Liability management

Angela Burns

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Employers have chosen to manage their defined benefit pension liabilities using liability management exercises for a number if years now but these exercises have recently been given a fresh impetus through the introduction of pension freedoms which has given individuals much more flexibility in how to take their benefits from Defined Contribution schemes.

Below is a transcript from the video above.

Liability management exercises involve offering defined benefit pension scheme members various options in relation to their pension benefits.  These options include:

  • Transferring benefits to an alternative defined contribution arrangement;
  • Taking benefits as a cash lump sum, subject to regulatory limits;
  • Changing how pensions increase in payment.

The sponsor objective in conducting a liability management exercise is two-fold:

  1. Discharging liabilities via transfer values and lump sums is often less costly than the ‘on-going’ cost of providing benefits, or the cost of securing benefits with an insurer – therefore the cost of providing benefits is reduced on exercise of these options. Risk is also reduced if pension increases are swapped for a higher initial pension;
  2. Providing members with a greater choice over how they take their retirement income all carried out in a controlled environment. Individuals can choose options that best suit their needs (see my previous blog on what drives people to transfer for some issues that individuals may consider).

A liability management exercise, if run correctly, can therefore be a win-win for both the employer and scheme members.

So if you are an employer and you are considering providing your membership with OPTIONS – what do you need to think about?

Outlay

Can you afford to incentivise the options available to improve attractiveness and aid take up?  Consider the cost of the exercise and whether or not you can afford this.  If it’s unaffordable at this time can you implement ‘business as usual’ practices to get a similar result over a period of time? For example providing transfer value statements along with retirement packs, or writing to members to remind them of their options?

Possible impact

An initial feasibility study helps to identify the potential impact, the cost of enhancements (if these are affordable) and any concentrated liabilities.  It is useful to carry this out prior to implementation.

Target membership

Using the results of the feasibility study you can target your exercise to ensure the maximum cost/benefit ratio.

Independent advice

If you are offering incentives then you must provide members with Independent Financial Advice (paid for by the employer).  There are a very limited number of IFA’s with the qualifications and authorisations to conduct this very specialist advice so ensure you choose an IFA that has the relevant experience.  Initial screening can help control costs as only those individuals who would be suitable to receive full advice with the associated costs would make it through the screening process.

Operation

Ensure you appoint an advisor with a strong track record of project managing successful liability management exercises.  Advising multiple individuals over a relatively short timescale is a complex process and it must be managed by an experienced professional.

Needs of membership

Consider the needs of your membership throughout the process – what will get them engaged in the exercise?  Are written communications enough or will access to a website, specific member presentations and a dedicated hotline aid engagement and understanding?

Sound communications

Ensure that all communications are engaging and jargon free.  Defined Benefit pensions are complex and it is important that individuals understand the options that are being made available to them and their implications.

This area is very highly regulated by the FCA and tPR has provided useful guidance which needs to be followed to compliantly conduct any exercise.

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