The balance of power in the UK’s bulk annuity market will continue to shift between pension funds and insurers as meddling through market conditions and outside forces continues.
LCP, a consultancy, published its seventh annual report on the longevity insurance market and said it expected annual transactions of £10bn (€13bn) in bulk annuities to become the new norm.
The market in 2014 stormed ahead of previous levels and was close to reaching last year’s £7.5bn annual total by the end of June, backed by increasing demand and insurer appetite.
LCP expected the balance of power to shift to insurers until reforms were made to the individual defined contribution (DC) market.
Emma Watkins, a partner at LCP, said: “After the first quarter of 2014, we thought there was a position where demand was starting to outstrip supply, and we could see a scenario where insurer pricing became less competitive.”
The Budget announcement in March removed the need for individual DC savers to purchase annuities.
This meant insurers with both retail and bulk annuity businesses shifted capacity to the bulk space over expectations that individual sales would plummet.
“The see-saw levelled out again,” Watkins said, “and the competitive pricing seen at the end of 2013 and early 2014 continued.”
The LCP report also highlighted potential growth in demand.
Analysing 53 of the FTSE 100’s constituents, 10 company schemes were 80-100% funded, with six of those already insuring some longevity risk.
The consultancy’s market expectations for 2017 predict the number of funded schemes will rise to 23, representing £125bn of longevity premiums for insurers to write.
Watkins said, by the end of 2015, demand is likely to shape the dynamics of the market.
“Insurers can easily write £10bn a year,” she said. “But if pushed, and given the sort of noises insurers are making about their appetite, there could be up to £15bn in capacity.”
Watkins said, with insurer Legal & General looking to write £4bn-5bn a year and Prudential, Rothesay Life, Pension Insurance Corporation and Aviva around £2bn, the market has more potential than the expected £10bn.
This is even before other annuity insurers enter the market to survive the post-Budget environment.
In April, IPE revealed LV= was looking to enter the medically underwritten bulk annuity space due to falling sales in individual annuities.
“But this would require demand to go up in the same fashion, and that will be dictated by market conditions [on funding levels and Gilt prices],” Watkins said.
The LCP report also highlighted a growing trend for larger schemes to move away from longevity swaps and more towards insurance buy-ins.
The consultancy said options were opening up to larger schemes, whereas transactions worth more than £1bn were previously limited to longevity swaps, due to the high cost of transactions for buy-ins.
Watkins said the sophistication of insurers meant the cost of swapping assets had decreased, making a buy-in more attractive.
This was shown by the £3.6bn buy-in arrangement for the ICI Pension Fund and the £1.6bn for the Total UK Pension Plan.
However, she added that longevity swaps still made sense for the significantly larger schemes that were not looking towards buyouts in the near future.
“If you are holding Gilts and corporate bonds to match pensioner members, investing in a longevity swap probably means you would have to re-risk your investment strategy,” she said.
“For some schemes, they do not have the willingness or expertise to do that, so a buy-in makes more sense. But for a large sophisticated scheme, a longevity swap may make sense.”
This was shown by the £16bn longevity deal organised by the BT Pension Scheme and Aviva’s pension fund.
The UK bulk annuity market continued to grow as the CTL Engineering Pension Scheme wound up its liabilities with a £12m buyout.
This followed deals by the Unilever and Panasonic pension schemes, as sponsors respond to favourable market conditions.