Q&A with Justin McGilloway, Head of Pensions & Employee Benefits

16 / 05 / 2016

When did you first become interested in the law?

At school. I took part in a mock trial at the local Crown Court when I was 15. I successfully defended a fictional character accused of criminal activity. A defining moment in any schoolboy’s life.

What is your focus at Wedlake Bell?

The glamorous world of Pensions & Employee Benefits. This is usually a conversation stopper but please stay with me!

Fundamentally pensions are there as a tax efficient way for people to save for retirement – in other words “legal tax avoidance”.

The regulation around pension schemes is very prescriptive and stringent and, depending on the type and nature of the scheme in question, a multitude of issues can arise. Pensions law is always evolving and in the last decade we have seen radical upheaval in the industry due to: (i) parliamentary tinkering, as successive governments try to encourage workers to save for their retirement; (ii) fluctuations in global economic conditions affecting investment returns and demands on employers; (iii) regulators seeking to police the industry; and (iv) decisions of both domestic and European courts. Covering all bases can be challenging and it’s fair to say there’s rarely a dull moment in what I do – honestly!

On the Employee Benefits front, I advise clients on how they can pay and incentivise their employees, management and senior team in tax efficient ways. Well-designed employee incentive plans can help deliver significant benefits to a business and be used as a key tool for recruitment, retention and motivation. Some of these plans (e.g. share option schemes) can assist in aligning the interests of shareholders and employees through motivating employees to work towards desired business goals.

Tell us about your clients and how their needs have changed.

The range of clients I look after is pretty wide and includes FTSE 250 companies, privately owned businesses with an overseas parent, occupational pension scheme trustees and high net worth individuals.

All want their problems solved in a pragmatic and commercial way. The team always recommends a course of action – sitting on the fence is not an option.

The advice I deliver is very much tailored to the style and needs of the client. For instance, pension scheme trustees will have one eye on their fiduciary duties owed to the members of the scheme – commercial risk is sometimes off the table. A pension scheme sponsor will be concerned about the duties owed to shareholders but at the same time be keen to do the right thing by its employees whereas the founders of a start-up business will be keen to conserve cash but at the same time put arrangements in place to attract, recruit and retain talent. Each relationship is constantly evolving.

In recent years my clients have also demanded flexibility on costs. Pricing should not be a taboo subject. In my experience clients want to see more pricing and payment options and where possible risk sharing. I subscribe to this collaborative approach and my clients have responded well to pricing choice.

Tell us about some of your interests outside of the law.

With three young children “me time” can be difficult to come by. In between swimming lessons, rugby tots, soft-play centres, kids birthday parties (the list could go on) I like to relax by wearing lycra clothing and cycling along the roads of rural Kent.