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Market, intergenerational risk-sharing 'integral' to Dutch system

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The principle of sharing market risk, such as inflation risk, and intergenerational risk must remain in any updated pensions system in the Netherlands, a number of industry experts have argued.

Speaking on a panel at the recent FD Pension Pro IPE congress in Amsterdam, Peter Borgdorff, director of the €140bn healthcare scheme PFZW, said: “There is not a single insurance against market risk.”

His view was echoed by Michiel Hietkamp, chair of the youth branch of union CNV and one of the driving forces behind PensioenLab, who said solidarity among generations was “very important”, adding that the debate over the average pension contribution’s redistributive effects must be held anyway.

In Hietkamp’s opinion, individual pension rights should be introduced where possible, but a collective approach should be kept where necessary to guarantee a minimum pension.

Kees Goudswaard, professor of economics at Leiden University, said Dutch society was facing a fundamental choice between sharing pension risks between generations, and the introduction of individual pension rights.

However, he argued that the first option would limit risk sharing if financial shocks were spread out over time – as the new financial assessment framework (FTK) is likely to prescribe – while increased freedom of choice would hamper risk sharing.

In Goudswaard’s opinion, future generations should not have to contribute to the rising life expectancy of current participants.

He also suggested that a clearer pensions contract would help to prevent possible disputes arising from the discretionary decisions of pension funds’ boards.

However, both Borgdorff and Leo Witkamp, director of the €4.4bn pension fund PNO Media, highlighted the importance of this discretionary competence, which they said enabled boards to respond to unexpected developments, and to guarantee a balance in risk sharing among all participants.

Borgdorff added: “We can’t leave these decisions to the supervisor or the legislator, as the government can’t be trusted for setting consistent rules.”

● Also during the congress, several representatives of the sector underlined the importance of freedom of choice for participants to pick their preferred arrangements.

Joep Schouten, retired sector veteran and now a pensioner on the board of metal scheme PMT, pointed at the psychological effect, “as people want freedom of choice, without necessarily using it”.

● Asset managers warned that employers that opt for a defined contribution plan with lifecycle arrangements should not let price be the decisive factor, as low costs may come at the expense of the quality of the scheme.

As lifecycle plans are currently difficult to compare, the sector is developing a framework to address this problem, according to Tjitsger Hulshoff, strategic adviser at ING IM, who underlined the importance of tailor-made solutions.

● Systematically assessing risk management, sticking to a long-term investment policy and buying when the markets are low is the secret of a successful company pension fund, according to Loek Sibbing, until recently director at Univest Company, the asset manager for the 80 worldwide pension funds of food and cosmetics giant Unilever.

Previously, Sibbing was chairman of Unilever’s €4.6bn Dutch pension fund, one of the best performers in the Netherlands, with a funding of 106% in real terms.

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