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CEE roundup: Polish OFE system, Bulgarian review, LHV Group

The second four-month transfer window for Polish workers choosing to opt into or out of paying their 2.92% contribution into the second-pillar private pension fund (OFE) system or the first-pillar Polish Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) opened on 1 April.

In the first window, in 2014, ZUS was the default position for all those who failed to make a declaration.

This time round, only those members who want to change need to make a declaration, although those with 10 or fewer years left to retirement remain excluded from the process.

Another difference is that the pension fund companies will be able to advertise over the four-month period.

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This follows the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling in November 2015 that the earlier advertising ban was illegal.

Małgorzata Rusewicz, president of the Polish Chamber of Pension Funds (IGTE), recently told the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita that the organisation would be carrying out an educational campaign alongside those from individual pension companies.

She cited a 2015 CBOS opinion poll showing that, while more than 2.5m pension fund members chose to remain in the private system, almost 10% of the then membership were either unaware of the coming changes or simply forgot to send in their declarations.

New labour markets entrants, who have four months after starting work to chose an OFE or default to ZUS, are another target audience.

Since the reform, ZUS no longer informs them of the OFEs’ existence.

Any publicity campaign will have to focus on the long-term horizon of pensions savings.

Banned from investing in sovereign bonds of any nationality, obliged to hold a high share in equities and restricted largely to the domestic market, the funds’ returns remain heavily dependent on the performance of the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE).

Rusewicz emphasised in her Rzeczpospolita interview that, while the OFEs returned an average minus 4.7% for 2015, they nonetheless outperformed the minus 9.7% returned by the WSE’s WIG benchmark index.

The next transfer window opens in 2020.

In other news, plans for a comprehensive audit of the pensions system in Bulgaria have had to be postponed, with the review date shifting from 1 April to 15 July, and the completion date from 15 August to 1 December, due to a lack of available auditors.

The new timelines also apply to the planned insurance sector audit, while the auditors themselves focus on the banks, as well as statutory audits.

Separately, Maya Manolova, the ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria, has questioned some of the provisions in last year’s amendments to the Social Security Code changing the mandatory second-pillar system into a voluntary one.

Specifically, she is concerned that citizens choosing to switch contributions to and from the first and second pillars are not doing so on the basis of informed consent.

Manolova announced in March that she intended to initiate a meeting with the president of the National Assembly, relevant parliamentary committees and the minister of labour and social affairs to improve the legislation.

In Estonia, LHV Group, the banking, pensions and finance company, and the country’s biggest capital provider, plans to launch an IPO on the Nasdaq Tallinn Stock Exchange in May.

The issue, aimed primarily at Estonian retail investors, will mark the Tallinn exchange’s first IPO for six years.

At the general shareholders’ meeting scheduled for 20 April, the management board will recommend a listing of 2m shares at a price of €6.95, approximately twice the post-issue book value, with the capital raised going towards growing existing businesses.

LHV, founded in 1999, first became a publicly traded company in October 2015 following the listing of €15m of subordinated bonds on the Tallinn exchange.

In the Estonian pensions sector, it manages five mandatory second-pillar funds and one voluntary supplementary plan.

According to the Estonian pensions portal Pensionikeskus, as of the end of March, the second-pillar funds had a collective asset value of €576m – the second-biggest market share – and a membership of more than 131,000.

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