Funds entering the IRFA Best Practices Industry Awards (BPIA) programme and sharing their practices with the industry at large is of utmost importance in terms of knowledge transfer, according to Anthony Williams, chief executive and principal officer of the SABC Pension Fund and Medical Scheme.
He says the status of the awards is reinforced by the fact that many of the award winners in the IRFA Best Practices programme have gone on to enter and win major international awards in these categories.
For example, the SABC Pension Fund and Medical Scheme has been awarded nine local and 11 international awards. It was also a nominee for the annual Pensions & Investments World Pension Summit Innovation Awards 2018. The fund has for three consecutive years been awarded two Stevie Awards by the International American Business Awards organisation. In 2018 the principal officer was named “Maverick of the Year”.
“The fund gains valuable insight every time that we enter an awards programme — comments from the judges where one is not successful encourage further research and development by the fund itself to hone its skills and practices, and to improve where it sees itself lacking,” says Williams.
“Another advantage of entering the BPIA is that your fund learns from the judging process and outcomes, particularly with regards to learning about trends in the retirement fund sector and best practices in the industry. As part of the management of a pension fund, one can be extremely closeted in one’s approach until one is exposed to what other industry members are doing.
“It is extremely important to have the principal officer and trustees exposed to leading edge practices, as this is how we all increase our skills.”
A reflection of how BPIA has evolved and developed in relation to retirement fund operational excellence is that Williams recalls how in 2009 there was only a “communication” category compared to the seven categories that exist today.
“The categories were slowly expanded as the need arose and are now all-encompassing. This year the cherry on the top is the Gold Standard Award, which is presented to the fund that meets the defined criteria in all the categories, thus embracing all the individual areas of excellence in the operations of a retirement fund. The recipient of that overall award can be justifiably proud.”
Williams says from the years in which he has been involved both as a judge and entrant, he can attest to the rigour and intensity of the BPIA judging process.
“Entries are judged by several individuals based on an objective points score in various pertinent areas. The judges then discuss and motivate their evaluations together, before reaching consensus. All of the entries are then moderated by an independent person or panel, where necessary.
“It has become clear to me that if one is lucky enough to be receive an award, it is justly deserved and will stand up to the scrutiny of any professional body or person.
“The appointment of judges is also not taken lightly — only industry experts and those with specialised knowledge and proven track records are asked to judge. In 2018 no person associated with a retirement fund was included in the judging panel, thus ensuring the impartiality of the judging process,” says Williams.
He contends that in his experience, funds are eager to enter and place great store in the results of the annual awards. The number of entries has increased exponentially over the years, which is indicative of the esteem in which these awards are held.
“It is important to note that where a fund such as the SABC Pension Fund is a closed fund, there is no gain to the fund in terms of advertising, as the fund is not aiming at additional membership growth. The benefit to the fund of receiving such an award is rather in the increase in reputational index to the existing members.
“The members are given some assurance that the workings of the fund have been open to independent scrutiny by others in the industry,” says Williams.