Institute of Retirement Funds Africa conference considers navigating the future

Wayne Hiller-Van Rensburg, president and chair of IRFA, speaks at the IRFA conference in Durban

Wayne Hiller-Van Rensburg, president and chair of IRFA, speaks at the IRFA conference in Durban

The 2016 Institute of Retirement Funds Africa (IRFA) conference with the theme “Navigating the Future”, which speaks to IRFA’s primary driving forces — interpreting the here-and-now of the pensions world and thinking about how an environment that improves pensions outcomes can be created — took place in Durban from August 29 to 30.

The conference brought together delegates representing all pensions stakeholders and provided the perfect opportunity for informed conversations about what matters most to everyone interested in gaining a better understanding of everything, from the needs of members to the perceived direction of government policy.

Dedicated to gathering knowledge and shaping strategy

The 2016 Institute of Retirement Funds Africa (IRFA) conference can again claim to be the biggest pensions event on the continent. More than 1 000 delegates attended the event, which took place at the International Convention Centre in Durban from August 29 to 30.

Speaking at the plenary session of the event, Wayne Hiller-Van Rensburg, president and chairperson of the IRFA, said it was with pride that in a society as deeply unequal as ours he could acknowledge the conference keynote speaker, Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini, as the first female minister to address the IRFA.

“Let us celebrate and encourage the woman of our country and the world to take on the leadership roles they have been denied,” said Hiller-Van Rensburg.

He reported that a new focus for the IRFA is to clearly define what the institute does, in order to influence policy and aggregate information.

“South Africans have become consumers of policy, rather than drivers. We see the role of a public benefit organisation like the IRFA as a driver of conversation.

“As a thought leader that seeks the input from a broad stakeholder base, our conference theme is Navigating the Future, and we designed the programme to show the many possible routes we can navigate,” said IRFA’s president.

Social protection

The IRFA conference programme had four elements. Firstly it examined social protection. This is, as Hiller-Van Rensburg reminded South Africa, a constitutional imperative.

“We as a society need to define what social protection means and all social partners need to work towards putting this vision into action,” he added.

Government’s perceptions of what social protection means were included, as were those of many of South Africa’s African neighbours. Conference delegates also listened to a summary of research the IRFA commissioned — reviewing South African policy on social protection over 14 years — which showed that no one social partner is able to create a single, catch-all solution.

“For this reason we should explore how we can achieve a sustainable and equitable solution collectively,” said Hiller-Van Rensburg.

“An example from the informal sector is stokvels (savings or investment societies) and the important role they play in delivering the benefits valued by many South Africans.

“My hope is that the information and ideas shared at this conference will help every delegate to become an active participant in the development of government policy by taking pro-active steps in expressing what it is we should be doing, rather than being consumers of policy and joining the discussion once the policymakers put forward their proposals,” said Hiller-Van Rensburg.

Best practice

The second element of the conference programme was a focus on best practices, which Hiller-Van Rensburg said was an important matter, because getting it right and doing the right thing delivers better outcomes than not caring and not doing the right thing.

He said IRFA’s members gave it a mandate to do research into best practices at both local and international standards. However, it went further and asked South African retirement fund practitioners and leaders what they thought best practices should be.

The conference presented two workshops dealing with best practices; one focussed on King IV and its impact on retirement funds, while the other looked at the findings of the best practices research — a rich source of information for all delegates interested in making the right decisions.

Rights and transformation

The third element of the conference that was addressed in workshops was the rights of disabled workers and vulnerable beneficiaries, and the need for transformation in the South African financial services industry. Information was presented on the Financial Sector Charter Council BBBEE Voluntary Dispensation for the top 100 Retirement Funds and Umbrella Funds in South Africa, as well as a preview of the 27four BEE.conomics Survey 2016.

Hiller-Van Rensburg said investment management styles and approaches also remain a relevant and important topic as they can impact on investment outcomes. This was also dealt with in workshops, where investment professionals discussed an alternative approach.

Best ideas and decisions

The fourth element of the conference was the people present, who were all armed with ideas about how to improve pensions outcomes, both in the future through policy changes and in the present by making the best possible decisions for the members of retirement funds.

“Conference delegates had the opportunity to learn from their peers and the experts. The take-away from the conference will, hopefully, be that delegates have more life experience to make a positive impact on the people they serve and represent, whether they are a members, trustees, government or regulatory officials or representatives of businesses offering services to retirement funds. They all had the opportunity to learn that doing the right thing improves the collective outcome for us all,” said Hiller-Van Rensburg.

The conference provided an opportunity to look at the big pensions picture and how pensions fit into the global and national economies; what role pensions play in social security; and how each of the stakeholder groups can and should participate in making the current pensions outcomes better, as well as how pensions should be transformed to create better societies in future.

Delegates were encouraged to ask themselves what role they could play, from beneficiary to investment manager, cabinet minister, trustee or fund administrator.

The first day of the conference focused on the big ideas, such as how changes should be made. Global leaders and local experts shared their thoughts, ideas and conceptual tools to build collective capacity to have more informed discussions and provide wiser leadership.

The second day provided an opportunity for delegates to gather from the experts in a more intimate environment some practical advice on how to improve the here-and-now.

Those attending the conference were also presented with some ground-breaking research work done by the IRFA and its partners.