Focus has been on second pillar pensions
The Brussels-based Belgian Pension Fund Association (BPFA) has found itself involved in two main areas in the past year or so: the implementation of the new law on second-pillar pensions and the investments results of Belgian funds during 2002.
In addition, the BPFA has undergone some internal restructuring as a result of its growth and has launched the Belgian Pension Academy, a new permanent training and information facility, with the new pensions laws at the heart of its curriculum.
“The draft of the new second pillar law has actually been around for some time and well documented in both the domestic and foreign press. The past year has seen us get involved in the fine tuning aspects of the law and its related Royal Decrees as well as its implementation,” says Hugo Clemeur, secretary general of the BPFA. “Given the extensive press coverage of the new law, the association can devote a little more time to the technical implementation of the new decree rather than the informative,” he says. “However, that’s not to say we are not available for information or comment.
“Inevitably in changes of this scale, there are loose ends to tie up. Though we expect the law to be fully effective from 1 January 2004, the transition period for some aspects will go on until 2009.”
With respect to its work monitoring funding levels and investment results, Clemeur says the BPFA has been active in liaising with the insurance control authorities in order to draft new means by which to monitor funding levels more closely. “Investment returns were negative again in 2002 as they were the previous year. This means we find ourselves in a situation where we are reconsidering the general principles surrounding fund investments and new ways of refinancing if necessary.” Though Clemeur points out that there has been a clear improvement in the first half of 2003, full recovery of funding levels as they were before 2001 may still be some years away.
The new European directive on pan-European pensions has led the BPFA and other pensions observers in Belgium to ponder two main questions: how and when domestic Belgian pensions laws and regulations will be brought into line with the directive and its overall impact on the domestic market. “It is practically public knowledge that the new law here on second pillar pensions more or less completely failed to consider the wider European dimension. So there is some work to be done there. As for its impact, Belgium is a country where most companies, both small and large, are part of international groups and the European directive is essentially aimed at multinationals. Therefore Belgium might throw up an interesting test-case, though the pensions market here doubts the directive will have any real impact in the near future.”
In general, the ever-evolving nature of the Belgian pension fund landscape has seen the BPFA implement some structural changes.
“Given the enormity of the changes here, we have adopted a fresh proactive, external communications strategy as well as interdepartmental lobbying to protect and defend both current members’ and future pensioners’ interests,” says Clemeur. Furthermore, the association has moved to new offices, has a new chairman – Bernard Cardon de Lichtbuer – and has begun re-evaluating its own by-laws.