Trustee chairs come in all types, but the role is vital. So what are the essential characteristics for getting the job done?

The opening session of Engaged Investor’s Professional Trustee Summit looked at raising standards of governance.


 The debate, moderated by Association of Professional Pension Trustees chairman Ian Pittway ranged widely, covering the Pension Schemes Bill, the history of trust law, and the key distinctions between lay and professional trustees and chairs.

Andrew Warwick-Thompson, executive director of the Pensions Regulator, identified the role of the trustee chair as absolutely crucial in runing a scheme.

But what makes an ideal trustee chair? Here’s what the panellist’s said:

Giles Bywater, senior associate, UK Pensions Group, Mayer Brown

“It’s about the soft skills. The most important element of trusteeship is how you take difficult decisions, and the role of the trustee chair is to make sure everybody is involved in those debates, and everybody is engaged.

Clare Altman, client director, Capital Cranfield

Good trustee chairs can look very different. You can have a very bombastic chair, who you think might be too dominant, but who is very effective. Or you can have a less bombastic chair who is perhaps more jokey. The important thing, is that they have got to be a good manager and just get things done. Whether that is in a friendly way or an aggressive way doesn’t matter.”

Andrew Warwick-Thompson

The research we’ve done indicates a chair is all those things Giles and Clare have said. Interestingly, when we asked people to rank the skills chairs need, ‘knowledge of pension schemes’ came bottom, with about 15%. And think that’s right. You can have a lawyer or an actuary who knows a lot about pensions, but what you need is a solid commercial awareness to get things done.”

That’s what our panel said, but what do you think? Join the debate below the line, or email with your views on what makes a great trustee chair.

The Professional Trustee Summit was held on 15 November in Central London