United Kingdom

Aon says trustee boards are adapting to meet the challenge of COVID-19

But the burden increases on board chairs and secretaries

LONDON, 02 September 2020 – Aon plc (NYSE: AON), a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, has said that trustee boards have adapted well during the COVID-19 pandemic to new ways of working and meeting. However, issues remain and the burden on chairs and secretaries of trustee boards is increasing as they try to maintain efficient and effective governance.

The onset of lockdown in March brought a real challenge for trustee boards and their ability to maintain effective governance of their schemes, particularly with the practical issue of how to hold virtual meetings for widely spread trustee board members.

Susan Hoare, partner at Aon, said:

“The initial technological challenge that trustee boards faced in simply finding a way to meet, has largely been overcome and in many cases embraced - but there are still significant issues as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevent face-to-face meetings. It means that there's now an extra burden on those running boards to find the best way forward and the most effective ways both to bring people together and to use their time to the best effect.”

Once the pandemic is over, Aon expects that few pension schemes will revert fully to the traditional quarterly face-to-face meeting cycle but will instead embrace the experience of the last six months and have some face-to-face meetings, combined with more frequent short virtual meetings. The balance between virtual and face-to-face meetings is likely to vary from scheme to scheme and on the issues that need to be discussed.

Susan Hoare said:

“We are now seeing schemes moving to the next stage - one of acceptance of where we are and that these conditions are likely to prevail for a while yet. On the positive side, this is producing some constructive and innovative thinking about how to make this work and how to find the best way to use trustees’ time.

“Many schemes are taking the opportunity to reflect on what has worked well and what less so. We’ve seen instances of where boards have successfully explored technical solutions to share material such as on-screen whiteboards, while others have thought laterally about the best way of assembling trustees in a time-effective way.”

Susan Hoare continued:

“For example, many schemes are evolving trustee meetings to be more topic led – sessions purely to look at the specifics of GMP equalisation are a case in point. But finding ways to conduct trustee training are another matter altogether – it’s not straightforward for trustees to stay up to speed without face-to-face and discussion-led sessions.

“Clearly there are swings and roundabouts to the situation; travel time to meetings is no longer an issue but the burden on chairs and secretaries to maintain a cohesive board has increased. They have to keep all trustees involved and need to avoid the risk of a board fragmenting into different groups or of a two-tier structure developing.

“As ever, the need to be nimble is of the highest importance - this is a situation which is still developing and which will require flexible thinking for some time to come.”


About Aon

Aon plc (NYSE:AON) is a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions. Our 50,000 colleagues in 120 countries empower results for clients by using proprietary data and analytics to deliver insights that reduce volatility and improve performance.

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