UK - The impact of changes to accounting standards could be as high as £10bn (€11.4bn), according to estimates by Aon Hewitt.

Referring to amendments that will see a pre-determined formula dictate how expected returns on pension fund assets must be calculated, the consultancy said this would affect the profit and loss figures (P&L) for all companies with a defined benefit scheme.

Marcus Hurd, principal at Aon Hewitt, said the changes would produce both winners and losers.

"A company with a low-risk investment strategy could see an additional annual profit of £15m, while another company with a more aggressive return-seeking strategy could incur an additional annual P&L charge of £25m."

He added: "In aggregate, the total impact on UK companies could be around £10bn. These changes will affect companies' accounting, so they all will need to make an individual assessment and prepare accordingly."

The changes would come after what the consultancy called a period of stability, with deficit figures across all FTSE 350 final salary schemes rising marginally to £44bn, a £3bn increase compared with the end of April.

Hurd said this relative stability was a result of low yields, as well as an uncertain outlook on asset returns.

Meanwhile, sponsors and trustees are increasingly focusing on funding deficits as the main risk to pension schemes, according to a study by MetLife Assurance.

As part of its annual UK Pension Risk Behaviour Index, the company noted that the five main concerns for sponsors had become increasingly more prominent over the last year.

While funding deficits, the employer covenant, the issue of asset and liability mismatch, as well as longevity risk and meeting investment return targets were all viewed as important in 2010, none of them rated above 28% on an overall scale of 18 risk factors.

However, as part of the current survey, all five factors gained further prominence, with 58% of respondents now citing funding deficits as a leading concern.

MetLife's chief executive Dan DeKeizer said this indicated a more selective approach to pension risk.

DeKeizer argued this would allow sponsors to focus on the key issues in future, allowing for clearer prioritisation, but warned that this was yet to be reflected by their actions.

"Ideally, there should be consistency between the importance that scheme sponsors and trustees ascribe to risks and how successfully they are reported as being managed," he said.

He said that while deficits were seen as the biggest risk, it was only ranked 12 when sponsors had to evaluate their own success at tackling risk factors.

Similarly, asset and liability mismatch was ranked third, but failed to rank among the 10 most successfully addressed issues.

Finally, Aviva Investors has launched an open-ended real estate fund, which it hopes will attract a number of local government pension schemes (LGPS) that are unable to invest in the asset class due to investment guidelines.

The company said its Global Real Estate Fund of Funds would give UK schemes exposure to the continental European market, as well as North America and the Asia Pacific region.

John Gellatly, head of real estate multi-managers in Europe, said pension funds often ignored chances to diversify their real estate holdings, instead only investing in the home market.

"However, by looking further afield, pension schemes are able to access a broad range of markets that offer different risk and return prospects and varying investment styles, allowing them to exploit opportunities that are not available in their home markets," he added.

Gellatly explained that LGPS would be able to circumvent current investment guidelines, as it was structured as a property unit trust based in Jersey.

He argued the low correlation between other asset classes and real estate returns was another reason to consider investment.

"Asia Pacific is currently showing signs of a strong recovery and is capable of delivering good income growth, while in continental Europe and the US we see a number of significant opportunities for growth," he added.