A third of DB schemes now using professional trustees

The number of defined benefit (DB) pension schemes using a professional trustee has increased by around 60 per cent over the past five years, with one in three now using a professional trustee compared to one in five in 2015, according to LCP.

The provider's analysis of figures obtained under a Freedom of Information Act also showed a "very small growth" in the number of individual professional trustees, from 208 in 2015 to 243 in 2021.

LCP attributed the rise in professional trustee usage to several factors, including a decline in the number of member nominated trustees (MNT) putting themselves forward, and less appetite for senior corporate individuals to act as trustees in light of conflict of interest concerns.

It also pointed out the increasing complexity and weight of regulation, requirements and guidance on DB schemes, explaining that a professional trustee with wide experience and deep knowledge can add value within a board in light of this, particularly with the Pension Scheme’s Act introducing new requirements around potential criminal sanctions.

Indeed, research recently published by Willis Towers Watson found that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of trustees thought that the role had become significantly more risky, with two-thirds finding it hard to find a MNT, and increasing value placed on the impact of independent professional trustees.

More broadly, LCP argued that the professional trustee market has seen an “explosion of activity” over the last few years, with professional corporate sole trustee (PCST) arrangements also becoming increasingly popular.

In support of this, LCP highlighted its further research, which found that of UK schemes currently with a professional trustee, about one third are under a professional corporate sole trustee arrangement.

The provider has predicted that this rise will continue, announcing the launch of a full service proposition for PCST schemes, LCP Advance, in response to this increasing trend.

Commenting on the findings, LCP partner, Nathalie Sims, said: “Increased regulation and the need for efficiencies, partly driven by corporate pressures are playing a big part in the rise of professional trustees and particularly PSCT , and this will revolutionise the trustee market.

“Streamlining governance, reducing complexity and introducing an additional layer of professionalism given the increase in regulation are all some of the benefits.

“We encourage boards to ensure they familiarise themselves with the variety of firms, individuals and mix of skillsets when appointing a professional trustee who can provide an independent voice and additional perspective.

“The new code of practice from the Association of Professional Pension Trustees (APPT) alongside their existing standards will mean more consistency in the quality of professional trustees.

“The Pensions Regulator proposed a review of its guidance in their 2019 consultation on the future of trusteeship to reflect this growth and we hope that this comes sooner rather than later to give more clarity for pension schemes navigating this.”

APPT chair, Nita Tinn, added: “Professional trustees are experts in their field and play a vital role in the administration of pension schemes, working to support and protect the interests of scheme members.

“As the sector faces an increasingly complex regulatory landscape, we envisage that there will be a greater demand for our members’ services.

"We encourage companies considering appointing a professional trustee to ensure that they only engage accredited trustees who are bound by our strict set of professional standards.”

The findings also echoed research from Isio, which suggested that the professional pension trustee market was growing "rapidly" amid the rise in sole trusteeship.

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