UK – Paul Couchman, head of the central London operations at Mercer Human Resource Consulting and former head of UK administration, is to leave the firm shortly.

His operational responsibilities have been taken by Frank Oldham, a spokeswoman said.

Last August Couchman was replaced as head of Mercer’s UK pensions administration practice by Patrick Cosgrave, who was previously head of Mercer’s global retirement systems in Deerfield, Illinois. IPE understands Couchman is on gardening leave until the end of May.

Meanwhile, Mercer has published research on pension deficits at FTSE 350 companies, estimated to be £76bn (€111.1bn) under the FRS17 accounting standard at the end of 2004.

The research says that for every £100 contributed to cover new benefits, companies paid an average of £65 extra into their schemes.

But these contributions were unevenly spread, mainly among 25% of the companies, which paid more than twice the cost of existing benefits.

The rest of the companies contributed less than £10 extra on average.

“Interestingly, the companies that contributed the most money did not have the worst-funded pension schemes,” said Mercer partner Tim Keogh.

He added that although the overall figures paint a positive picture, many companies are still not making “substantial” extra contributions to plug their deficits.

“Unless higher contributions are made in future, schemes will rely almost entirely on favourable investment performance to meet their commitments,” Keogh warned.

“Eliminating the deficits within 12 years is a 50/50 call, and it could take far longer if investment performance is poor,” Mercer said.

According to the study on average schemes invested 59% in equities at the end of last year compared to 60% at the start of 2004.