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UK DB schemes see big bulk-annuity opportunities in wake of Brexit

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Trustees and sponsors of defined benefit (DB) pension schemes in the UK need to take another look at risk levels in their schemes given the swiftly changing Brexit environment, and could cash in on good bulk-annuity opportunities as pricing fluctuates, according to consultants.

Mercer’s UK leader of bulk pensions insurance advisory, David Ellis, said: “Rapidly changing political and economic circumstances following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union have reinforced the need for trustees and sponsors to look again at their pension schemes.”

In the company’s latest market review of UK DB bulk pensions insurance, he said trustees and sponsors should check that what they were doing continued to be relevant, and that the scheme’s overall level of risk was still appropriate.

In the second half of this year, market volatility will be a key theme, said Harry Harper of the Mercer division.

“There is potential for significant bulk-annuity pricing opportunities to appear, for those in the right place at the right time,” he said.

The second half promises to be “interesting” now that the volume of quotation requests from pension schemes increased rapidly mid-year, he said.

“The nature of the quotation requests is also changing – instead of the pensioner-only pricing requests from earlier in 2016, we now see a growing number of exercises that include deferred members,” Harper said.

On deferred member pricing, he said the wide range seen since the introduction of Solvency II from 1 January 2016 showed indications of stabilising. 

“We see signs of more aggressive pricing for those members in the second half of the year,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Aon Hewitt said in its UK bulk-annuity market update that, over the first half of this year, bulk annuity pricing had improved year on year relative to other asset classes used to back pension liabilities.

Volatile financial markets following the EU referendum in the UK have created pricing opportunities, it said.

“Some providers indicated that their pricing improved materially relative to Gilts in the first days after the Brexit vote, driven by a widening in credit spreads,” Aon Hewitt said in the report. “This was an excellent opportunity for schemes seeking to settle risk.”

Of course, schemes need to be actively in the market to get such deals, it added.

“A scheme can engage with the market, obtain competitive quotations, select a preferred insurer, agree terms and then monitor movements in the insurer’s pricing against an agreed trigger,” the firm said.

In the first half of July, it said credit spreads had fallen back – “but there is every chance of further market disruption over the coming months given the political environment”. 

Earlier this week, the closed ICI Pension Fund insured £750m (€891m) of its DB liabilities with Legal & General, in its fifth buy-in, just after the EU referendum.

L&G commented that the “strength and depth” of its relationship with the ICI Pension Fund had allowed it to move fast when the market opportunity arose.

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