Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Can pension funds shape the future of capitalism?"

Catching up on things. Last month I went straight from the TUC Trustee Pension Conference to the Fair Pension's Guest Lecture at the House of Commons. This was the second presentation I had been to that day on "Capitalism and pensions". I was with a notoriously quiet and reserved UNISON colleague who is a Local Government Pension (LGPS) expert. The lecture was given by Professor Keith Ambachtsheer, Director of the Rotman Institute for Pension Management (left of picture).

He was introduced by John Cruddas MP who is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Committee for Responsible Investment. The meeting was Chaired by Catherine Howarth of Fair Pensions.

You can read an account of his speech (and that of Mark Fawcett, Chief Investment Officer at NEST - right of picture) and the full text here. My take on Ambachtsheer is that he believes that Capitalism must be transformed by those who invest in pensions acting as active owners and demanding that capitalism is transformed into a sustainable and wealth creating model. Rather than mainly benefiting "agents" and being subject to their whims.

What I also found striking in his speech was that the traditional argument over pensions about which is best: Defined Benefit or Defined Contribution? Is the wrong question to ask. Instead you should be more concerned with Scale (size of fund), Governance, Investment belief and Fees.  I asked a question about the Local Government Pensions Scheme (LGPS) which has around £140 billion in assets but is split into 101 different funds. Ambachtsheer thought this was just completely wrong to have so many small funds.

Afterwards we went to the St Stephens Tavern where we had some very "interesting" conversations about the future of the LGPS from across the political divide.

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