Wenger in? Wenger out? – Tippy tappy comes to pensions

Whether you are a “Wenger In” or “Wenger Out” person (or indeed a “who is Arsene Wenger?” person), what is undeniable is that Arsene Wenger has changed football and football has changed Arsene Wenger. Over the 22 years in which he has been Arsenal manager football has changed immeasurably. 

In 1996 Wenger inherited a team who would regularly turn up for training with a hangover, where drinking was part of the culture and who were seen by many to be at the end of their careers. The Highbury Stadium was one of the best in the country but was still small, old and uncomfortable. Now we have super fit athletes entertaining us in fantastic stadiums. Even the type of football we see now across Europe has changed. Gone are the days when one manager allegedly sent his team out with the words “if it moves kick it; if it wears black, apologise” or where Bill Shankly is said to have advised “if you find yourself in the opposing penalty area with the ball and you don’t know what to do, put it in the net and we can discuss it afterwards.” Over the years we have seen speed and passing take over from raw strength to the extent that Wenger presided over the only team in English football to have tried to pass a penalty (if you doubt me see it here: click here ).

In 22 years the game has changed beyond recognition and so have the skills needed to be successful. 

The same is true of pensions.

The skills now needed to manage and maintain a successful pension scheme are different. The days when you could turn up to a trustee meeting as unprepared as an Arsenal centre back at Thursday morning training are gone. Technology and the information revolution means that even the environment and tools needed to do a good job as a Trustee are very different. One particular area of difference is the role of the Scheme Secretary.

In the “good” old days the role of the Scheme Secretary was simple. Get everyone in the room on time, arrange the coffee and lunch, write the minutes and make sure that the annual accounts and triennial valuation are completed (eventually). Pensions Managers took a lot of the big decisions. 

Simple times - “If it moves…”.

Now the role is very different.

Arsene Wenger had a hand in everything to do with Arsenal for 22 years. He helped design the training ground and the new Emirates Stadium, decided what the players ate and even what they did in their spare time. He apparently even told them all to chew their food more to help digestion. Similarly, Scheme Secretaries now have to manage the whole range of issues faced by the Trustee. The Scheme Secretary Role is now like a mixture of the Company Secretary and MD of a corporate; taking over from the near extinct or heavily conflicted Pensions Manager to manage the Scheme, the Trustees and the Regulator. 

This changes the skills needed. It means that Scheme Secretaries need to be people with the knowledge, experience and gravitas to manage relationships at all levels. They need to have great governance skills to maintain the scheme records and manage the plethora of regulatory requirements and they need to be able to help the Trustee to challenge and manage the other advisers. They also need to be independent. For Wenger it was often seen as aloof or arrogant, for a scheme secretary the ability to be independent of the other services is critical. Even in those areas where the role seems the same, the benchmarks have changed; minutes need to be comprehensive and carefully drafted so as not to be misconstrued, meetings take longer and need additional management and the vast majority of the role now consists of work between meetings rather than once a quarter.

The new Scheme Secretary is someone who has great organisational skills, experience and knowledge of the pensions market and the provision of benefits, relationship management and communication skills. No one person can fill this role. Successful support for a Trustee board is a team sport. A balance is needed, specialists are important and independence is critical.

We believe that the time has come to reconsider the Scheme Secretary role and look again at what makes a successful Trustee Board. The Trustees need to be able to call on a squad of people all able to play their part in supporting them. Some of these will be the existing advisers but someone needs to stand separate from these advisers and pull all of this together.

Whatever the Arsenal Board decide to do about replacing Arsene Wenger I don’t believe that we will ever see someone who has had such an effect across such a wide range of areas of the club. They need the right team. A successful pensions scheme also needs the right team around it with a broad range of skills and the ability to work independently as part of the team.

To discuss scheme secretarial services, Arsene Wenger or the future of Arsenal post Wenger please contact John Reeve through our website click here.


Marekha Warren