I would say that it is essential.  Your scheme secretary can be part of an in-house team or outsourced to specialists like Barnett Waddingham.

Part of the Regulator’s focus in its 21st Century Trusteeship campaign is about having clear roles and responsibilities.  It occurs to me that, as it’s such a crucial part of the operation of a scheme, the secretary’s role should be carefully thought through and documented. The trustees should have full understanding and oversight about all the activity that the secretary performs. Any delegations from the trustees to their secretary should be clearly recorded. This also helps with performance reviews.

So what is a typical scheme secretarial role?

The scheme secretary's overall duty is to help facilitate the proper functioning of the trustee board. This includes liaison with and monitoring of all the trustees’ providers and advisers.  It is particularly important that the secretary works closely with the chairman to ensure that the scheme is managed in as effective a manner as possible.

"There is no one “correct” definition of the trustee secretary role."

There is no one “correct” definition of the trustee secretary role. The exact role will depend on a number of scheme specific factors, such as the size and number of schemes they look after and the numbers of meetings and committees they need to serve. Whether they are part of a wider pension scheme executive team and the amount of in-house pension resource is also an important factor; e.g. in some schemes tasks are completed by a scheme secretary and in others by the pension manager or governance officer.

Don’t forget about the scheme secretary’s development

Trustees are required to set and follow training plans and it’s just as important for the scheme secretary to undertake professional development activities.  Scheme secretaries with Pensions Management Institute “PMI” qualifications or other professional qualifications need to meet the professional bodies CPD requirements.  As secretary, they will also benefit from attending trustee training events.

The Pensions Management Institute run various Trustee Secretary courses throughout the year which can be found on the PMI website.

Need some help?

We have a dedicated UK wide Pensions Management team with secretarial specialists who can help deliver scheme secretarial services, including:

  • Help scoping a scheme secretarial role
  • Scheme secretarial training
  • Covering a temporary absence or recruitment gap
  • Providing additional support during resource pinch points
  • Delivering ongoing scheme secretarial services.

You can find out more about the governance and secretarial services that we provide here.