Transfer values – a fall from a peak?

Angela Burns

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There have been huge increases in the numbers of individuals taking transfer values from their defined benefit pension schemes over recent years. This has been driven by numerous factors, one of which being all time low interest rates, giving us record high transfer values. Individuals have been seeing multiples upwards of 30 times pension in many cases, which when added to the increased flexibility now available, is proving a mixture all too difficult to resist.

With the Bank of England raising interest rates for only the second time in a decade (up 0.25% p.a. from 0.50% p.a. to 0.75% p.a.), having been stuck at 0.5% for over nine years, this change is likely to have an negative impact.

Gilt yields rising results in liabilities falling, all other things being equal, so we are likely to see a reduction in transfer values. At this stage the impact is likely to be relatively modest with a 0.25% p.a. increase in gilt yields reducing a £150,000 transfer for a 45 year old by about £10,000 and for a 60 year old by about £5,000.

Such a change means that the amount transferred needs to return a lot more to be able to match, or improve on the benefits offered by the scheme. This change is likely to see the investment return needed to match or improve on the benefits increase by around 0.5% p.a. for the 45 year old and by 1.0% p.a. for the 60 year old.

The investment return required in the period until retirement (also knows as the critical yield or in recent parlance ‘personalised discount rate’) is often seen as a benchmark which needs to be reached before an adviser can even consider if a wider discussion on transferring benefits is even possible. So lower transfer values, which result in higher critical yields, is likely to mean that fewer people reach the threshold and so many more stay with their existing scheme.

For employers incentivising staff to transfer through the use of enhanced transfer values, lower transfer values will mean that higher top-ups are required to reach an attractive level, placing a greater cash requirement on the employer and therefore making exercises less attractive. Alternatively, retaining the same top-up value may result in a lower take-up.

As the transfer value basis in some schemes may not react immediately to changes in gilt yields this may provide individuals with a short window of time before any changes are made. In addition, individuals who are currently within their transfer guarantee period may be keener to have their transfer value processed within the guarantee window, to ensure they take advantage of a higher value than would be likely to be available post the guarantee, given the gilt yields rise.

Further rate rises may be on the horizon. We don’t have a crystal ball to see what will happen in the future, however, current perceived wisdom seems to be that rates will slowly rise over time on the basis that they can’t possibly stay this low. However, this has been the general belief since around 2009! Some think we have entered a ‘new norm’ where rates are unlikely to rise materially.

Individuals and sponsors should take care when considering transfer values or transfer exercises as gilt yield increases can materially affect the ‘real’ monetary value of any transfer, with timing now increasingly important.

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