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Significant minority of Irish DB schemes still yet to file funding proposal

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A significant minority of Irish pension schemes have failed to submit funding proposals, despite trustees now being nearly two years late.

The Pensions Authority said in a statement that 30 defined benefit (DB) schemes had yet to submit any funding proposals as of the end of February.

It said it was now deciding whether trustees would be ordered to reduce benefits to tackle deficits, or if the schemes would simply be forced to wind up.

Releasing an analysis of actuarial data, the Authority said 551 DB schemes remained open to future accrual, while 152 were closed but continuing to make payments.

Of the more than 700 schemes, 416 complied with the current funding standard, reporting an aggregate surplus of €3.9bn.

Nearly 290 schemes remained in deficit, with their €22.1bn in assets falling nearly €5bn short of meeting liabilities.

The Authority said that, of the 287 schemes in deficit, 30 had yet to submit any funding proposal.

While the figure is a significant reduction over the more than 70% of schemes that missed the initial 30 June 2013 deadline – a figure that had fallen to around 40% by August that year and further to 56 by April 2014 – it still meant more than 10% of funds in deficit were 20 months late in meeting regulatory requirements.

The figures also underlined the significant fall in the number of total schemes, down from 933 in 2012 and 890 in 2013.

Brendan Kennedy, the head of the regulator, nevertheless praised the marked improvement in funding across the DB universe.

“The position shown whereby 59% of DB schemes meet the funding standard is a considerable improvement over recent years, though it must be remembered that this improvement is the combined result of multiple factors, including the closure of some schemes, and benefit reductions and contribution increases in most of the remaining schemes,” he said. 

In the most exhaustive and authoritative breakdown of Irish DB assets released to date, the regulator also disclosed that nearly 60% of the sector’s €51.9bn in assets was invested in real assets.

Overall, the funds had 41.7% in equities, 31.3% in EU sovereign debt and a further 6.9% in other bonds.

The “other” asset category – comprising hedge funds, commodities, derivatives and annuities, among other things – accounted for 12.6% of assets, with a further 4.2% in property and 3.1% in cash.

Kennedy was pleased the DB industry’s overall exposure to equities had declined but expressed concern that trustees were relying on equities to meet liabilities.

“This strategy entails considerable risk, which will fall especially on the younger members of the schemes,” he said.

“High risk is not an appropriate approach to take where the benefits cannot otherwise be afforded.”

The regulator has previously said schemes seemed to begrudge de-risking, adding later that their unwillingness to de-risk remained a “significant concern”.

Read Brendan Kennedy’s views on the future of the Irish pensions market

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