The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) could drop its work on hybrid pension fund accounting if it cannot agree on an approach soon.
IASB member Mary Tokar said during a meeting on 12 July that the board could scrap the planned work if it became apparent that it was unlikely to deliver a quick, robust solution.
She told the meeting that the project was only supposed to be a limited scope effort dealing with a single group of pension promises.
She said: “People might have too high expectations for the research project that we have, which really is just looking at the question of ‘is there a relatively easy and contained fix that could address what many people see as an accounting mismatch’.”
Tokar added that feedback from a recent pensions accounting discussion paper, issued by the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG), could prove useful to the board in its future work.
The discussion paper set out three alternative accounting approaches for dealing with pension promises that offer the higher of the return on an identified asset or group of assets with a minimum guaranteed return.
Chapter 5 of the document detailed proposals to account for pension promises linked to an asset return and where the plan holds the assets upon which the benefits are dependent.
It also analysed three possible approaches: a capped-asset approach, a fair-value approach and a fulfilment-value approach.
The paper was focused exclusively on pension promises that depend on an asset return, and where the sponsor held the assets upon which the benefits were dependent.
Thomas Hagemann, chief actuary with pensions consultancy Mercer, said he welcomed the capped-asset return model as it broadly aligned with current practice in Germany.
He told IPE: “All in all, the approach, with modifications, could be a good compromise for future valuations.”
Of the two other approaches, Hagemann warned that “the effort and cost involved could even prevent companies from introducing such plans at all”.
A further constraint on the IASB’s work could be the fact that their work was not supposed to constitute a major reconsideration of the fundamentals of the board’s pensions accounting rulebook, International Accounting Standard 19 (IAS 19) Employee Benefits.
The IASB is currently working on a research project that examines pension promises linked to asset returns.
Over the course of the project, the board plans to explore whether it can develop an accounting solution in which sponsors would cap the rate of return at the level of the IAS 19 discount rate.
This approach, if viable, would avoid the trap whereby sponsors project the liability forward using an equity-based rate of return and discount back at a AA-corporate bond rate.
Interested parties have until 15 November to comment on the EFRAG proposals.