Meetings are an essential part of running a pension scheme. Questions are raised, matters discussed and decisions made. Regular meetings typically follow a familiar agenda and provide natural intervals for monitoring to take place and for the results to be discussed.
Meetings can be expensive, both in terms of time and cost, so it is important that best use is made of the time available. We hope this handbook will help by providing background and giving suggestions of matters to consider.
The length of this handbook gives some idea of the complexity of pension schemes, although this will vary from scheme to scheme. Trustees could easily spend days discussing all the various items noted without significant benefit to anyone. For this reason it is essential to plan agendas carefully, ensure that the most important items will have sufficient time and delegate matters as required.
The most important requirement for having a successful meeting is preparation. This includes:
- Determining the meeting date sufficiently well in advance to mean that people are able to attend
- Careful planning of the agenda bearing in mind the time available and any imminent key activities
- Requiring that any professional advice needed to make decisions is received ahead of the date on which the papers will be issued. This allows time for the advice to be reviewed, any resulting questions to be asked and (if needed) adjustment of the advice ahead of the papers being issued
- Ensuring that the various logs and registers have been updated in time for circulating in advance
- Circulating the meeting pack sufficiently far in advance of the meeting for people to be able to prepare properly
- Trustees arriving ready to discuss matters on the agenda having read all the papers
- Everyone understanding what is required from each agenda item (whether a decision, or simply noting, or something else)
The Pensions Regulator has made the following comments about meetings which we have annotated in italics:
- An agenda should be compiled and circulated for comments at least two weeks before the meeting. Our view is that the chair and secretary/advisers should ideally discuss the agenda at least four weeks before a meeting, with the aim being that all the relevant material is produced in time for the papers to be issued well in advance of the meeting (we suggest papers are issued at least a week before the meeting).
- Trustees should arrive at the meeting ready to discuss items on the agenda. They should not be afraid to ask questions if anything is unclear, ideally prior to the meeting. Good advisers will be happy to answer questions to aid understanding.
- Trustees should understand how the decision-making process works for their scheme and make sure they have access to the information they need to make those decisions. Electronic document sharing platforms can assist with this as trustees can have easy access to scheme documents whenever they need them.
- Minutes should be produced, with particular care taken over decisions, the reasons behind them and action points. Minutes should be prepared and circulated as soon as possible after meetings so that everyone can comment and note their actions. If legal advice was given or discussed at the meeting then the trustees will need to be careful not to give up “legal privilege”. They may therefore need input from their legal advisers before the minutes are finalised. It is also advisable for action logs to be produced and for the scheme secretary to chase actions between meetings to ensure that matters are progressed in good time.
- Trustees should meet frequently enough to properly oversee the scheme – in most cases at least quarterly. For larger schemes quarterly meetings will be appropriate, but for small schemes once or twice a year may be sufficient depending on activity. Where appropriate, schemes may also have sub-committee meetings between main board meetings, e.g. to discuss investment or governance matters.
- The chair of the meeting should promote open discussion and prevent the view of one person dominating. It is important to note that this one person must also include the chair!
- The chair should also ensure that discussion is relevant and that there is enough time for questions. We recommend that the key focus and time allocation to meetings is on material items which serve the trustees’ strategic aims.
It can be very helpful to specify the required output from each agenda item so that trustees understand what is required. This could, for example, be “Decision required” or “For noting”. It can also be helpful for the agenda to contain an indication of the time allocated to each item.
If it is unclear who is responsible for what it can sometimes be difficult to progress matters at meetings. Trustees need to fully understand the roles and responsibilities of parties connected with the scheme and ensure that these are documented. Trustees should not be afraid to challenge the advice they are given. They should also not be afraid of asking potentially “silly” questions. It is essential that trustees properly understand a situation before making a related decision and, in any event, such questions often turn out to be sensible after all.
It is likely that there will be a number of advisers present at board meetings, and possibly also a secretary to the trustees. The employer (or a representative) may also be present.
Trustees should consider how best to use their advisers at meetings. They may not need to all be there at every meeting. Having said that, in some cases it is helpful to have them together so that you can have a holistic discussion on larger projects. Sometimes excluding some of the advisers from feasibility discussions on grounds of cost saving can be a false economy.