Issue: June/August 2008


New life in the POA

Under fresh leadership, the Principal Officers Association can be lifted to a force in the industry. The system it’s introduced for performance appraisal illustrates that it isn’t just talk.

Put together two firebrands and expect a fire. After a period of disarray, with key departures from the board and secretariat, new chairperson Wanjiru Kirima and chief executive Anne-Marie D’Alton are determined to reignite the Principal Officers Association (POA).

Biannual national conferences are back. Quarterly half-day seminars, in different regions, are planned. Joint ventures with other industry bodies, such as the Institute of Retirement Funds and the Industrial Relations Association, are intended.

Membership has grown, despite constant churn, from around 270 principal officers a year ago to 325 at present. The target is all principal officers in SA, estimated at 4 800, which illustrates the way still to go with officials as pivotal to retirement funds as group secretaries are to companies.

But the POA isn’t chasing membership for its own sake. The purpose, in a nutshell, is to promote professionalism. This implies the creation of a clear professional identity, underscored by a code of ethics to be developed and constantly reviewed, with penalties for contravention. More than this, it’s to be supported by an operation that works smoothly and provides programmes for regular training; in particular, not only for members to have a forum for networking and information sharing but also to offer them regular updates on issues that effect on the industry.

“There must be ‘consequence management’, so that there are high standards and peer reviews as there are for accountants and actuaries,” says D’Alton. “If a principal officer is not a POA member, then trustees and fund members should want to know why.” The POA isn’t a top-down organisation, Karima adds, but one where members can learn from one another to share practical experiences that can help resolve problems and keep abreast of best practices: “Typically, principal officers are people who feel they have a calling. They’re serious about what they do, and the individuals can be even more of a force as a collective.

”As such, she notes, the POA would be able distribute and obtain comments on circulars from the Financial Services Board (FSB). It would also, as a body, be able to present policy inputs to National Treasury. Its credibility is enhanced because it is aligned with all stakeholders and has no interest as a service provider.

Giving its intentions practical effect, the POA has introduced an easy-to-use system for appraisal of a fund’s principal officer, chairperson, individual trustees and the board as a whole. It’s designed to assess the effectiveness of the board as well as the principal officer, to highlight where improvements should be implemented, and to inform the education and training policy for trustees. “We want our members to be a step ahead of the FSB’s good-governance circular PF130,” explains D’Alton.

Between them, Karima and D’Alton are a formidable combination. Karima, who’s worked on pension fund matters in Kenya and the UK, is principal officer of the Shell pension fund and of the Sapref fund, which provides global trustee support for Shell. She’s driven, she says, “to ensure that at the end of one’s working life one has sufficient money for a dignified retirement”.

D’Alton, who holds an MBA from Pretoria University, spent 20 years in the Department of Labour, where she was responsible for the introduction of domestic and farm workers’ minimum wages. She also established a provident fund for contract cleaners, the first under labour legislation, and for workers in private security.

Her commitment is apparent: “When I was looking for a transition from government to the private sector, the POA appealed to me because it’s a service organisation that was established for all the right reasons.”