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German roundup: pension reform, custodians

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All parties in the German parliament have agreed that the country’s proposed pension reform is a step in the right direction – with just one dissenter.

In the first reading of the draft of the “Betriebsrentenstärkungsgesetz” (BRSG) in the lower chamber of the German parliament (“Bundestag”) the far-left party Die Linke called the proposed pure defined contribution (DC) plans a “poker pension”.

Criticism also came from the Greens regarding limiting the new retirement vehicles to companies that have signed collective bargaining agreements.

Under the government proposal – which has already been discussed by the upper chamber in Parliament, the “Bundesrat” – pure DC pensions without guarantees would be introduced into Germany for the first time. However, setting up these new pension plans is to be limited to the employer and employee representatives responsible for negotiating collective bargaining agreements.

According to the Greens, this limitation means “the people who need occupational pensions the most will not get one”, as smaller companies with lower income earners often are not signed up to a collective bargaining agreement.

The Greens demanded the step-by-step introduction of a mandatory occupational pension plan for all companies.

The social democratic SPD, which is part of the government coalition with the conservative CDU, also noted it “would prefer” an obligation for employers to offer a pension plan and pay contributions to it.

SPD labour minister Andrea Nahles is one of the brains behind the pension reform, which also includes changes to subsidies for smaller companies as well as amendments to tax issues regarding first and second pillar pensions.

Coalition partner CDU – which has a two-third majority in parliament together with the SPD – called the pension reform law a “great moment” for Germany.

Over the next few months, the Bundestag will hold a second and third reading of the legal draft and might make some amendments.

Without major objections or alterations the law should pass in time for it to come into effect on 1 January 2018.

In other news, the German association of investment funds, BVI, has issued new statistics showing assets under custody have grown considerably. Assets administrated by the 40 custodians licensed in Germany increased by 9% to €1.9trn.

The increase is not as pronounced as in 2014, when business grew by 14% shortly after the EU directive on alternative investment fund managers was implemented in Germany.

Under the new regulations set down in Germany’s investment rules many closed-end fund vehicles must now be administered via a custodian.

This also shows in the 2016 statistics, as the major share of the growth came from closed-end Spezialfonds – vehicles exclusively for institutional investors. Assets in this segment increased by 30% year-on-year to almost €4bn.

The increase was aided by more investors using alternative fund vehicles for assets such as real estate. Assets invested in open real estate Spezialfonds increased by around 15% to €7.35bn.

The largest share of business for German custodians still comes from Spezialfonds on securities which amount to €1.37trn (up by 8%) in assets under custody.

BNP Paribas Securities Services remains the top custodian by assets, followed by State Street Bank and Bank of New York Mellon. The latter has overtaken JP Morgan in 2016.

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