Pension fund trustees are not just being tested by investment challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic, but also by practical challenges due to lockdowns.
Despite the majority of U.K. and U.S. employees working from home where feasible, pension fund meetings have gone on — albeit in a virtual manner.
Investment consultants said they have found the majority of trustees able to adapt to this virtual world, meeting over the internet and videoconferences instead of around a boardroom table.
"We're still having meetings virtually. Many different videoconferencing tools are being used" such as Zoom Video Communications and Microsoft Teams, said James A. Callahan, San Francisco-based president of Callan LLC.
David Rae, head of strategic client solutions at Russell Investment in London, agreed. "Investment and trustee meetings have transitioned almost seamlessly to the current remote way of working. Meetings have worked very well with videoconferencing technology. The occasional appearance of a family pet or small child has been an addition to many trustee meetings!"
In recent weeks, many U.K. and U.S. funds had planned trustee board meetings. One by one, those meetings were either canceled or replaced with virtual conferences.
The $11.1 billion Public School Teachers' Pension & Retirement Fund of Chicago acted fast to prepare for the challenges presented by the changing COVID-19 scenario.
"The new normal presents a set of difficult issues and serious health and financial risks that are unique," said Charles A. Burbridge, executive director. "We immediately prioritized the health and well-being of our members and staff, the continuation of business operations, and protecting the economic well-being of members, pensioners and beneficiaries."
Next up was to communicate, setting up a coronavirus-related update page on the website. And then the fund's in-person trustee board meetings for March and April were canceled.
"A historic special meeting" was held March 31, via audio and videoconference, Mr. Burbridge said. "State law would not have permitted such a meeting absent the executive order in response to the pandemic," he said. The meeting was a success, with "action (taken) on several investment items. It was important to move ahead with this meeting to demonstrate that the business of the fund could be conducted in an open and transparent manner, without interruption during these adverse times," he said.
U.K. local government pension scheme funds received guidance from the government to help them to continue to work. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published on April 6 new virtual meeting regulations.
"The regulations on meetings will enable essential decision-making to continue whilst upholding democratic principles and enabling all to comply with the public health guidance," an accompanying letter to administrating councils said.
Executives at the £23.8 billion ($29.7 billion) Greater Manchester Pension Fund, Manchester, deferred its March 26 meeting while waiting for the regulations to be published, said a statement provided by a spokesperson for Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, the administering authority.
The pension fund panel held an April 17 meeting via webcase.