John Lappin reports from the EURACS annual conference held in Bratislava

The EURACS network has taken advantage of the re-alignment in international consulting to bring in three new members and two associate members.

A meeting of EURACS member firms confirmed the entry of the new firms on the last day of its annual conference, held on at the end of Odtober in Bratislava.

The new firms are Gassner und Partner, centred on Stuttgart, Paris-based Fixage formed only last year, and Hymans Robertson & Co with offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. Independent Irish actuary Patrick J Maher and Dublin and Cork-based Coyle Hamilton have become affiliate members with the latter remaining in the Asinta network.

EURACS chairman Huw Wynne-Griffith discussing the current climate of change in the consulting industry, said: EURACS is the oldest and most successful association of actuarial firms. The members place considerable importance on maintaining the highest standards and independence.

The key to the entrance of the new members was the abandonment of exclusivity requirement for each country which EURACS had previously maintained. EURACS is now the only international network that does not have a dominant partner.

George Clare, the outgoing secretary, stressed that each of the individual firms in the network had to stand or fall on their own profitability unlike firms in other international groups.

Following 12 years as secretary, Clare retires in March next year, to be replaced by Colin Steward who will continue as director of information at London law firm, Sacker & Partners.

The conference itself, entitled 'Pensions in Europe - Progress in times of demographic change' primarily looked at the way ahead for pensions provision in Eastern Europe.

Setting the scene in the first presentation, Anne Maher, chief executive of the Irish Pensions Board, highlighted the difficulties of bringing in pensions regulation: Whilst the objectives of avoiding financial failure and ensuring equity, adequacy and security for retirement provision are similar, there is no overall consensus on the ideal system.

She added that the choice seemed to be between extensive regulations and less supervision or less regulations and intensive and perhaps intrusive supervision.

Dr Maria Major, the Hungarian Secretary of State in the Ministry of Welfare responding to delegates' questions, said that a guaranteed fund paid for by pension companies to make good any losses to pensioners in the event of a collapse, would ultimately be underwritten by the government.

She said that reform of all pension pillars would continue in parallel adding that she expected more changes. She also said that it was impossible to tell at this stage, the numbers of those in the middle age bracket - who have the freedom to remain in social security or to opt out - who would opt out.

She said: We know who is interested in changing but we do not know who will change. It is difficult to know yet who believes in the market system."

Ugis Grube, a Latvian pensions lawyer with offices in Riga said that the three Baltic republics were moving at different rates.

Estonia had not yet passed a law, while in Lithuania it was being discussed. He said that the law in Latvia had established two types of fund: open or private funds and closed funds which could be established by employers or jointly by employees.

Assets for these funds could be managed by asset managers, life insurers and brokers. Responsibility for investment decisions had to pass to these managers while the use of custodians was compulsory.

Ikram Shakir, chairman of the Luxembourg Institute of Actuaries, argued that Luxembourg could become Europes pensions banker with enabling legislation likely to follow on from the country's success in establishing itself as a fund centre.

Euracs chair, Huw Wynne-Griffith concluded with two facts to concentrate minds: that the first life tables were constructed in Bratislava by the Austro-Hungarian empire and that the region had witnessed the birth of the infant Robert Maxwell.