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IORP II to revise investment guidelines, introduce remuneration policies

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The revised IORP Directive will aim to modernise investment guidelines to foster long-term investment and improve cross-border activity by developing a framework for the transfer of benefits between member states, the European Commission has said.

Publishing the long-awaited Directive – excluding the controversial pillar I solvency rules and instead focusing on governance, supervisory and disclosure requirements through pillars II and III of the legislation – the internal market commissioner Michel Barnier said the proposals would “further develop occupational pension funds as key long-term investors”.

Barnier previously said the Directive would be “less regulation, more politics”, but he indicated that it would still fall to his successor to consider the introduction of solvency requirements for pension funds.

The measures introduced include new governance requirements for internal audit, revised remuneration policies for pension funds to avoid conflicts of interest and a requirement for a self-assessment of fund risk – described as the Risk Evaluation for Pensions.

A draft proposal seen by IPE in March previously listed requirements for schemes to produce risk evaluations immediately following any significant change in risk profile.

In what will likely be perceived as a swipe against the Dutch and Irish pension systems, the Commission said the changes were necessitated by a “failure of certain funds” during the financial crisis, leading to reductions in benefits for members.

“This has shown a need to strengthen governance provision,” the Commission said.

In a detailed Q&A dossier, the Commission stressed that its proposals would seek to “ensure the soundness of occupational pensions” by laying down minimum governance standards and requiring all of the sector’s regulators to conduct stress tests.

It said the revised directive would remove existing obstacles to cross-border provision so that funds and sponsors alike could “fully reap the benefits of the single market”, and that this would be accomplished by introducing a pension fund transfer procedure to facilitate the shift of funds between member states.

“Innovative companies, raging from SMEs to multinationals, would be able to reduce staff costs through economies of scale, risk diversification and innovation,” the dossier added.

Additionally, the revised Directive will overhaul investment rules across Europe, seeking to remove nationally legislated investment rules perceived as a barrier to “financing of growth in the real economy”, the Commission said.

“The proposal would change the existing provisions on investment restrictions to make sure occupational pension funds remained free to invest in infrastructure [and] unrated loans,” the dossier said, “thus ensuring that investments, in particular with a long-term profile, should not be restricted if the restriction is not justified on prudential grounds.”

The overhaul stands alongside Commission pledges to examine whether pension investment can be attracted to infrastructure loans by increasing the level of transparency in the market.

In a move likely to be controversial, the Directive retained a requirement seen in several drafts for a uniform pension benefit statement.

The Commission insisted the standardised approach would help members compare different schemes and assist pension providers, particularly where these operate cross-border.

However, a number of countries – most notably the Netherlands and Denmark – have spent significant time and industry resources developing their own universal statements catered to national needs, which include online portals.

The Commission said the statement would be a “first layer in a modern multi-layered approach to communication, with national specifities described more in depth in subsequent layers”.

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