Spotlight on Catherine Howarth
The chief executive of FairPensions: profiled in Pensions Insight’s Top 50 2013
Howarth played a key role in driving last year’s ‘shareholder spring’, when activists disrupted meetings to highlight issues such as excessive executive pay, and which led to some high-profile resignations. She joined not-for-profit organisation FairPensions in 2008.
Howarth has been a campaigner since her university days at Oxford and the London School of Economics. After university she spent eight years campaigning for West London Citizens, lobbying on issues affecting the local community. Gradually her focus shifted to the financial world, which affects so many people, often without them realising it.
“For us, a highlight of 2012 was action around executive remuneration and our contribution to the shareholder spring. It was really about giving pension shareholders a voice and enabling them to prod their pension schemes on this incredibly important topic.
“Another highlight has been our work on fiduciary obligation. Professor Kay engaged very positively with the submission we made to his process and made recommendations on fiduciary obligation that have been accepted in full by the government.
“In 2013, we hope that the stewardship agenda becomes mainstream for UK pension providers, and they really start to take their role as responsible, active owners of major companies seriously. That’s good for companies and ultimately it’s really good for pension savers.
“If I were Steve Webb for a day, I would strengthen the qualifying criteria for auto-enrolment providers, to protect millions of new savers from an industry that hasn’t always acted 100% in the best interests of the scheme members.
One of the things we’ve worked on a lot and highlighted to Steve Webb is if you are in a contract-based scheme, as a member you are less well protected by the law than if you are in a trust-based scheme. We think there should be exactly the same standards.
If auto-enrolment’s going to be a success, people need to trust the pensions system, and that means having really strong standards to protect people.