Archive for June 2018

David Davison

Nearly three years ago I wrote an article praising Lothian Pension Fund in Edinburgh for an enlightened move they announced which protected organisations burdened with legacy LGPS debt. This is a huge problem, as outlined in a previous Bulletin, which unreasonable saddles admitted bodies with past Council liabilities without full compensation and usually without them even being aware. The process adopted is akin to someone buying a car but having to pay for the previous owners lease as well as your own!!

The logical and reasonable approach that Lothian Pension Fund took was to confirm that where participation in their Fund had effectively come about via an outsource from a local government entity that on exit from the Fund the exit debt would be calculated on an on-going basis rather than the much more penal cessation basis and I have been fortunate to witness a number of my 3rd sector clients benefit greatly from this wholly sensible change. Some of these issues are dealt with via transferee admission agreements but not all with many legacy arrangements still in place.

What however has surprised me is that other Funds have steadfastly refused to follow suit, a position highlight by four recent exercises I have been undertaking where all the organisations hold very significant amounts of legacy Council benefits under their membership.

How can it be reasonable for an individual to work for 35 years for the Council and then move to a small 3rd sector organisation with LGPS membership for a couple of years prior to retirement and for that small organisation to inherit the past liability in full. Patently it can’t be!

The Lothian approach recognised this and provided a clear policy statement so that everyone knew exactly where they stood.

Unfortunately, while hugely welcome, even Lothian’s approach doesn’t go quite far enough. I struggle to see the difference between members who transferred across at outset (which the policy covers) and those who transfer across at a later date (who aren’t covered). The historic liability is the same. Indeed the policy also doesn’t reflect transitions from other public sector employers and schemes which results in a similar inequity.

Scottish Government missed a huge opportunity to resolve this issue when they introduced their new 2018 LGPS Regulations but unfortunately it was absent from the revisions. This is an area which could have benefited from some prescription and a clear policy statement that it is unreasonable for public bodies to expect other organisations to pick up their liabilities and that any such liabilities should be excluded in the calculation of contributions and in the settlement of any cessation liability.

With the findings of the Tier 3 review due shortly to the England & Wales Scheme Advisory Board it is to be hoped that they will deal with the issue. In the meantime Funds have the opportunity to behave fairly and responsibly and deal with their own liabilities in full.

Angela Burns

You would have to have been living on the moon over the past few months not to have seen the huge amount of press about pension transfers. Reading it you would be lead to believe that all individuals are gullible idiots and that all financial advisers are scurrilous rogues. Whilst undoubtedly there may be some who fit in to these categories it is far from all. So what is actually driving individuals to consider transferring their defined benefit pot to something with a much less certain outcome?

There is no doubt from my experience that individuals have a more unhealthy pessimism about their life expectancy than statistics would justify and a greater sense of expectation about how they can manage money than experience would suggest.

A starting premise for financial advisers when providing transfer advice is to begin with the assumption that it is not in the individuals best interests to transfer out of a defined benefit arrangement. However with more than 100,000 people having transferred out of DB schemes over the last year (according to Royal London), £10.6bn transferred in the first quarter of 2018 and no sign of a slow down – why has transfer activity increased so significantly in recent years?

Pension Freedoms

Undoubtedly the pension freedoms and choice introduced in April 2015 are the single greatest reason for the increase in transfer activity.  On transferring liabilities to a defined contribution scheme, individuals can access a range of flexibilities including:

  • Purchasing an income (always available but no longer a requirement)
  • Taking their fund as cash subject to tax charges
  • Entering into a drawdown arrangement whereby an income can be taken each year and the fund remains invested

There are also changes to death benefits whereby residual funds pass to dependants tax free on death before age 75 (previously taxed at 55%).

With this in mind, many individuals have looked to access these flexibilities.  Individuals may also feel that they get better value from transferring if:

  • They are single and would not benefit from a spouse pension on death from a defined benefit arrangement. Transferring to a defined contribution scheme means they can access the full value of their accrued benefits with nothing lost on death;
  • They are in ill health and have a lower life expectancy where greater value can be derived over a shorter term.

If an individual already has sufficient pension savings elsewhere or their spouse has material savings, then transferring part of a defined benefit to a defined contribution arrangement could provide a fund that can be taken more flexibly facilitating early retirement, a new career or even a release of early value to children or grand children.

Releasing funds to deal with debt may be more attractive than securing long term income and for those in financial hardship and accessing pension savings via a defined contribution arrangement may be their only option.

Shape of benefits

The provision of a set income increasing by a fixed rate with a spouse benefit may not provide an individual with the shape of benefits they may need or want. The ability to take more income early to facilitate early retirement for example,  and lead a lifestyle in the earlier years of retirement may be a strong driver.

Value for money

With interest rates still at very low levels and inflation relatively high, transfer values are much higher than they might have been historically and as a result, are being seen as good value.  Multiples of 30-40 times the individual’s pension are not unheard of.

Discharging pension scheme liabilities via transfer values is a lower cost option for employers and as such incentivised employer sponsored transfer exercises are still prevalent in the industry.  Individuals may view a transfer value already set at an attractive level but with a further enhancement, as too attractive to turn down.

Overall the perception that transfer values are now providing good value for money is resulting in more individuals now considering this as an option.

Risk

Finally, individuals in a defined benefit scheme with a high risk sponsor may feel that remaining in the scheme presents a risk.

Some individuals may also feel that they can manage their money better and invest their defined contribution fund in such a way that they get more at retirement.

Ultimately the decision is a highly complex one hence the requirement for anyone with a transfer value about £30,000 to receive independent financial advice is a sensible one. There are a huge amount of issues that should be considered and individuals should do what is right for them based on their own circumstances. Without this expert guidance people may make decisions which are unsuitable based upon inappropriate, misleading or indeed no information which may ultimately lead to bad outcomes.

Brendan McLean

The UK property market is one of the most developed and stable in the world. For investors, that means greater potential for stable income and capital growth over the long-term. We believe this potential still exists despite market concerns over Brexit and high street store closures.

Since Brexit, UK property has performed well and has seen a surprise surge in transaction volumes, particularly from overseas investors; this can be partly attributed to sterling weakness. There is the possibility that some international companies may choose to locate themselves outside of London post-Brexit, which could negatively impact central London offices – however outside of the capital other segments should prove more resilient. A broad portfolio, well-diversified across sectors and locations, should help weather any headwinds.

The high street retail sector continues to underperform due to the shift towards online shopping; high profile casualties such as Toys R Us, Maplin, New Look and Carpetright have decreased high street rental demand.  However the shift to online shopping has benefited distribution warehouses that store online purchases, these will continue to grow for the next few years as more people shop online.

The property market is not without its challenges, both from Brexit and from consumers choosing to shop online rather than in-store. Nevertheless, there is still room for capital appreciation and secure income. We are confident that diverse UK property allocation continues to have a place in portfolios.

We particularly like property for its ability to produce a steady income stream that is potentially inflation linked.  This income stream can be used by pension schemes to meet their cashflow profile.  Investors are also being paid a premium to invest in an asset class which is illiquid in nature – more below.  An Investment in property should be a serious consideration for a pension scheme.

A downside to investing in property is the significant transaction costs to enter and leave this asset – sometimes you might not even be able to enter or leave!  However, for most pension schemes with a long term time horizon and other liquid assets this should not be too much of an issue.

Hugh Nolan

At the end of 2017, a survey by the Society of Pension Professionals (SPP) found that 79% of its members felt that the UK pensions system was unfair to young people. Frankly, I wonder what the 15% of SPP members who disagreed were thinking, especially the 3% who strongly disagreed with this fairly obvious statement of fact. Perhaps they just pressed the wrong voting button accidentally…

Let’s look at the State pension first. The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) has forecast an increase in the cost of the State pension from 5.0% of GDP to 7.1% of GDP over the next 45 years. This forecast assumes no change to current pension policy, so includes allowance for planned rises in State Pension Age (SPA). The extra cost of £700 each year for every household in the UK seems unlikely to be affordable so my guess is that further reductions will be necessary to balance the budget. The triple lock on pension increases alone is expected to add over 1% of GDP to the cost of the State pension within 50 years. I imagine the new voters hoping for Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister may be voting for more generous pensions for the current generation of retirees than they can realistically expect to get themselves.

Moving on to private sector pensions, there were 3,500 Defined Benefit (DB) schemes open to new members in 2006 but only 700 left in 2016. Over the same period, the number of employees earning DB benefits fell from 3.6 million to 1.3 million. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFOA) says that a private sector worker born in the 1960s is almost four times as likely to have a DB pension as one born in the early 80s.

The typical rule of thumb used to be that a DB scheme might cost 15% of salary, with the employer bearing two-thirds of the cost. Recent analysis shows that the surviving DB schemes are costing 22.7% on average, with only a quarter of this cost met by employees. That means that employers with DB schemes are on average paying five times as much as those with Defined Contribution (DC) schemes, where the average employer contribution rate is only 3.2% (with employees paying an average 1.0% too).

In fairness, these DC contribution rates are distorted by new Auto-Enrolment (AE) schemes and the average DC contribution from employers in 2012 was 6.6%, still only just over a third of the corresponding rate for DB schemes. Employers in AE schemes are also going to be forced to make higher contributions, with the minimum rate having increased to 2% in April and due to rise again to 3% in 2019. Meanwhile, employees will have to pay 5% contributions, meaning that they are paying more than half the cost overall, while DB members still only pay a quarter of the cost of a much higher benefit.

The Government is perfectly aware of this issue (which is much wider than pensions) and has made some efforts to address it. The policy to increase SPA as people live longer is unpopular but has been defended to date, albeit slightly weakly, and Theresa May’s manifesto admission that the triple lock would go was a massive vote loser. Several kites have been flown about intergenerational taxes but none have met with anything other than resistance. The public aren’t thinking about affordability or fairness over the coming decades and a Parliament only lasts for five years, so can we really blame the politicians for letting the unfairness drift on?

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