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New HBS approach to increase transparency – Clifford Chance

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EIOPA’s new principles-based approach to the proposed holistic balance sheet (HBS) is a positive development, as its central thrust is to increase “clarity” for pension funds’ participants, according to Hans van Meerten, an expert in European pensions at law firm Clifford Chance.

He argued that all six of EIOPA’s suggested frameworks for the HBS focused on providing clarity on the composition of pension assets, when and how rights cuts are permitted, and how the principle of solidarity is shaped.

The Dutch Pensions Federation, however, was sceptical.

Its spokesman, Gert Kloosterboer, said: “We are not yet convinced of the benefit or the necessity of an HBS approach combined with quantitative rules.”

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He said the industry group questioned “what had driven EIOPA to come up with new proposals”, lacking a formal request from the European Commission.

Kloosterboer also noted that the period for the industry to comment on EIOPA’s recommendations, as well as the amount of time the supervisory authority would have to flesh out technical specifications, would be very short – particularly “given its intention to introduce new regulation in early 2015”.

But Clifford Chance’s Van Meerten claimed the suggested frameworks were of “sloping strictness”, varying from a “Solvency II-ish” regime to an alternative in which the HBS could by deployed as a risk-management tool.

“The introduction of the last and least strict model doesn’t even require new European legislation for capital requirements,” he said.

“In the last model, the HBS is part of the governance and risk-management of pension funds.”

Van Meerten acknowledged that EIOPA’s six frameworks were not appropriate for purely defined contribution schemes, including the Dutch pensions vehicle PPI, and said the advisory body would come up with additional proposals for this category.

The legal expert also argued that the fact EIOPA wants assets and liabilities to be discounted against market rates, rather than just liabilities, is a positive.

“Such a balanced approach seems much more logical,” he said.

“As a result, Dutch funds might no longer be allowed to calculate their contributions against expected returns.”

He also noted that the higher buffer requirements in the initial HBS proposals – previously criticised by the Dutch pensions sector – had now been forced on pension funds through national legislation, including the new financial assessment framework (FTK) in the Netherlands.

He said the delegated competence for the European Commission to issue additional rules might have been removed from the revised IORP proposals, but he added that the debate over the issue was not over.

“The important European Principal Treaties grant the EC the competence to issue detailed rules, which could also apply to prudence requirements for pension funds,” he said.

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