The Dutch pensions regulator, De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), has confirmed that more than 30 pension funds have made formal requests to raise the risk profiles of their investment portfolios.
Speaking at a conference organised by IPE sister publication Pensioen Pro, Bert Boertje, supervisory director for pension funds at DNB, said the schemes requested permission to decrease the interest hedge on their liabilities, increase their equity exposure or apply a combination of the two.
“We are still busy assessing the requests,” Boertje said.
“If schemes don’t have a plausible explanation, we will get back to them with additional questions.”
This year, Dutch schemes with funding levels between the minimum required coverage and the prescribed financial reserves have the one-off option to change their risk profile, as part of the transition to the new financial assessment framework (nFTK).
According to Boertje, one-third of the pension funds are, in principle, entitled to file a request for such an adjustment.
Another one-third of the schemes do not qualify because their funding is too low, which would increase the risk of a rights discount, Boertje said.
The remaining pension funds with “surplus” coverage do not need to ask for permission, as they already have more leeway to invest, he added.
Boertje said both small and large pension funds – as well as schemes with predominantly older and predominantly younger participants – had filed requests to increase of their risk profiles.
He pointed out that most pension funds, wishing to avoid cuts to pension arrangements, were looking for solutions to low interest rates within the “triangle” of the pension target, internal finances and risk profile.
“Because the steering mechanism of the pension contribution no longer works, adjusting the risk profile is the only remaining option,” he said.
“However, it also increases the chances of setbacks.”
Boertje stressed that the regulator had no desire to assume the responsibilities of pension funds’ boards, but he made clear that they must be able to illustrate how they had taken the interests of all participants into account.
He added that the regulator also wanted to know how far, in the schemes’ opinion, interest rates had to increase in order to make a reduction of their interest hedge meaningful.
Boertje said those pension funds that wished to reduce their interest hedge while raising their equity allocation would be asked which scenarios they had in mind.
“They expect both interest rates to rise and equity markets to improve, while a rate increase often negatively affects stock markets,” he said.
Boertje said DNB also wanted to know whether a board had made the request as a tactical or as a strategic policy measure.