66th UN Pension Board session concludes: new CEO/PBA, budget and governance proposals approved
The Pension Board members, Nairobi, 25 July 2019
Nairobi, 26 July 2019 – Confirming the excellent financial health of the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF), the Pension Board elected a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Pension Benefits Administrator (PBA), recommended options for the improved governance of the Fund, and approved its annual budget. These, in brief, are the decisions made at the 66th session of the Pension Board, which ended today in Nairobi (Kenya).
Good financial health, fair accounts and smooth operations
“The Fund is safe today and for a long time to come. Its fundamental structures and characteristics have served it well for the 70 years of its existence.” said H.E. Ambassador Philip Richard Owade from Kenya, incoming Chair of the Pension Board.
“The long-term financial stability of the Fund was reconfirmed,” Ms. Janice Dunn Lee, Acting CEO of the UNJSPF, stated, referring to the Asset and Liability Monitoring (ALM) Committee report approved by the Pension Board. “New pension cases are processed on time and correctly, there is no backlog of entitlement cases,” she added.
The Board further approved the 2018 audited financial statements, after review of the report of the UN Board of Auditors (BoA). “The BoA issued an unqualified (clean) opinion on the Fund’s financial statements and confirmed the Fund’s improvements on the processing of pension benefits,” Ms. Dunn Lee said.
Long-term performance, proactive communication, change management, and sustainable investment
In his statement to the Board, Mr. Sudhir Rajkumar, Representative of the Secretary-General for the Investment of the Assets of the UNJSPF (the RSG), stated that “2018 turned out to be a challenging year in global financial markets.” The asset value of the Fund had decreased by $3.4 billion to $60.8 billion at end-2018 but had recovered to $67.4 billion on 30 June 2019. Additional information is available on the website of the Office of Investment Management (OIM).
Mr. Rajkumar stressed the importance of focusing on long-term investment returns. Over the long-term, the Fund continues to exceed its Long-Term Investment Objective of a 3.5% real (net of inflation) return by a healthy margin. The RSG added that “weekly or monthly changes in asset value figures were inconsequential for the long-term financial health of the Fund. Reacting to short-term market movements could in fact be detrimental to stakeholders’ best interests.”
The RSG reiterated his commitment to proactive communication with all stakeholders, which he had practiced over the past 18 months since he took the role of RSG. Mr. Rajkumar further stated that OIM had defined its mission over the past year as contributing to the UN’s global mission by ensuring the long-term financial health of the UNJSPF. Placing the Fund on a secure, stable, and robust foundation for the next 50 years would enable the UN family to continue to attract the best and the brightest from around the world to serve with them, in an era otherwise defined by resource constraints. Towards this end, OIM was engaged in adopting global best practices, which required a certain amount of change. The RSG committed himself to a change management process which embraced the themes of communication, inclusion, empathy, and support for adaptation.
The RSG highlighted that “the Office of Investment Management has begun the process of integrating environmental, social and governance factors into its investment decision-making process,” and announced the release of OIM’s 2018 Report on Sustainable Investing.
WHY ARE THE FUND’S INVESTMENTS IMPORTANT?
As stated in the report of the Assets and Liabilities Monitoring Committee, approved by the Board, “the real rate of return earned by the Fund continues to be the most significant factor in maintaining long-term solvency.” As the Fund is maturing with an increasing number of retirees compared to active staff members/participants, pension payments are exceeding contributions from active participants. This is normal for maturing pension funds, and investment income from the Fund’s assets is designed to make sure that all pension payments can be made. It does, however, increase the importance of the Fund’s investments and the role of the Office of Investment Management (OIM) in delivering this investment income. The Fund is fully funded, and its assets are expected to continue growing for at least the next 30 years. Participants and beneficiaries should feel safe and secure when considering the financial status of the UNJSPF.
Selection of a new CEO/Pension Benefits Administrator
After a competitive recruitment process conducted by the Board’s Succession Planning Committee, candidates were interviewed in a closed session, and the Board approved the selection of a new CEO/PBA (see next paragraph for further explanations). A recommendation will be now submitted to the United Nations Secretary-General for hiring the chosen candidate.
Governance was high on the Pension Board’s agenda, as the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), by its resolution 73/274 in 2018, requested a review of various aspects of the Fund’s already solid governance framework.
The issues to be addressed by the Board, which established a Governance Working Group, included replacing the existing Secretary/CEO post with two distinct and independent posts, namely, “Pension Benefits Administrator” and “Secretary of the Pension Board” by 2020. The Pension Board agreed on the Secretary’s recruitment procedure, reporting lines, the classification of the post, and staffing of the Secretary’s office.
The size and the composition of the Pension Board were discussed based on the recommendations of the Governance Working Group, and the Board agreed that the total number of Board seats with voting rights would remain at 33. There was a re-adjustment to accommodate larger member organizations that had joined the Fund more recently.
2020 Budget approved
The Pension Board approved the Fund’s budget, confirming the Fund secretariat’s intention to establish global functional reporting for all services and sections across the Fund (see more on functional reporting here) and increasing the staff of the Office of Investment Management to continue to build the capacity that will keep the Fund financially sound.
Other important matters
Following the Board’s Rules of Procedure, all meeting attendees were required to sign a declaration at the beginning of the session, including a certification that each member would “exercise its duty with loyalty, discretion and conscience,” to prevent conflict of interest and to maintain the confidentiality of the deliberations.
Additionally, the Board decided to establish a Code of Conduct for Board members and develop related procedures, including enforcement.
“The Board must maintain its integrity and authority.” stated Ambassador Owade in his closing statement.
A report will be submitted to the UNGA in the coming weeks for decision on Pension Board’s recommendations, including those on the governance of the Fund and the budget for 2020 (see more on the role of the UNGA here).