What do Pension Fund Trustees do in these experimental times?

As a pension-fund trustee, you have the responsibility for the quality of your members' retirement-years. It's an onerous obligation and I have always taken the view that a cautious and safe approach is the correct one. I have never heard a beneficiary of the fund say that he preferred the prospect of a risky but possibly higher pension to a safer but lower one.

Once, you could resolve your duties by buying government bonds that roughly matured at the time that the annuity had to be paid. That was an expensive route for the pension fund, but the risks were very small. But now that the Bank of England, under pressure from the government, has been printing money so fast, is it a safe route to take? The prospect of the government defaulting on full redemption of its bonds is undoubtedly much greater. It is very likely, for instance, that Greece will default on fully repaying its bonds, and the UK economy hardly looks more sound than the Greek economy.

So where else should a trustee invest pension funds? Who knows what will happen to the stock market? It looks grossly overpriced, and wholly unsuitable for a prudent pension fund investment at these prices ( about 5700 FTSE). Gold earns no interest at all, and could go either way. Cash is earning very low interest rates if it is invested with AAA-rated funds, and with all this printing of money going on, it's likely that inflation will erode the cash value. I do not believe that pension-fund trustees should gamble on currencies. In my view property prices will have to fall.

With the financial experiment that governments and central banks are conducting, it is very hard for pension-fund managers to adopt a policy that is reasonably certain to safeguard their pensioners' funds and not lumber the company with the prospect of a major shortfall to make up again.

One option might be to say to the beneficiaries of the pension fund, "it's so uncertain that we would like to give you a lump sum and wind up the pension fund". But if the trustees are uncertain how to invest the money, is it likely that the beneficiaries will make a better job of it? Won't they be vulnerable to clever salesmen of annuity policies, which may provide them with very small benefits? Is it responsible for a trustee for the pension of someone who has worked in a gravel pit for much of his life, to suddenly give him difficult financial issues to deal with?

The answer, of course, is that governments should not conduct experiments with their countries' financial foundations. Money should not be invented. Insolvent banks should go bust, and foolish investors should lose their money, while prudent investors should thrive. If the electorate elect governments that insist on reassuring depositors that their funds will be safe in a bank, then tax payers have to redeem those deposits when the bank goes bust, but in future depositors should be first preferential creditors, relieving tax payers of that duty.

The trouble with this policy for most political parties, is that 'growth' next year would inevitably be restricted, they would have to tell the electorate that they would have much less money in their pockets very soon and that services would be drastically cut. They would lose the general election by a landslide. Their banker friends would not be able to make donations to party funds. It could put political parties into a terminal spiral. So they prefer to print the money, maintain the illusion, and keep their power. They prefer to put off the deepening crisis as long as they possibly can and hope for a miracle. For goodness sake (they think), don't face the facts now, take the hit and grow from there; don't tell the electorate the truth, which gives you the mandate to put the problem right.

The integrity of pension-fund trustees, and the security of pensioners' old-age, is corrupted by the power-craze of politicians.