A focus on skill training for trustee board directors

Wednesday 22nd July 2020 Penny Pryor

Chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, Eva Scheerlinck, has an intimate knowledge of the organisation’s Trustee Director Course. As executive manager, governance and stewardship when the program was launched seven years ago, she was closely involved in its development and even attended the course in its first year.

“The course was developed off the back of the Stronger Super Report that came out in 2010,” Scheerlinck says.

“Jeremy Cooper suggested that the industry needed a greater and deeper focus on governance and there needed to be a greater focus on skill training on trustee boards.”

This prompted AIST to start working with member funds and investigating what courses were available. There was one course available in Canada offered by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, which Scheerlink also attended, but it was focussed on defined benefit schemes. There was also the Australian Institute of Company Director’s (AICD) course.

“We realised the AICD course, in and of itself, while good on the director’s duties, it didn't teach anything about superannuation…or the heightened responsibilities [for superannuation fund board members].”

Build it and they will come

AIST decided to build something that would involve a significant time commitment of attendees and an appropriate level of testing and assessment to ensure they had absorbed the material. The five-day Trustee Director Course was then launched in 2013.

As superannuation has changed over the past seven years so has the course. Initially run as just an introductory option for new directors, in 2014 the Trustee Director Course 2 was introduced, which was targeted at more experienced directors and covers more strategic direction.

“The more recent change we made in 2017 was, rather than requiring people to come together in the one spot, we’ve now started offering it as modules,” Scheerlinck says.

There are eight modules in the TDC 1, which cover trustee director duties and obligations, the risk framework, interpreting financial statements and introduction to investment principles. The course culminates in a mock board meeting.

“We also do a module around super fund operations which is really important because a super fund doesn’t run like most other companies. They have a lot of outsourced providers. From a governance perspective your ability to oversight those very significant outsourced contracts is a big part of the role,” Scheerlinck says.

The most recent modification as a result of COVID-19 has been the pivot to a virtual course with the full virtual TDC 1 course now costing $6000. The course is a prerequisite for some superannuation fund boards, which may choose to sponsor a participant.

Understand the process

Anyone wanting to become a board member of a superannuation fund needs to fully understand the process. It’s not something to be done on a whim, nor is it easy.

Boards are split between employee and employer directors and directorships need to be nominated or sponsored by the relevant employer or employee groups. There are some independent directorships available, but these can be quite competitive. A potential board member, therefore, needs to become familiar with the relevant nominating organisation.

To date, approximately 200 people have graduated from the course and about 50 per cent of graduates are women.

Read our profile with AIST's Trustee Director Course 1 graduate, Lisa Darmanin here.

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