EUROPE - The European umbrella organisation of actuaries wants to see plans for a Europe-wide supervision of occupational pensions being sped up.

"For a pension plan member it should not matter whether they get their pension from an insurance, a pension fund or their employer - they should have the same securities in all cases," said Christoph Krischanitz, president of the Austrian Actuarial Association AVÖ.

His colleague Peter Prieler, who was elected head of the Group Consultatif Actuariel Europeen (GCAE) in October, made a similar demand at a meeting last week.

Krischanitz pointed out the actuarial organisation was currently debating the issue and admitted there were many open questions regarding this issue, especially as pension systems are different in the various member states.

However, he stressed the need for a Europe-wide supervision as he claimed "similar risk should mean similar capital requirements - the question is only how to measure the risk".

"Some people see this as an argument for using structures developed as models  for Solvency II in the pensions sector - but this is not the right way as there has to be flexibility to allow for differences of occupational retirement plans," he explained.

A very sensitive issue is the pension assets which are still being held on the balance sheets of companies.

In Austria, almost 70% of all domestic companies listed on the Viennese stock exchange are using this form of retirement provision.

"Currently, no pension regulator can just go into a company and check on the pension assets," he pointed out.

He believes a solution would be to introduce risk management for these assets via corporate governance initiatives or through the stock exchange regulator.

Krischanitz is not in favour of forcing companies to set up separate asset pools exclusively for pensions as administering retirement benefits was not the companies' principal business.

But the introduction of a unified supervision for insurance-based pension vehicles and other retirement providers would be vital in preventing vehicles from playing off against each other, he said.

One vital first step would be to clearly define the fair value of pension assets on balance sheet and its calculation, Krischanitz is convinced.

Unification of European pension systems and their governance also was an issue at this year's IPE seminar prior to the award ceremony in Barcelona last week.

UK pension expert Brian Holden suggested the establishment of a European Pension Fund Governance Forum, to allow pension fund stakeholders, in particular lay board members and trustees, to allow them to exchange views and discuss the issues in a "more comfortable" environment. (See earlier IPE article: Schemes advised 'create two-tier governance')