UK roundup: Union backs changes to BT Pension Scheme

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BT employees have voted in favour of changes to their pension arrangements, according to workers’ union Prospect.

The telecoms giant – which is wrestling with a £9bn (€10.2bn) deficit in its defined benefit pension scheme – will close the BT Pension Scheme (BTPS) to future accrual in April, with all members’ contributions moving to the BT Retirement Saving Scheme (BTRSS), a defined contribution plan.

According to Prospect, its members voted to accept a pay increase of 1-2% combined with “transitional payments” for those affected by the closure of BTPS. Existing members of BTRSS will also receive an increase in contributions from the employer.

Discussions between Prospect and BT are ongoing, but the union’s national secretary Philippa Childs said the ballot had given Prospect “a mandate on which to reach a final agreement with BT”.

“We recognise that this has been a difficult and painful decision for those who are currently members of the BTPS,” Childs added. “However, the improvements we have negotiated and the transition arrangements will soften the blow for those having to move. Those who are already in the BTRSS, because they joined BT after 2001, will also see improvements.”

Separately, BTPS has terminated a contract with its administrator, Accenture, and plans to bring the function in house. In a statement, the scheme said the two parties would work on the transition through 2018.

Committee extends CDC consultation

The Work and Pensions Committee has extended the deadline for its consultation on collective defined contribution (CDC) schemes until the end of January.

The committee – a cross-party of MPs from the UK’s lower house of parliament – launched an inquiry into the CDC structure late last year. Written responses will be accepted until 31 January.

According to the committee, MPs want to understand the benefits and challenges of different collective models, in particular the structure used in the Netherlands.

However, research by the Pensions Management Institute found that more than half of industry professionals believed CDC was not a solution for underfunded DB schemes. In additon, two thirds ranked a general lack of understanding of the structure as their biggest concern regarding the possible introduction of CDC.

Only a third (36%) of the 99 professionals surveyed said the structure would lead to higher retirement incomes.

PMI president Robert Branagh said: “Our results show that while there is an appetite for CDC in the UK, it is not seen as a panacea for stressed DB schemes.

“Ultimately, whether CDC-style arrangements could work would be a question of political will. Supporters focus on the success of the model in other countries and argue that the system combines the more desirable characteristics of traditional DB and DC arrangements. Opponents are concerned about aspects of inter-generational risk sharing in particular.

“The government must take care in assessing the evidence and distinguish properly between genuinely informed comment and simple vested commercial interest.”

Consultancy firm Cardano argued in its response to the committee that “introducing CDC will add further regulatory complexity at a time when UK pensions would benefit from simplification”.

The Anglo-Dutch company warned that, despite the model being firmly embedded in the Netherlands’ pension system, many savers still did not understand that their pensions were not guaranteed.

Ralph Frank, co-head of Cardano’s DC business, said: “[CDC] schemes are complex and more expensive to run than traditional DC and, if anything, are likely to result in less assets being available to members as a result. Setting income levels equitably can also be very challenging. We would strongly caution against ‘going Dutch’.”

Independent trustee firm rolls out cost transparency tool

PTL, provider of independent trustee services to UK pension schemes, has launched a tool designed to shed light on asset managers’ transaction costs and “slippage” costs.

The Clear Funds service will allow PTL to provide independent reports to asset managers that can then be shared with pension fund clients, said managing director Richard Butcher. New regulations such as MiFID II would help disclosure efforts, Butcher said, but trustees still required a way of analysing and understanding the data they received.

“This will save trustees and independent governance committees [IGCs], asset managers and intermediaries time, work and, therefore, money,” he added.

Trustee boards and IGCs for defined contribution funds have been obliged to assess value for money of service providers since 2016. Butcher – who is also chair of the pension fund trade body the PLSA – argued that they had so far been unable to do this, “and, frankly, this hasn’t helped the pension industry to demonstrate that they are delivering good member outcomes”.

While Butcher claimed PTL’s new tool would be a “game changer”, the company is not the first to attempt to improve disclosure efforts.

Custodian KAS Bank launched a cost transparency “dashboard” tool last summer, and the Local Government Pension Scheme introduced a template for the full disclosure of asset management costs that has already brought to light significant costs that were previously undisclosed.

These two projects aim to catch all costs related to asset management, while PTL’s Clear Funds is focused specifically on transaction charges.


Related images

  • BT logo outside its office in Sevenoaks, UK

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