David Woods: Reporter, Employee Benefits

Not only is Edinburgh the capital of Scotland, brimming with history and culture, but ‘Auld Reekie’ as it is often affectionately known by the Scots is also a dynamic financial hub and so a perfect location for the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) to hold its 2008 Investment Conference.

So, as a large proportion of the UK’s pensions professionals (and me) descended upon the ancient city, I wasn’t sure if it was the distinctive smell of hops and barley in the air or the feint sound of piping, not to mention a jam-packed conference programme that added a sense of occasion to the three-day event.

A highlight of day one of the conference was an insightful key note speech by Lord Eddie George, former governor of the Bank of England. Lord George gave a clear overview of the current financial situation in the UK, setting the scene for the rest of the conference.

Following an evening of hospitality as only the Scots know how, the faithful delegates arrived for day two, where education was the order of the day. Delegates were regularly reminded of the need to educate and inform staff of the importance of making sufficient contributions to their pension in order to receive an adequate retirement fund. This is clearly a growing issue with the advent of personal accounts in 2012.

In a session entitled ‘Education, Education, Education’, Heather McGuire, group pensions and corporate social responsibility manager for Associated British Ports, explained that although employees need education on the level of contributions they should be making to their pension, what they actually want is advice. However, when informing staff about pension funds McGuire emphasised that employers should remember the situation of their staff and inform them in clear language that employees can understand.

In a later session called ‘What is the optimal DC offering?’, Moira Beckwith, vice president of UK benefits at GlaxoSmithKline, told delegates that in an ever-changing landscape of pensions in the UK, employers must provide pensions choices for staff that are appropriate and flexible.

With misconceptions around pensions commonplace among the the UK workforce, Beckwith reminded the delegates that it is the role of trustees and employers to make sure that they are offering appropriate pension provision and education to staff so that they know how much to contribute to secure a comfortable retirement.

Day three was highlighted by a dynamic speech by American political satirist P J O’Rourke about the forthcoming elections in the states, which roused a tired audience.

Paul Myners, chairman of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority (PADA) discussed the arrival of personal accounts in 2012. He explained that a main focus of the PADA would be to implement a simple and low cost scheme that would give people incentives to save for their future.

The success of personal accounts remains to be seen, but the theme of the NAPF Investment Conference, was ‘Investing today, securing tomorrow’, and the conference undoubtedly provided delegates with important information about ensuring the success of their occupational pension schemes in this volatile time.

I think that a lot of lessons still have to be learned about pensions, but if employers deliver proper education to employees around investment decisions, they will be heading in the right direction towards ensuring their staff have sufficient financial security on retirement.