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4. Trustee training and improving your knowledge


Main points

  • As a 21st century trustee, you need to have the knowledge and understanding to perform your role within six months of your appointment. If you’re a professional trustee, you must have relevant knowledge and understand when you’re appointed.
  • You should identify your strengths, weaknesses and any gaps in knowledge and understanding by carrying out self-evaluations and board evaluations. This will inform what training you may need.
  • Link training plans with your scheme’s business plan to ensure the training is more effective and meets the demands of your scheme.

Trustee toolkit online learning

We provide a free online learning programme called the Trustee toolkit which you should complete, unless you arrange the equivalent learning. You must log in or sign up to use the Trustee toolkit.

Go to the Trustee toolkit

Training and improving your knowledge

Training is important to make sure the trustee board as a whole has the skills, knowledge and understanding to run the scheme properly.

You’re legally required to have relevant knowledge and understanding of pension and trust law and key scheme documents like the trust deed and rules and statement of investment principles.

New trustees must have the relevant knowledge and understanding to perform their role within six months of their appointment.

Assessing your knowledge and training needs as a trustee

You should annually assess your knowledge, understanding and skills and evaluate the decisions you’ve made over the past year. This will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and any gaps, which you can then address in your training plan.

Chairs of trustees should consider supporting this process by conducting individual performance appraisals with trustees. Chairs should also ensure that there is an annual evaluation of the board, skills, knowledge and effectiveness in order to identify any gaps that need to be filled to meet the objectives set out in the scheme’s business plan.

Learning and development is a continuous process. Your training plans should ensure that knowledge and understanding is maintained and addresses the gaps identified in the most recent board evaluation.

To make sure enough time is given to training, consider setting aside time in trustee meetings for training and invite people (for example, advisers) to provide training that’s relevant to upcoming events or to develop trustees’ knowledge in time for key decisions.

How to do it

The Trustee toolkit

The Trustee toolkit is our free online learning programme, which we expect you to complete unless you arrange equivalent learning. It’s free, interactive, easy to use and you can dip in and out and learn at your own pace.

It’s useful for new trustees as it covers the basic knowledge and understanding required by law, but we’d also recommend it for more experienced trustees, particularly if they want to refresh their knowledge on a particular subject.

To help you plan your learning and keep up to date with your knowledge, you can use our online planning tool. It will guide you to the relevant modules and tutorials in the Trustee toolkit you need to complete to meet different subject areas.

96% of trustees who’ve used the toolkit say they feel more confident carrying out their duties as a result.

Example behaviours: working well

Constructive feedback

The chair co-ordinates annual performance reviews with each of the trustees, providing feedback on the way they work to support their self-assessment. This includes feedback from advisers and the use of an online assessment tool provided by a consultancy firm. This builds confidence and enables the trustees to take ownership of their own development whilst recognising the needs of the board. Everyone on the board recognises the value in continually developing and improving their skills, in relation to improving their effectiveness on the board and from a personal development perspective.

Event specific training

Time is allocated in quarterly board meetings to reflect forthcoming events in the scheme annual planner. The review of the scheme’s statement of investment principles is due, so the scheme’s investment adviser is invited to deliver training at a board meeting on diversification and use of risk mitigations. This will help ensure the trustees are equipped with the knowledge and understanding required to receive and challenge advice and help them to make informed decisions.

Shadowing and mentoring

The trustees recognise that in order to be an effective member of their board, new trustees need at least 12 months to obtain the required level of knowledge and understanding of their scheme. They therefore provide opportunities for prospective new trustees to shadow and receive mentoring from other members of the board up to 12 months before they are formally appointed. This also helps new trustee candidates to understand the level of commitment that must be brought to the role.

Example behaviours: Where improvements can be made

Levels of reliance on advisers

The trustees complete the Trustee toolkit when they are first appointed to comply with the requirement to have the relevant knowledge and understanding within six months, but don’t arrange any ongoing or scheme-specific training. They are reliant on their advisers to provide them with the information they need as and when required. This results in an imbalanced reliance on scheme advisers and an unwillingness or inability to challenge advice. The trustees are not equipped with the appropriate level of understanding to make informed decisions.

What should the trustees do?

The trustees should make use of the time and resources available to them maintain their scheme-specific knowledge and understanding so that they are able to understand the advice they receive and make informed decisions.

Out of date training policies

The scheme has a policy for training new trustees within six months, which involves completing the Trustee toolkit and signposting to relevant scheme documentation. However, this hasn’t been reviewed for a number of years and doesn’t reflect the current needs of the scheme. This means that the training policy has little value and the board is unprepared when a new trustee is appointed.

What should the trustees do?

The trustees should review their training plans to ensure they remain relevant to their scheme and make full use of the resources available. This includes, for example, the Trustee toolkit, shadowing, and attending seminars, conferences and networking events, so that new trustees can achieve the knowledge and understanding they need to do their job within six months.

Check your governance: trustee training

  • Do those who are new to running your scheme complete the Trustee toolkit (or an equivalent) within six months of starting their role?
  • Does your scheme undertake an annual evaluation of the performance and effectiveness of your board as a whole, referring to the objectives set out in your scheme’s business plan?

Further information

Helpful information to get you started:

More detailed, in-depth information: