“Making it happen,” report back on IRFA annual conference

by Geraldine Fowler  | 5,Nov,2023 | Industry Updates, IRFA, Q4 2023

Two-pot retirement system – a buffer for financial hardship

Geraldine Fowler, Chairperson, Institute of Retirement Funds Africa (IRFA)

The IRFA conference has always provided the opportunity to share world class content and enrich knowledge and skills within the local retirement sector. The annual event provides topical information and best practice tools for the leadership and governance of retirement funds.

This year’s conference, held in Cape Town in September, has proved no exception. The conference theme of “Making it Happen” placed its focus firmly on the significant regulatory and policy changes in play and featured both local and international subject matter experts and industry leaders to assist retirement funds in navigating these.

According to IRFA President Geraldine Fowler, “IRFA plays a major role in the implementation process around innovation and transformation, and while the path may be challenging, the pursuit of a better future for all is a worthwhile endeavour that can lead to a more just, equitable and prosperous world.“

In her opening address, Fowler emphasised that with the regulatory reforms introduced over the last decade, South Africa has laid the foundation to reshape the future. “The two-pot retirement system reflects South Africa’s commitment to securing better outcomes at retirement for members of funds and can be acknowledged as one of the most comprehensive retirement reforms undertaken globally. The proposed system not only addresses the need to create better outcomes for members of retirement funds, but also addresses the need for access to funds where financial distress is experienced.”

Highlighting the regulatory developments with regard to Regulation 28 of the Pensions Fund Act, she continued, “this reform holds the potential to drive much needed socio-economic progress through increased private equity and infrastructure investment options. As a crucial contributor to change, the retirement industry has to continue finding ways in which fund investments can make a difference in South Africa and the African continent over time in sustainable ways.”

Fowler defines that “It” as the “behaviour, quality, guidance and inspiration, needed to be applied to the processes, structures and systems by which the retirement sector implements decisions, enforces rules and manages the path to toward a common, collective goal.”

She is adamant that “there are many stakeholders involved but the most important stakeholder is the one standing at the end of the line, the member. The role entrusted to the sector is one of privilege and responsibility” and we need to ask how do we, as a collective industry of regulators, trustees, administrators, consultants, lawyers, principal officers, actuaries and all other stakeholders, optimally serve the member better? What should and could we do better? The principles of Treating Customers fairly should be ingrained in all and everything we do. After all, without the members of our funds none of us would be here today. They do deserve our utmost care, integrity and good faith when dealing with their business.”

According to Fowler “we, as a sector, must learn how to best navigate through the risks and challenges presented to us and continue to drive progress toward a more equitable and sustainable world whilst still creating a positive return for members of funds.”

She also emphasised that “education and training is imperative for us as role players to effectively fulfil our roles and the duties entrusted to us. The role of a fund trustee is not an easy one. Navigating through risks, applying the principles of good governance and ensuring efficient fund operations can be daunting. “ Hence day 2 of the conference featured included a well attended simulated trustee workshop with the aim of assist trustees in running an effective trustee meeting, setting up a well structured agenda, recognising relevant information that should be part of the trustee pack and applying good governance to the management of the fund.

Fowler notes that the “full impact of the foundation put in place for better retirement outcomes for members will however not be fully realised unless we educate members effectively in understanding of their funds, benefits and planning for retirement. It is therefore critical that we see this as a matter of priority. Compounded results are achievable through collaborative creation by all stakeholders of impactful and innovative solutions of member education. The resultant effects can be far reaching in achieving the outcomes aimed for. In addition it will also alleviate unnecessary complaints and queries arising from members due to a lack of understanding their funds and benefits.”

Fowler’s address set the stage for the speakers and well attended masterclasses over the next two days where the task was “to build on the foundation laid and those changes that will still come by finding impactful and practical solutions for the way forward.”

The conference’s emphasis on technology, data-driven governance and the challenges of investment decisions highlighted the complexity of the retirement sector. These challenges are not insurmountable but require a collaborative effort from all stakeholders to ensure that retirement funds continue to evolve and meet the needs of their members effectively.

In the years ahead, it is clear that the retirement sector will continue to evolve and transform, and the lessons learned from this conference will serve as a guiding light for those navigating the path forward. The commitment to “Making it Happen” is a commitment to positive change, transparency, and member-centricity, and it is a commitment that will drive the sector towards a more equitable and prosperous future.

As the retirement sector faces regulatory changes and technological disruptions, adaptability and innovation will be key. The pursuit of a better future for all members remains at the forefront of the industry’s mission, and conferences like IRFA’s annual event play a crucial role in shaping that future.

This was emphasised by Fowler who concluded her opening address by noting that “the important role the Institute of Retirement Funds Africa plays in the retirement funds ecosystem has continued to be one of prominence. The IRFA actively promotes and facilitates partnerships in encouraging the exchange of insights and ideas to address common challenges and discover innovative solutions.”

Geraldine Fowler 
President  at IRFA | + posts