Jonathan Stapleton takes a look at what was making the headlines in the first weekly editions of Professional Pensions back in 1997
Whenever we speak to the people who were working in pensions when Professional Pensions published its first weekly edition on 6 February 1997, they nearly always say the same thing and admit to having wondered how on earth there would be enough going on to fill a weekly magazine all about occupational pensions.
But there was indeed a lot going on - and we have never had any difficulty filling the 1,000 or so issues of Professional Pensions published since then, or indeed any of the daily email newsletters we have been sending since 2006.
But what were the issues of the day in early 1997? What were the headlines filling the magazine.
Ombudsman and mis-selling
The front page 'splash' in the 6 February 1997 edition - headlined Ruling has Farrand en route for Lords - looked at how the then pensions ombudsman, Julian Farrand, was set to take an appeal to the House of Lords after the Court of Appeal had rejected his bid to overturn a High Court ruling in the Westminster City Council case. This was a rejection Farrand believed meant he would have to abandon up to 150 complainants' cases.
Westminster, the High Court had decided, should not pay in full the generous pension benefits it had originally offered to a former employee in exchange for voluntary redundancy, payments that had been banned by a subsequent ruling.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, mis-selling was one of the big issues of the day and an article - titled GMB hits out with more writs - looked at how the union was filing an additional 50 writs against personal pension providers who were "not playing ball" in compensating victims of mis-selling.
Pensions Act 1995
Many of the articles in the issue looked at the continuing fallout from the Pensions Act 1995 - the Act which established the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority (OPRA), the forerunner of The Pensions Regulator, and established the minimum funding requirement (MFR) to ensure all schemes had a minimum amount of money.
One such article was on how OPRA was taking a hard line on Pensions Act imposed responsibilities - warning schemes, in an article on page six of the issue, that "rules were rules" and saying it "would not turn a blind eye to pension schemes which failed to meet deadlines" even if requested to by advisers. Industry figures, however, were more concerned OPRA did not have sufficient resources and was being "swamped".
Other issues raised in the first issue included the curbing of ill-health retirements in local authorities; a survey highlighting the "bleak pensions future" for women and the self-employed; and an article about how the Superannuation Arrangements of the University of London (SAUL) was introducing a new electronic document management and workflow system to replace the existing paper-based system.
The letters page also made for interesting copy, with one reader writing in to express concern about how schemes were being "herded into the arms" of just four fund managers - PDFM, Mercury, Schroders and Morgan Grenfell - and questioning whether investment consultants should be facing greater scrutiny over the shortlists they compiled.
The features section of the magazine covered how the Post Office had moved to elect pensioner trustees for the first time - instigating a ballot of pensioners and setting up a new trustee company in the process.
And Sue Ward - a journalist who regularly contributed to Professional Pensions over the first 10 or so years of our history - penned a piece about internal dispute resolution procedures, which the Pensions Act 1995 had mandated every scheme to put in place.
Another regular contributor to Professional Pensions, was our "trustee champion" Brian Holden, who wrote in the first weekly edition on the topic of OPRA's draft guidance on whistle-blowing, which he hoped would not become a "mission impossible" for trustees.
The main feature of the edition shows just how much the same issues come up time and time again in pensions looking at the "relentless rise" of passive management and questioning the role and fees involved in active management.
While not in the first edition - this article was published in the 27 February 1997 edition - one article has to be mentioned as it shows just how sudden the switch from defined benefit to defined contribution was.
DB - alive and kicking?
The article - titled NAPF survey finds final salary alive and kicking - reported on the launch of the National Association of Pension Funds' annual report which found just 3% of schemes had switched to money purchase during the year and a further 3% had added a money purchase component to their schemes.
"The final salary scheme is not dead and will not suddenly disappear," declared Ann Robinson, the NAPF's then director-general, at the launch.
How times change.
Top headlines from February 1997
Here they are… A list of some of the top headlines from February 1997...
Ruling has Farrand en route for Lords (6 February)
Julian Farrand, the Pensions Ombudsman, is set to appeal to the House of Lords following an "extremely surprising" ruling that could force him to abandon up to 150 complainants' cases.
GMB hits out with more writs (6 February)
The GMB union has issued nearly 50 more writs against personal pension providers who are "not playing ball" in compensating victims of misselling.
Twin GMPs threat (13 February)
Contracted-out pension schemes which have almost totally ignored the Pensions Act requirement to equalise guaranteed minimum pensions face problems on two fronts - from OPRA guidelines and a EU draft directive on the equalisation of state benefits being prepared in Brussels.
Privatisation surplus: more rulings on way (13 February)
Following his ruling that the National Grid wrongfully diverted £46.3m of pension fund surplus to pay for redundancies and early retirement, pensions ombudsman Julian Farrand has confirmed that two more such cases involving privatised companies are on the way
Avon in three-way split (20 February)
Mercury Asset Management, Gartmore Investment Management and Barclays Global Investors have won briefs to run approximately £1.2bn of assets on behalf of the Avon County Council Pension Fund.
DSS questioned over s35 of Pensions Act (20 February)
Urgent clarification is being sought from the Department of Social Security by the National Association of Pension Funds on the appointment of sub-custodians under the Pensions Act.
BBC in industry scheme move (20 February)
The BBC is understood to be spearheading plans to set up an industry-wide group personal pension scheme for the broadcasting industry.
GPPs for SBJ & Abbey (27 February)
SBJ Benefit Consultants and Abbey National Benefit Consultants are registering their support for unbundled pension fund services with the planned launch of GPP plans featuring a range of investment managers.
Hartshead goes to Capita (27 February)
Business services group Capita has bought Hartshead Solway, the country's largest independent pensions administrator for £5m.
NAPF survey finds final salary alive and kicking (27 February)
"The final salary scheme is not dead and will not suddenly disappear," declared Ann Robinson, the NAPF director-general, at the launch of the association's latest annual report.
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