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XPS: UK schemes sitting on £260bn accounting ‘black hole’

UK defined benefit (DB) scheme sponsors could be sitting on a £260bn (€290bn) accounting black hole, a new study from consultants XPS Group has warned. 

The accounting gap demonstrated what XPS referred to as the growing difference between “accounting balance sheets and future long-term targets”.

Wayne Segers, head of transactions at XPS, said: “The Pensions Regulator is already expecting trustees and employers to set long-term funding targets, which will drive a greater difference between accounting and the cost of pensions.

“Accounting disclosures will be an ever more important window in helping to explain this gap and good pension disclosures can help allay concerns around pension contributions and set out a clear path for managing pension risk.”

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In its 2017 Thematic Review, the UK audit watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council, emphasised the usefulness of DB sponsors not only presenting but also explaining alternative valuations to the accounting measure in their accounts.

On other key accounting assumptions, the XPS study broadly confirmed the findings of comparable studies this year from advisers KPMG and Lane Clark Peacock LLP.

In relation to discounting, XPS said UK sponsors used an average discount rate of 2.8% during 2018, across a range of 2.6% to 3.1%.

The consultancy added that schemes with a rate in excess of 2.85% were likely using a non-standard approach to discounting.

On life expectancy, XPS discovered that some 82% of DB schemes had updated their assumptions to take account of the recent slowdown in the rate of longevity improvement.

Finally, the XPS survey supported the view that the cost of implementing last year’s equality ruling had turned out to be lower than initially feared.

In October, the High Court in London ruled that employers must grant equal “guaranteed minimum pension” (GMP) payments accrued between 1990 and 1997 to both male and female workers.

XPS’s analysis showed that the cost of implementing the GMP ruling for most of the schemes in its sample was less than 1% of liabilities.

The XPS Group survey was based on an analysis of 150 of the firm’s clients preparing accounts under a range of different financial reporting regimes including International Financial Reporting Standards.

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