The new shape of the Belgian pension fund industry is preoccupying Karel Stroobants, the former general manager of the VKG/CPM pension fund and just re-elected as president of the Belgian Pension Funds Association.
“I want to do everything possible to put the new Belgian pensions law into place, once it finishes in parliament and the Royal Decrees issued.”
The association itself will have to change its role from focusing on company pension funds to include the new pensions institutions, comprising sector-wide pension funds and other structures. “We do not want to have different lobby groups of company pension funds, industry-wide pension funds and professionally organised pension funds.”
He continues as an adviser to the Amonis group, set up by the medical profession to provide pensions services to others in the medical and related professions. It includes a pension fund for physiotherapists, a mutual fund and an insurance company, all aimed at providing pensions, investment and administration services to the profession. “Pension funds are entering the business mode,” he maintains. “People are looking for more independence from the money managers and pension funds trust each other more than these suppliers,” he says.
“The idea behind Amonis is a win-win situation with a scale effect for pension funds, with buying power, so there will be lower fees from asset managers and a profit centre if you can make money.”
Stroobants is also on the advisory board of Agoria and he sees this as the precursor of the new industry-wide structure that will be allowed under the new law. Other industries are waiting in the wings. “We could see perhaps as many as 10 Agorias in the market.”
The other route he sees developing is the multi-company pension fund. “Here, perhaps 20 employers in different industries come together. The new law says they can come together, provided they have parity management and would be suitable for medium-sized enterprises. It could be developed by lobby-groups for the self-employed.”
A third possible development is the caisse commune, which he describes as a mutual insurance-type arrangement. “This is an insurance company from a legal point of view, but is completely organised as a multi-employer fund, again with parity management and on a not-for-profit basis.” He points to Integrale as an example of this approach (see page 45).
The big move he sees under way is to include blue collar workers in occupational schemes, as of company plans were essentially for white collar workers.
At one point, Stroobants says, he was concerned that because of the government’s desire to promote the wider concept of pensions, the legislation would overrule company pensions. “We need to find an equilibrium in this in Belgium and I believe we are succeeding.”