• Bio: Francois is a partner and head of Eversheds LLP's Pensions group. He sits on the CBI Pensions Panel and the NAPF Retirement Policy Council.
  • Role: Pensions Partner
  • Location: Midlands and London

Francois Barker

I am a partner at international law firm Eversheds LLP and specialise in pensions law. I am currently the head of Eversheds’ Pensions team in the Midlands, which involves advising a wide variety of clients – both trustee and corporate – on an even wider variety of issues.

Why did you choose a career in the industry?

Because I wanted to help people and travel the world. . . no wait, I’m getting confused with my ‘Mr Pensions’ submission . . .

I had a previous career in higher education before I saw the light and qualified into commercial practice. I picked pensions for three reasons:

  1. I thought it had at least five-ten years’ of life in it
  2. It seemed to be a developing area of law
  3. I liked the challenge of distilling a lot of technical law down into a commercial answer to a client’s commercial question.

All those reasons continue to hold true today. There is something to be said for working in a field where the law changes all the time, and where the numbers involved are frequently so material that pensions are a key strategic issue for a business.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day is non-existent! One of the upsides of the job is that it is never mundane – but this also means that it is frequently difficult to predict what a day will look like. There is usually a combination of technical law, commercial application, economics, finance, people issues and marketing involved somewhere. (And spousal apologies for getting home later than intended . . .)

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Having influence over how our clients’ businesses – and our own – perform and develop. Pensions issues can be the difference between a stable, developing business with balanced finances on the one hand, and industrial and financial fall out on the other. In extreme cases, resolving a pensions issue can be the difference between survival and Armageddon. So it is rarely dull or unimportant or single track.

In terms of our own business, pensions work rarely stands alone now – proper advice to clients will involve many other related disciplines, including corporate finance, insolvency, banking, employment, financial services and insurance. Internally, my role can involve anything from coaching juniors to reviewing spreadsheets or developing selling/marketing products.

What are the most stressful parts of the job?

Invariably the people issues.

What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome these?

One of my toughest client assignments was advising the trustees of the first scheme to enter the Pension Protection Fund about three weeks after the new law came into force. It involved a very steep learning curve and some late nights.

What are your predictions for the next 12 months?

It will be the year of pensions risk management – both old and new. Any employer involved in a defined benefit pension plan will need to take steps to manage the ‘old’ risks to which they are exposed – for example, by trying to adjust pension liabilities, or use corporate assets – rather than hard cash – to fund deficits.

In terms of the ‘new’ risks, employers will want to ensure they are fully compliant with the automatic enrolment regime to avoid the risk of fines, jail and reputational damage. Many will want to use the statutory postponement mechanisms and/or ‘salary sacrifice’ arrangements to save costs.

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