Conference celebrates 30-year partnerships

Delegates listen to the opening address at the IRFA's annual conference, which took place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban. (Photo: Val Adamson)

Delegates listen to the opening address at the IRFA's annual conference, which took place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban. (Photo: Val Adamson)

Besides hosting informative presentations, networking opportunities, business dialogues, panel discussions, Master Classes in retirement funding practices, and the Best Practice Industry Awards, the 2017 Institute of Retirement Funds Africa (IRFA) Annual Conference also hosted the organisation’s 30th anniversary celebration party, with popular Afro-fusion band Freshlyground providing lively entertainment.

“History has shown us that the IRFA has been a driving force in the South African retirement sector for three decades and will continue to serve not only South African pensions stakeholders but the whole continent,” says Wayne Hiller van Rensburg, IRFA president and chairperson.

“We have increased our collaboration with retirement industry stakeholders and other public benefit and professional organisations, because we know this is the best way we can learn, grow and achieve consistent improvement for the beneficiaries of South African pension and provident funds.

“The biggest contribution that we’ve made is in the area of interpreting and assisting many of the regulatory bodies in formulating processes and policies that are positive for the development of the retirement sector.

“The IRFA has been very successful in making the complex retirement landscape more accessible to trustees. This is evident by attendance at our conferences, workshops and seminars. Delegates at our functions benefit from cutting-edge knowledge sharing. They are able to return to their organisations and pass on the essence of the issue and essential elements that need to be implemented.”

Hiller van Rensburg says history has also shown that the IRFA has the ability to adapt with the times.

“The retirement fund landscape has changed substantially over the last 30 years, which is reflected in the transition from defined benefit to defined contribution, the evolution of democratic management of pension funds and most importantly, the fact that members now bear the investment risk as far as their retirement savings are concerned.”

The IRFA asked its members what their requirements are from the institute and received the following answers: support with understanding governance; tools to create and implement effective governance frameworks; and an advocacy function representing the interests of pensions stakeholders.

“Based on this feedback, we developed a conference programme that spoke to those needs,” says Hiller van Rensburg.

“Our seminars focused on providing delegates with tools and practices that ensured they leave the conference better equipped to deal with the day-to-day management of their funds after listening to the views of: expert international practitioners and theorists; input from the South African government and various social partners as well as the Registrar of Pension Funds and the Pension Funds Adjudicator; and a lifestyle speaker to address personal growth as an essential part of becoming a more effective participant in the pensions environment.

“Some of the topics addressed by speakers and panels at the conference were: the power of asset owners to affect positive change; impact investing; transformation; the Financial Sector Charter; governance and financial reporting; the evolution of advice in the retirement funding industry; social security; infrastructure development; and the role of retirement funds in social development.

“Furthermore, besides the formal conference sessions, the informal space created by the event for networking and interaction was important, as there are not many gatherings with as many trustees and industry stakeholders in one place, which creates excellent opportunities for peer interaction and learning.”

Hiller van Rensburg says this year’s conference, which took place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban from September 10-12, differed from past conferences in that it did not try and squeeze as much as possible into the programme, but worked on the principle of “less is more” to encourage delegate interaction and communication.

“For the IRFA’s 30th birthday year the institute has needed to be a Janus looking back at our contributions, reflecting on the good and the bad, so that the way forward is informed by lessons from our past.

“Our ability to ‘think’ the future will guide us to focus our energies on the necessary partnerships, innovation and change,” says the IRFA president.

He contends that the most important requirement in the industry, currently, is the constitutional imperative of the state to create an environment that allows all the social players to contribute to the delivery of adequate social benefits to all South Africans.

“This is a theme that all stakeholders are working towards and one which IRFA is focused on. Although we represent retirement funds and their members, we understand the necessity of providing for our society as a whole. Likewise, we recognise the need to create socially responsible, sustainable investments that deliver wealth and produce positive societal outcomes.

“In the South African context this means ensuring that the entire value chain and range of service providers are representative of our country’s demographics and the need for economic growth,” says Hiller van Rensburg.

After the formal opening of the conference, economist Mike Schüssler presented the first session, which focussed on retirement funds and social development, exploring the potential power of asset owners and their ability to effect transformation. Next up was a session by Michael McMillan from the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (CFA) on ethical governance by asset owners.

Investec Asset Management’s Nazmeera Moola presented a highly informative session on “Infrastructure development and how the private sector can help unlock South Africa’s economic potential”, which was followed by a panel discussion on “Social security”. The panel comprised Rowan Burger from The Association for Savings and Investment South Africa, Evette Vanrenen-Linford, principal officer of UJ Pension Funds, whose doctorate studies related to member representation improving retirement outcomes, and Hiller van Rensburg.

“This year we introduced a lifestyle speaker who focused more on life skills rather than hard industry skills: Gcina Mhlophe, a storyteller and literacy campaigner who presented a highly informative presentation on ‘Working for change’ focussing on collaborating with colleagues, friends and family,” says Hiller van Rensburg.

“As a preview to the Best Practice Awards that took place before our 30th birthday party on the Monday evening, we had a panel discussion entitled ‘Best Practices: Doing the right thing for the right reason’ that included Stephanie Griffiths from Cohesion; Geraldine Fowler, IRFA vice president; Anthony Williams from the SABC Pension Fund; Agatha Sejoe from the Debswana Pension Fund in Botswana; Mmapula Ikaneng, an IRFA board member; and Estie van Coller from RetirementWise, who discussed best practice issues around stakeholder engagement, investment, transformation, and governance.

“Tuesday’s conference sessions opened with Marius du Toit from the Office of the Registrar of Pension Funds and Muvhango Lukhaimane, the Pension Funds adjudicator, taking questions from delegates.

“The highlight of the second day was an innovation that consisted of three Master Classes on: Impact Investing; Transformation; and Governance; which were split into two sessions each and respectively covered: ‘Investments in General’ and ‘Current Investment Trends; ‘Twin Peaks’ and the ‘Financial Sector Charter’; and ‘How does King IV apply to my Retirement Fund?’ and ‘Financial Reporting and My Fund’.”

Hiller van Rensburg says overall the conference examined retirement funds’ roles as asset owners that can make an impact on empowerment, economic development, wealth creation, employment, ethical conduct, good governance, and transformation in South Africa.

“The conference has been highly successful and was an expression of the IRFA’s emphasis on co-operating with industry stakeholders, in line with global sustainability trends, which emphasise co-operation and collaboration to improve results. We have identified organisations that we can work together with to improve the outcomes of retirement investments and the creation a more inclusive, growth-based economy,” concludes the IRFA president.