As Defined Benefit (DB) scheme sponsors and trustees in the UK work to put their schemes on a more stable footing amid continued market volatility, scheme trustees’ confidence in their ability to successfully manage the DB risks facing their plans may be waning, according to MetLife Assurance Limited’s 2012 UK Pension Risk Behaviour IndexSM (UK PRBI). The study of 89 sponsors and trustees analysed how each group viewed 18 investment, liability and business risks that affect their pension schemes, and assessed how well they believed they were managing those risks.
UK PRBI Value Remains Consistent – But Steadily Falls Amongst Trustees
The overall Index value of the 2012 UK PRBI – which measures the importance that sponsors and trustees ascribe to each risk, their perceived success at managing each risk and the consistency between the two – remained consistent from 2011 to 2012 at 79 out of 100. However, the Index value for trustees fell another two points year-on-year to 78 in 2012 from 80 in 2011 and 82 in 2012. Conversely, the Index value for scheme sponsors is steadily rising, increasing by two points to 80, from 78 in 2011 and 75 in 2010. These movements, taken together, account for the overall 2012 Index value remaining level.
The drop in self-reported success at managing several key DB-related risks – including Scheme Governance and Inflation Risk – helps to partially explain the inverse relationship of the Index values between sponsors and trustees over the past three years. In 2012, trustees rated their overall success at managing risks a 4 or 5 (out of a scale of 1-5, with 5 indicating success) 77% of the time, down from 80% in 2011 and 83% in 2010.
Wayne Daniel, Chief Executive Officer of MetLife Assurance Limited, stated: “Constant regulatory changes appear to undermine trustees’ confidence, as evidenced by the fall in the reported success of Scheme Governance and Inflation Risk. Increasing levels of uncertainty being generated by issues such as Guaranteed Minimum Pension (GMP) Equalisation and Solvency II for pension schemes are impacting trustees’ confidence in managing some of the critical risks facing their schemes. Where once there was a degree of certainty, the revisiting of GMP Equalisation by the Department for Work and Pensions now requires that trustees again reconsider and tackle this issue.”
Lingering Market Volatility Keeps Focus on Funding Deficits
Funding Deficits is the most important risk facing scheme sponsors and trustees for the second year in a row, according to the 2012 UK PRBI. The ranking of Funding Deficits as the most important risk for the second year in a row reflects significant fluctuations in scheme assets and liabilities, mainly as a result of the volatility in equities and rising bond prices. At the same time, schemes may have also seen their liabilities grow due, in at least part, due to corporate bond and gilt yields, and continued uncertainty around the Eurozone.
Continued Daniel: “Scheme sponsors and trustees continue to face unprecedented challenges on the economic and regulatory front. Volatile markets, driven in part by the Eurozone crisis, have demonstrated how quickly and significantly pension liabilities – and funding deficits – can change. As a result, we expect sponsors and trustees to pay even greater attention to the connection between investment strategies and the risks that impact a scheme’s funding status. Additionally, scheme sponsors and trustees should consider incorporating triggers for de-risking the scheme in order to protect it.”
Scheme Sponsors and Trustees Continue to Evaluate the Strength of the Employer Covenant
In order to ensure the ongoing viability of their schemes and safeguard members’ benefits, sponsors and trustees are continuing to closely monitor the Employer Covenant. This risk ranked second among trustees for the second year in a row, and third among scheme sponsors. Interestingly, the Importance Selection Rating, or the number of times the risk was selected by respondents when presented alongside other risk factors, for Employer Covenant is rising considerably among scheme sponsors – from 41% in 2011 to 49% in 2012. This may reflect the increased focus among scheme trustees on the Employer Covenant following The Pensions Regulator (TPR) guidance issued in November 2010.
Sponsors and Trustees Remain Focused on Several Key Risks – Integrated Risk Management Approach Takes Hold
The results of the 2012 UK PRBI demonstrate that scheme sponsors and trustees are continuing, and strengthening, their focus on a handful of key risks. The overall Importance Rankings for the top four risks remained consistent from 2011 to 2012.
2012 vs. 2011 UK PRBI Overall Importance Ranking
RISK FACTOR 2012 RANKING 2011 RANKING
Funding Deficits 1 1
Employer Covenant 2 2
Asset and Liability Mismatch 3 3
Meeting Investment Return Targets 4 4
Measurement of Technical Provisions/Liabilities 5 7
In addition, the range between the Importance Selection Rates for the most important risk and least important risks this year is 66 percentage points, compared to 57 percentage points in 2011. This continues the trend established in the inaugural UK PRBI in 2010.
Scheme sponsors and trustees continue to move toward a co-ordinated holistic approach to pension risk prioritisation, according to the 2012 UK PRBI. The importance rankings between trustees and sponsors are aligned within one or two ranking spots for all but one risk factor: Asset Diversification. Trustees rank this fifth in importance whilst sponsors rank it 10th.
Daniel Concluded: “It is encouraging to see scheme sponsors and trustees continuing to develop a more co-operative relationship to ensure the protection of their members’ benefits. As this co-ordinated approach continues, it will pave the way to well-considered, integrated solutions as market conditions permit in the future.”