Issue: Oct 2010/Jan 2011
Editorials

Profile

So far, now further

The IRF can be thankful for the role its president is prepared to keep playing, trying to match continuity with an infusion of fresh blood. She has an agenda since the politicised dust has settled on attempts to split the institute between service providers and trustees.

A lady with a mission is Shantha Padayachee, still hanging in as Institute of Retirement Funds president. It’s just as well. Such voluntary associations invariably need office bearers prepared to share their skills and sacrifice their time if they’re to tick.

And the IRF is ticking, to judge by the number of delegates who packed the Sandton Convention Centre for its annual conference in September. The conference remains the biggest industry jamboree, and the money-spinner on which the IRF relies for its existence.

But it goes further than a networking bunfight for service providers and trustees to interact. It’s a valuable platform for industry-sensitive issues to be aired and advanced, limited within the workshops but developed thereafter.

Still, something for the IRF itself to consider is better coordination with other industry bodies and service providers who in any case are the institute’s financial backbone. There are simply too many associations and institutions each seeking their own unique places in the sun, each vying for attention and attendance, but each often replicating the others. In any one year, there’re more conferences and seminars than topics and speakers for riveting relevance.

Concerned that the IRF might lose momentum, Padayachee wants to extend its role; for its bias toward service providers to be reduced and its representation of a broader constituency increased. In her words, it’s for the body to become more “progressive” by expanding on the work of its legal and technical committee in liaising with the FSB on regulatory issues to being “proactive” on consumer issues as well.

The landscape, she points out, has become highly sophisticated with a variety of particular needs. One is for the role of trustees to be elevated and professionalised, which goes beyond the more basic focus on training to enhanced skills development (which involves, amongst other things, that employers’ resistance to giving employee-trustees time for this pursuit must be overcome).

Another is for in-depth research on industry matters. But the IRF lacks the resources, both in manpower and money. So from where will resources and the leadership come?

Padayachee isn’t territorial. Again, there’s cause for stronger collaboration amongst the multiplicity of industry players – bodies such as the pension lawyers’ and principal officers’ associations but particularly the respective financial institutions and pension funds, preferably as a collective – so that wheels aren’t perpetually reinvented. The different bodies have different emphases but, as she recognises, significant commonality too.

Shantha Padayachee

Padayachee . . . commitment undiminished

A lawyer by training and also by temperament, disguised by a soft smile, she’s Durban-born. Having completed her LL B at Natal University, she holds an LL M in labour law from Natal as well as an LL M in tax from Wits. She did her articles at the Legal Resources Centre and been a partner, in charge of the pensions law and employee benefits unit, at Webber Wentzel.

Briefly to mention a few other things: she’s curator of the Command provident fund; is an independent trustee on the boards of some large funds; has headed the legal services division at NBC, and was a senior lecturer at Monash where she developed a qualification course in retirement funds. She’s also been involved with the IRF for the better part of a decade.

Her interest in retirement funds was sparked by her work in labour law: “There’s such a close relationship. At Webbers when I was getting started in 1998 on due diligences, we often had to look into pension funds. As a specialist area, I saw it as completely new and fascinating.”

No flies on her. Recognising flaws in the way the industry is perceived, she called in her presidential address this year for a “clear, simple, unambiguous retirement-funds sector ‘Code of Morality & Ethical Practice’ which may be binding on all stakeholders, administered by the FSB and premised on accountability with real sanctions for non-compliance or abuse”.

Aren’t there sufficient codes and regulations already? Apparently not. It’s the “real sanctions” bit that might provoke liveliest exploration. Nobody said Padaychee isn’t tough.