Meet Robert Wakefield – the newly elected President of the PMI

Robert Wakefield, Head of Administration Services at First Actuarial, is the newly elected President of the Pensions Management Institute (PMI). In this article, he discusses what the presidency means to him and why he will be telling it like it is during his term of office.

I’m absolutely honoured to be President of the PMI. In fact, I have to pinch myself that one of the industry’s leading organisations – responsible for training and education across the pensions profession – has elected me as its President. I’m struggling to point to anything else in my career that could ever top this.

Why do I think I’m the right person then? Why did I apply?

I’ve been an active PMI member for some time – writing articles, working on their think tanks, and the like. But so have countless other pension professionals.

If I’m honest, I think it’s because I’m someone who likes to speak! For some time now, I’ve had a strong feeling that there are lots of important things that aren’t being said in pensions. Maybe we’ve all become more careful about what we say.

But at industry conferences – after I’ve grabbed the mic to speak my mind yet again – people have come up to me and thanked me for raising questions that they were clearly desperate to ask. Maybe it’s because I’m from Yorkshire, or maybe it’s my decades of experience in pensions, but I do feel empowered to ask those questions.

Because let’s face it, the industry is facing so many challenges it’s hard to keep track of them all. This is no time to hide away from hard realities – from pension-specific challenges, like pensions dashboards and GMP equalisation, to broader issues like climate change. We’re trying to deal with all of this and more, at a time when every organisation is struggling to find enough people to get the work done.

The pensions industry in a state of transition

The pensions industry is in a state of transition, and the PMI is no exception. It’s an organisation that has traditionally run face-to-face seminars and conferences. But since the pandemic, of course, much of this has been delivered online. It turns out that we can all get more done by avoiding time-consuming trips to London for industry events.

So we’ve embraced new ways of working. And we’ve definitely improved the way we deliver education, with online courses and exams, and a relaunch of some of the PMI’s key qualifications.

All that is great, and it’s probably a lot more inclusive. But along the way, I feel we’ve lost the value of meeting people face-to-face. If you’ve attended any real-life conferences recently, you’ll know that they’re not exactly as well-attended as they used to be. It can be a bit dispiriting. And it’s not just about lockdown. New legislation and other changes have increased all our workloads.

But it’s important to get away from our screens every now and then, no matter how busy we are.

Getting under-represented groups involved in the PMI

As President of the PMI, I’m planning to put some serious effort into engaging with younger people and making sure that the needs of small-medium schemes are fully represented.

With young people, I think it starts by simply talking to them. What do they want? What will help them in their careers? What motivates them to come and work in pensions? As a profession, we have a tendency to picture ourselves as a bunch of old men smoking our pipes around an oak table. We need to change that.

The invisibility of small-medium schemes has been a bugbear of mine for as long as I can remember. I ask searching questions about the needs of smaller schemes whenever I get the opportunity. Giving them a voice and representation was definitely one of my biggest motivations for becoming President of the PMI. I’ll now be in a much stronger position to get their needs on everyone’s agenda.

How PMI Pathways can help

PMI Pathways is all about growing the membership and getting more people through to associateship and fellowship so they have more say in the direction of the industry.

As lead providers of education and qualifications for the pensions industry, the PMI is uniquely positioned to achieve this. It provides a series of qualifications, which everyone has traditionally had to work through. But maybe because they weren’t always relevant to every area of professional work, their popularity waned over time.

PMI Pathways, launched in April 2023, addressed this problem with a choice of five pathways to work through. This makes the industry’s qualification structure more relevant to everyone working in pensions, and that has to be good news.

PMI Pathways is also the route to become an associate and then a fellow. Fellowship in particular gives individuals real influence over the direction of the PMI. And that’s why I want to encourage more people to go through the PMI Pathways – so they can become more involved, and have more say.

Where PMI is now

Passing the baton of the presidency is Sara Cook, a highly organised pensions professional. Without her hard work, I would not be in a position to put my plans in motion.

Sara played a key role in launching PMI Pathways. And internally, she helped launch the three strategic pillars everyone at the PMI is now working towards. These are:

  1. Helping pension schemes understand their role in addressing climate change, from both a governance and a moral point of view
  2. Examining the important issues that government needs to act on
  3. Reaching out to the wider UK and beyond, by working with the PMI regions and other structures.

Looking forward to my presidency

I’m keen to continue the good work of Sara and the rest of the PMI team in all these areas.

For a long time, the PMI was seen as a London-centric body. But we now have PMI regions in Northern Ireland PMI region and Scotland. We’re also actively engaging more closely with professionals in India and the Philippines who work in offshore arrangements and take PMI exams.

The industry has changed shape over recent years, and we have a number of people working in the industry who don’t have a pensions background. The PMI can play a key role in helping these people develop and learn. It can also provide a way for the whole industry to pool ideas in the face of our shared challenges.

As I’ve said, I want to encourage more people in the industry to get involved with the PMI’s face-to-face meetings and discussions. We can all work efficiently on our laptops at home, but the most productive collaborations come from in-person meetings.

And that’s how I’ll measure my success. If I get more people wanting to follow the PMI Pathways and work with the PMI – as volunteers or event attendees – then I will feel that I’ve made a real difference during my term of office.

The other day, I was asked whether First Actuarial clients might be worried that I’d be taking my eye off my day job. I actually think that the PMI presidency will help with my day job. By giving me a deeper understanding of the industry, it will help me to make sure our pension schemes are administered even more effectively.

Scheme administration has traditionally lacked profile in the pensions profession. And First Actuarial isn’t one of the giants of the industry (not yet, anyway). But here I am, the new President of the PMI. I’m hoping that people see that you can make a difference no matter where you come from and what your role is in pensions.

So please have a think about how you’d like to get involved in the PMI. If you’ve got a passion for what you do and a belief that you can make a difference, we look forward to seeing you soon at a real-life PMI event!

Any questions or comments about this article?

Get in touch with the author, Robert Wakefield.

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