Issue: Mar/May 2011
Editorials

PRINCIPAL OFFICERS

Towards the professional PO

The Principal Officers Association has been working hard to improve the professionalism of retirement funds' principal officers. It's high on the agenda for the year ahead.

Duties of principal officers (POs) reach far beyond their statutory obligations. POs also fulfill an executive role. They are responsible for the actual work involved in executing the resolutions of a fund's trustee board. Not only do they form the hub of the fund's management structure but they also guide trustees on strategic issues that might affect a fund.

The Principal Officers Association (POA) now aims to provide the necessary direction: to ensure POs' career mobility, improve standards of competence and workforce quality, and contribute towards the economy as a whole. "Professionalisation of the PO is at the heart of the leadership role," argues POA chief executive Anne-Marie D'Alton.

Professionalisation is not the exclusive domain of such older professions as medicine or law, she insists. In particular, because s8 of the Pension Funds Act requires all new principal officers to be fit and proper, the Act supports the notion of professionalism in a real way.

"The POA believes that professionalisation of the PO role will go a long way to meet the future demands of fund members, beneficiaries and the industry as a whole," adds D'Alton, who considers that it entails four major pillars:

D'Alton

D'Alton . . . huge step forward
  • Professional registration
    Recognising the PO as a professional, and gaining respect, requires adherence to the professional hallmarks of stringent standards and ethical accountability. Other professions subscribe to such standards and codes. Professional registration of POs will achieve this. In practice, it would mean that POs will obtain a special title or designation once they've met the requirements for registration. They will also be subject to the POA code of conduct (published last year) and disciplinary measures.

  • Continuous education and training
    Life-long learning is ingrained in the professional's culture. It sits well within the POA's volunteer spirit. Through education and training, all POs and other talented people within the retirement industry could find a route to professional registration

    At present the POA offers custom-made training (summer tutorials), as well as quarterly seminars and conferences, to meet the immediate demands for upskilling and competency retention. It mirrors the continuous professional development (CPD) programme that typically applies to, for example, engineers and medical doctors.

    Professionally-registered POs will be required to maintain a CPD programme.

  • Professional body to administer affairs
    The SA Qualifications Authority describes a professional body as comprising a recognised community of expert practitioners. Amongst the major functions, according to SAQA, are quality assurance, assessment of professional competence and continuous professional development. The POA will be the preferred industry body to facilitate the POs' professionalisation process. It will do so in line with SAQA directives.

  • Duty to society
    Distinguishing characteristics of a profession include its acceptance by society and of its responsibility to society. Societies trust and rely on professionals variously to maintain their health, advise them on legal matters and the like. There are safeguards to protect society and not to cause harm. These principles apply equally to POs in performing their duties. They include engaging with members, beneficiaries and other retirement-fund stakeholders.

    In this process, D'Alton explains, the first step is to initiate the institutionalisation of the POA as a professional body that promotes the interest and professional standards of the PO.

    The second is to develop and roll out a consultation plan to discuss with members the various aspects related to their professionalisation. It's important that they are comfortable with the outcome because, she emphasises, it's about their futures and the generations to come.

    The POA will continue to offer events and activities that address the educational and networking needs of both POs and trustees.

  • Anne-Marie D'Alton can be contacted at the POA on ceo@poa.org.za or (011) 805-6340.

POA WINTER CONFERENCE

Book the date!      Theme: Your Profession, Your Competence

The Principal Officers Association will this year hold its annual Winter Conference on 6 and 7 July on the theme Your profession, your competence: Putting your knowledge to work. To be discussed are topics related to the core competencies of principal officers and trustees. Delegates can look forward to guidelines on:

  • Service-provider review and tender processes;
  • How to improve communication with members and other stakeholders;
  • How to interpret investment jargon;
  • How to become more intelligent about risk;
  • When to consider pension fund-backed lending, and much more.

The POA is confident that this year's Winter Conference will be a firm industry milestone on the path to professionalisation. It looks forward to welcoming principal officers, trustees and other fund officials to this event.

Dates: 6 June to 7 June 2011
Venue: Birchwood Hotel & Conference Centre, Boksburg, Gauteng
Contact details: Jabu Mngxekeza, Tel: 0118056340,
E-mail: info@poa.org.za, Website www.poa.org.za

REGISTRATION NOW OPEN