Holly Roach speaks to PASA's Kim Gubler about the year ahead, how technology is developing to help the industry and the benefits of the pensions dashboard.
As the new chairwoman of the Pension Administration Standards Association (PASA), Kim Gubler understands that this year is going to be a challenging one for administration firms as they attempt to deal with issues like GMP equalisation and the development of the pensions dashboard.
But with administration at the centre of the pensions industry - the glue that holds it all together - Gubler believes firms must ensure they can provide savers with the appropriate resources to ensure their investments are secure and achieving the best possible outcomes.
Taking over the role of chairwoman in January this year from Margaret Snowdon, Gubler brings years of experience in the pensions industry to PASA. Starting out in the industry in 1987, she went on to work for Bacon & Woodrow, the firm that is now part of Aon, before setting up her own consultancy firm, KGC Associates, in 2002. She was also one of the founders of PASA in 2011 and became the body's deputy chairwoman in 2018.
About PASA and its year ahead, she comments: "This is a really exciting time. We've got lots of opportunities to make real differences that are going to have an impact on real people. I've said before, we don't exist for our own enjoyment, we exist for a purpose."
Gubler adds that the wide range of knowledge on PASA's board is what helps to have an impact on people. She says: "Although we're a small group, we've got a broad geographical group and, as directors, everybody has volunteered and they're there because they've got skills."
One example of how PASA is utilising a broad range of skills is in how it has set up an industry-wide group to help resolve the challenges around GMP equalisation - a group Gubler hopes will encourage engagement from more than just administrators.
She says the cross-industry group body has been set up to solve a problem that isn't just an administration problem. She explains: "It includes operations and administration, that's why we've got lawyers and actuaries - we've got all of that spread of knowledge so we can produce a solution."
Position Kim Gubler is the chairwoman of the Pensions Administration Standards Association, a role she began on 1 January. In addition to this she is founder and director of KGC Associates and principle examiner for professionalism and governance on the Pensions Management Institute's examining board, where she is also a fellow. Gubler is a trustee of the Crystal Master Trust and is a mentor for the Aspire Foundation.
Previously Gubler was a volunteer regional organiser for The Pensions Advisory Service for 18 years until 2018. She also held a role at Bacon & Woodrow - the firm that is now part of Aon - where she worked for two years before setting up business management consultancy KGC Associates in 2002. Gubler was a director at PASA from 2011, before taking the role of debuty chairwoman last year and chair in January.
Gubler is also passionate about the pensions dashboard, which she believes will revolutionise the industry, and do things for members that administration firms cannot. She says: "The dashboard is fabulous; it's all part of getting people self-engaged, not us trying to push something on them.
"We've always been trying to engage with members so we push information their way, and in the main we've failed. What the dashboard gives us is the opportunity to turn that push into a pull, because people will see there's an app on their phone and see the value of the pensions they have."
She adds: "It's about connecting the dots and giving people the whole picture and I think that's going to be really powerful and we as an industry have to step up to that; we have to enable dashboard to happen."
Gubler also believes technology more generally is changing the industry for the better and says the advancements "will make viewing and contributing into, or changing pensions, more straightforward for people".
She believes the pensions industry needs to completely align with other industries in terms of technological advancements and not just say that, while the outside world can do it, it's too complicated for the pensions industry.
But she believes the industry is catching up - using technology intelligently and "not using the fact that it's complicated as an excuse to not participate in the 21st century".
Gubler says, with the latest advancements, it is no longer too difficult to navigate around and believes that, in fact, not using technology may now be a hindrance. "The things they're looking into now - like blockchain and retina screening - are all things that could come into play to make delivery of a pension to a person more straightforward," she suggests.
Gubler also believes admin firms need to take advantage of technology to solve some of the challenges it faces, such as GMP equalisation. She says: "We've got to make sure that we can deliver now and that's why technology comes into play, because without technology it's pretty much dead in the water."
She continues: "If we can deliver good administration using 21st century platforms, that then opens options for product and service providers. It's about changing how we say what we do, and how we do it."
One issue Gubler doesn't think is as big a challenge as some make out is changing an administration provider - which she says is a simple process that is wrongly confused by many as a challenging and time consuming one.
She says: "I personally am not of the view that transferring from one administrator [to another] should be hard. You have an exit agreement which you agree with your ceding administrator, and it details what they are going to do and when they're going to do it by.
"It sounds boring but it's just a process and it's not that hard. Trustees are told moving administrators is really complicated and hard but, actually, if it's managed well, a good transfer can be a real refresh."
However Gubler concedes there can be difficulties in certain instances. She explains: "Where I think it can be a problem is when people don't insist on an exit agreement, don't oversee, don't engage with the transition process and leave an incoming administrator to deal with all the problems."
She also believes not all administrator switches may be necessary - explaining that, while the process of changing administrators can highlight any data problems a scheme has, it can also reveal those problems may not be your administrators fault, but the fault of a previous administrator.
Gubler says this may mean that a move is unnecessary if a data issue can be resolved. She explains: "If trustees engaged more with their administrators, if they maintained that relationship in the same way as they do with their professional advisers, then they might find that they don't need to change."
A challenge for pension administration that is prevalent now, more than ever, is the political uncertainty and lack of resolution since the Brexit referendum. With little but unpredictability on the horizon at the moment, Gubler worries about what will happen to the data available to administrators when the country leaves the EU.
She comments: "It would be nice if we had some certainty politically - and I have been thinking about what would happen if the unimaginable happens at the end of March, what happens to data and all the rules we have around transferring data?"
The world of administration has a challenging year ahead, but with the right resources and knowledge in place, the desired outcomes will be achieved. Gubler says that, going forward for PASA, it is about "showing strength and depth" and "giving a voice to the people that really know the information".
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