24 June 2020

Pension trustees have traditionally relied on regular trustee meetings in the presence of their advisers in order to effectively manage their scheme. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that in a relatively short space of time, trustees have had to adapt to a new way of working.

It is crucial that trustees continue to fulfil their duties to their members, and adapt to these unprecedented times. Therefore, trustees must continue to meet, albeit virtually, to ensure continuity for schemes and ensure that, as far as possible, it is business as usual. It is important that trustees recognise how to effectively host a virtual trustee meeting in order to make the most out of each session.

So, how can trustees make the most of holding meetings virtually?

  • Before embarking on virtual meetings, first review the Scheme Rules or Articles of Association to see what they say about holding virtual meetings – take legal advice if required. Second, look at the quorum provisions to identify how many trustees are required. Pay special attention to whether the quorum is present while conducting virtual meetings as individuals can drop off the call unnoticed – especially as a result of technical issues.
  • Consider the appropriate length for the meetings. Perhaps break them down so that they are shorter (say an hour or two) but more frequent.
  • Plan the agenda accordingly. More items could be taken as read – but circulate meeting papers sufficiently far in advance that trustees have the opportunity to read them and ask questions that can be addressed in advance of the meeting, or at the meeting itself.
  • Check that all participants have the correct equipment such as a laptop with a camera, and that the participants have access to the relevant materials prior to initiating the meeting. Some trustees may be unfamiliar with the software or technology being used, therefore issuing guidance notes or conducting a trial meeting so that everyone can familiarise themselves with the software could be very beneficial and could also reduce the risk of having technology related issues during the meeting.
  • Cyber security should be considered. Steps should be taken to ensure the meeting platform is secure and that security measures are taken in relation to the transmission of documents.
  • Effective chairing is key to ensure the meeting runs smoothly. The role of the chair can compensate for issues such as not reading body language and can include allowing more pauses for questions or concerns amongst the participants. The 'chat' function or 'hands up' is also useful here. Moreover, the chair would be instrumental in ensuring an agenda is drawn up before the meeting and that all items are covered. Minutes, particularly detailing any decisions or action points, are essential and should be circulated afterwards to the trustees and/or relevant individuals.
  • Consider any requirements for the signing of documents, including setting out a procedure for electronic signing.

How Burges Salmon can help

We have a specialist team of pension lawyers who advise on all aspects of pensions law, including trustee governance.

If you would like advice on any issue raised by this article or trustee governance more generally, please get in touch with Susannah Young, Kate Granville Smith or your usual Burges Salmon contact.

This article was written by Kate Granville Smith and Lauren Davies in our Pensions team.

Key contact

Susannah Young

Susannah Young Partner

  • Pensions Services
  • Trustee Advice and Training
  • DC Expertise

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