Large German companies have called for membership of industry-wide pension plans to be voluntary, as the country’s parliament debates reforms to its system.
Wolfgang Degel, head of BMW group’s centre of competence for retirement provision, was among the most outspoken on the topic at this year’s Handelsblatt conference on occupational pensions in Berlin.
“The collective bargaining agreements should only set minimum standards for the new pension vehicles,” Degel argued. “Participation should be completely voluntary for companies and they should not be forced to transfer existing pension plans.”
He added that occupational pensions were an important feature of a good employer: “With industry-wide pension plans companies can no longer set themselves apart with special arrangements.”
Evelyn Stoll, head of pensions at fellow German car producer Volkswagen, said: “We do not have to be among the first to introduce a new pension vehicle. We can wait – maybe for the teething troubles to be over.”
She emphasised that Volkswagen would stick to its on-book pension promises, known as “Direktzusage”, echoing similar commitments by other large companies.
Carsten Velten, head of pensions at Deutsche Telekom, said he was in favour of the new pure DC plans in principle. “It is an option, but my gut feeling says that our employees might not want this,” he said.
Robert Bosch Group’s head of the retirement provision Dirk Jargstorff was a bit more positive, adding: “What really helps during the retirement phase is to get away from the dogma of the strict investment strategy.”
Under the proposed pure DC model – to be introduced via the “Betriebsrentenstärkungsgesetz” (BRSG) – asset allocation would no longer be limited by the need to provide guarantees to retirement benefits.
“We would not have any commitment to make additional payments, which we currently still have for retirees if we cannot reach the promised guarantee,” Jargstorff said. “This would bring even more stability and equality among the generations.”
However, BMW’s Degel was convinced of his company’s existing provision: “What we are offering will be more attractive than the defined ambition plans created under the BRSG – and we would like to continue the way we do.”
BMW introduced a new pension plan last year for new entries after March 2016, and any employees who chose to switch. It does not have a pension payout phase – instead money can be withdrawn upon retirement in instalments.
This year and last BMW paid €200m into the new plan both from the company’s 150th anniversary bonus and the employees’ share of the success premium.