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Alan Pickering

Alan Pickering has a dream. That dream is to lead his victorious colt into

the winner&#39s enclosure at York racecourse over the grass that as a lad he

cut on his hands and knees to earn pennies.

Although his horse&#39s name is Alan&#39s Dream, and he describes his role as

chairman of the National Association of Pension Funds as a dream come true,

Pickering is not what anybody would classically describe as a dreamer.

In many ways, he is a typical Yorkshireman with a good line in straight talk.

Pickering is outspoken about the subject which he claims is not only his

job but his hobby. On the biggest challenge facing him in his first year as

chairman of the NAPF, he says: “We have to ram home the message to the

Government that occupational pension schemes cover the whole spectrum of

individuals, including blue-collar workers.

“We take every opportunity when meeting ministers and speaking to other representatives of the chattering classes to make sure they see that occupational pensions are doing a good job.”

But commentators tempted to label Pickering as a class warrior do so at

their peril. Despite a working-class background as the only son of a York

railwayman, there are no chips to be found on his shoulders. “I am a

product of my history but that history showed me that occupational pensions

benefit the rich and the not so rich.”

Pickering was born in 1948 and from a young age fancied he would follow in

his father&#39s footsteps and work on the railways. Like many boys, Pickering

imagined himself as an engine driver but instead he was assigned a desk job

when his partial sightedness deteriorated into blindness.

This work brought him into contact with trade unions, which ultimately led

to him spending 20 years at the electricity and plumbing trade unions

between 1972-92. It was during this part of his career that he gravitated

towards personal finance through his responsibility for providing advice

and packaging affinity benefits, including pensions, for union members.

In 1992, Pickering decided it was time for a change, halfway through his

working life, which prompted him to write two identical letters seeking

jobs from the senior partners at consultants Bacon & Woodrow and Watson

(now Watson Wyatt).

It was Watson which took him on in July 1992. Pickering is now a partner

at the firm – an achievement which he describes as one of the proudest

moments in his career, along with becoming NAPF chairman.

He has come a long way from his original expectations as a partially

sighted child. He says: “I went to a special school. If I was lucky, I

would end up making baskets and if I was unlucky I would end up being

unemployed.”

B ut when he reached 11, he went to a boarding school in Coventry where

his intelligence and determination were given more of a chance. “It made me

very independent and helped me see people as individuals as I was mixing

with people with lower IQs as well as those with IQs over 150.”

When he came to work on the railways, he was still told he would never

progress beyond a junior role but he was not discouraged. “My activity with

the trade unions rekindled my interest in education, having been put off by

the sausage machine that school was. I wanted to demonstrate that I wasn&#39t

a second-class citizen.”

Pickering read politics and social administration at Newcastle University

as a mature student between 1969 and 1972.

His involvement with the NAPF started as secretary of the West London

group council in 1981. He was elected to the NAPF council in 1986.

This week&#39s NAPF conference in Glasgow marks his second and final year as

chairman. Of the challenges facing him in the next year, he says: “There is

a real danger that some employers who are finding running pension schemes

too complex will respond to Government interference and offer stakeholder

instead. But, with stakeholder, the employer is under no obligation to

offer contributions.

“The real challenge is on the investment side in terms of the debate on

pension schemes as institutional investments and the debate on soc- ially

responsible investment. The NAPF&#39s role is to make sure trustees get a fair

and unbiased view on all the asset classes in the face of more specialist

managers and an increase in marketing hype.”

Pickering claims to be a team worker who enjoys his contact with other people.

He says: “I meet people across an extremely wide spectrum through my

working life. I also enjoy explaining complex pension issues to those who

have skills in other areas. It is the Government and the regulator who make

the issues complex.”

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