Issue: September/November 09
Edutorials
Liberty Corporate

BEHAVIOURS NEED TO CHANGE

Baron Furstenburg, head of pension reform strategy at the Liberty Group, is shocked by the deflection from serious matters at the annual IRF conference.

The Institute of Retirement Funds (IRF) recently held its annual conference in Durban. This was the sixth consecutive year I’ve attended. Over the period, unfortunately, I’ve seen little change in actual behaviour of some delegates and service providers at the conference. I hope that the same cannot be said for the running of their funds.

This year I was especially struck by the degree to which some delegates – which includes inter alia trustees, service and product providers, consultants, regulators, actuaries and lawyers -- treat the exhibition hall like a shopping mall.

Many trustees and others are seen charging from one exhibition stall to the next, loading up their bags with gifts and other “nacky” items. A business development manager for one of the exhibitors pointed out to me that one delegate had the audacity to march up to her company’s stand, grab three calculators and walk off without uttering a word of either greeting, thanks or engagement on trustee issues.

I would argue that many exhibitors in fact add fuel to the vicious free-shopping malaise by continuing each year to provide progressively fancier gifts at their stalls. There were even rumours that one service provider (who was not exhibiting) was accosting trustees in the exhibitions hall to board a bus to the Zimbali resort.

I would argue that many exhibitors in fact add fuel to the vicious free-shopping malaise by continuing each year to provide progressively fancier gifts at their stalls.


Both the acceptance but especially the offering of such a perverse incentive for business is disgraceful. Are the debates around disclosure, independence, fiduciary duty, ethics and conflicts of interest not sinking in? Prof Mervyn King himself presented on some of these very issues in the conference plenary.

My argument is that we need to do more than merely talk about good practice in such things; we need to live them. It’s time for trustees to stand up, and for service and product providers to stop wittingly or unwittingly fuelling the fire.

We could possibly debate the merits of holding competitions and offering pens for use at the conference. But I believe the IRF, going forward, should ban gifts at its conference. Let trustees, whose funds have paid good money for them to attend, actually spend time engaging with the service and product providers who send their staff out of office to tend exhibition stalls.

I accept that there will be marketing. Neverthless, let the exhibition be about communication, information and education. The “free shopping” should end. There is serious business of retirement fund administration, reform, investment and governance on which we should rather engage.