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Plan members get say on policy

NETHERLANDS - The Social and Economic Council (SER) is to ask ordinary Dutch workers for their views on pensions this autumn.

During October, SER - an independent, public arbiter - will organise three meetings to find out why workers have a marginal interest in and little knowledge of their own pension situation, despite research suggesting they consider pensions as important.

According to Hans van der Meer, the secretary of the SER's pensions committee, one meeting will be for participants in pension funds and insurance schemes. The second will be aimed at providers, the umbrella organisations, the insurers and unions and employers.

After a third panel meeting - for experts such as scientists and supervisors - there will be a public forum, during which the conclusions of the previous meetings will be presented, Van der Meer said.

This decision follows a resolution adopted by parliament in September. Labour MP Gerdi Verbeet, who tabled the motion, said the debate should be "with the people involved, instead of about them".

The SER, however, is following the politician's wishes  reluctantly. The arbiter believes that, since the new Pensions Act, substantial changes in pension schemes and discussions on co-participation, pension fund governance and the new financial assessment framework (nFTK), a new debate on the system of additional pensions will hardly generate added value.

Meanwhile, the pensions regulator De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) reported the coverage ratio of all Dutch pensions funds is now over the required  minimum of 105%.

Following the sharp drop in equity markets at the start of this century and declining interest rates, almost 200 of the approximately 765 schemes had unacceptably low funding ratios at the end of 2002. As a result, DNB ordered those schemes with a shortfall to make a recovery plan.

Alternative investments now make up approximately 4% of the total investment portfolio of pension funds, with €15bn invested in private equity and €13bn in hedge funds, DNB said.

"The exposure to alternative investments is likely to rise further in the future, with increasing numbers of small pension funds raising their stake in this asset class," the regulator added.

According to DNB, 41.6% of the total assets of Dutch pension funds have been invested in fixed income. The stakes of equity, property and commodities are 38.6%, 10.6% and 1.8% respectively. At the end of 2006, Dutch plans had combined assets of €791bn.

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