The latest batch of actuarial data submitted by Irish defined benefit (DB) schemes has the country’s pension supervisor “just as concerned” about the amount of investment risk inherent in DB plans as in previous years, according to a report from The Pensions Authority.

In its latest review of DB statistics, it said the asset and liability data that schemes had submitted showed very little change. It showed that 86% of continuing schemes met the legally-required funding standard, compared with 84% the year before.

Elaborating on its observation of investment risk, it said: “This risk is not borne equally by all scheme members: it is mostly concentrated on members who have not yet retired.

“Because so many DB schemes have closed to new members, this group is getting smaller over time, and as a result the risks are becoming more and more concentrated.”

Its latest review of DB statistics is based on an analysis of data returns submitted by 567 schemes by the end of March, with an average data return date of February 2019.

In total, the schemes had €65.3bn in assets, with liabilities at €58bn, both virtually unchanged from last year.

The asset allocation data from the Pensions Authority shows that schemes were moving out of equities and into bonds and cash.

Over the last year under review, the total equity holding of DB schemes has fallen by 3.9 percentage points, from 28.4% to 24.5% – a reasonably significant fall, according to Roma Burke, partner, LCP Ireland.

Meanwhile, bonds and cash increased by a combined 3%, while “other investments” – largely alternatives – increased by 1% to 22.7%.

“This reweighting of asset classes suggests that trustees are taking action to reduce investment risk,” said Burke. “However, the asset allocations do indicate significant interest rate risk remains for many schemes, and this risk tends to be a particular focus for the Pensions Authority.”

The regulator also reiterated its intention to subject all schemes to a periodic supervisory review as required by IORP II, once the directive has been transposed into Irish law.

Burke sees this as a challenge, given the 73,000 pension schemes in Ireland.

She said it is possible the Pensions Authority will adopt a risk-based approach, focusing on those schemes that may be less likely to meet the new requirements. Alternatively, it might focus on the larger schemes.

In last year’s report, the Pensions Authority set out its top three priorities, which Burke considered might help inform the supervisor’s approach to selecting schemes to review.

These priorities are: the misappropriation of pension assets or contributions; lack of governance or maladministration affecting benefits, or failure to pay benefits due; and DB scheme solvency.

A spokesperson for the Pensions Authority told IPE it had no further comment at this time.

A legal challenge from the Association of Pension Trustees of Ireland has delayed transposition of the EU pension fund directive into Irish law, more than a year after the original EU deadline.

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