The UK’s Pension Protection Fund (PPF) wants to become a standard-setter for innovation over the next three years, according to its new business plan published this week.
The lifeboat fund for defined benefit (DB) schemes set out five priorities for the next three years in its first business strategy plan under its new CEO Oliver Morley.
Morley said: “Over the course of this strategic plan, we will be setting standards for innovation, assurance and service at the PPF. We will do this by adopting innovative approaches to our business operations including moving to cloud based technology and the development of digital technologies so we can respond quickly and efficiently to the environment in which we operate.”
The fund said it would seek to develop “innovative digital services and explore future technical developments” while also maintaining its investment approach to ensure it has sufficient reserves to meet future claims.
“The PPF will remain prudent and maintain its current funding strategy and low risk investment approach over the course of the strategic plan to ensure there will be sufficient revenue and reserves to take on large schemes with significant deficits without risk to members,” the organisation said.
It had a funding surplus of £6.8bn (€7.9bn) as of 31 March 2018, according to its most recent annual report.
The fund’s five priorities for 2019-22 are: maintaining sustainable funding “in volatile times”; building for innovation; providing “brilliant service” to schemes and scheme members; providing value for money; and achieving “the best of financial and public services culture”.
The PPF collects a levy each year from eligible DB funds. Its estimated bill to schemes for 2019-20 was £500m, while its modelling indicated “an overall downward trajectory for the levy in the long term”.
Morley succeeded Alan Rubenstein as PPF chief executive last year.
Debenhams schemes not in PPF despite administration
The PPF this week moved to reassure members of UK high street store chain Debenhams’ pension scheme after it was placed into administration.
The group’s operating subsidiaries have continued to trade after they were transferred to a new holding company owned by creditors, meaning Debenhams’ DB pension schemes have not entered the lifeboat fund’s assessment period.
A PPF spokesperson said: “We have been advised of Debenhams PLC’s administration and are aware that the two associated pension schemes have not been affected and will continue to operate as normal. Members can be assured that the PPF is there to protect them if needed.”
Debenhams’ schemes had assets worth £1.1bn at the end of September 2018, according to the company’s most recent accounts, and a funding surplus of £156m.
Alex Hutton-Mills, managing director at sponsor covenant adviser Lincoln Pensions, said: “This is a very good example of where the trustee board has worked collaboratively alongside the Pensions Regulator, the PPF and the sponsor to ensure members’ interests have been protected on what is a very unfortunate day for the retail sector.”
‘Significant minority’ of firms support CDC
Roughly 13% of pension trustees and sponsors say their organisations will adopt collective defined contribution (CDC) schemes after the UK government confirmed its intention to legislate for new pension model last month, according to Willis Towers Watson (WTW).
The consultancy giant polled 70 companies and reported that “a significant minority” said it was ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ that they would bring in CDC benefits by 2025.
The majority of respondents offered an individual defined contribution (DC) plan, WTW said, but two thirds said they would “prefer to offer a pension providing a regular income throughout retirement”, as offered by CDC arrangements.
Roughly a third of participants (34%) said members would “struggle to understand the nature and variability” of CDC schemes, WTW said.
Simon Eagle, senior director in WTW’s retirement business, said: “New things usually take time to catch on. While only a minority of organisations are expecting to be part of the first wave of CDC benefit provision, our data shows that most organisations would like to provide their employees with a regular income in retirement rather than a flexible pensions pot. This suggests there may be further appetite for CDC provision in the longer term.”
DB funding level falls over Q1
UK private sector DB funds were 97.4% funded on aggregate at the end of the first quarter of 2019, according to the PPF.
The lifeboat fund’s monthly 7800 Index of DB funding levels showed that combined assets rose to £1,649bn at the end of March, up from £1,603bn a month earlier.
However, total liabilities climbed from £1,612bn to £1,693bn in the same period, increasing the aggregate deficit to £44bn.
Over the course of the first quarter the 7800 Index showed a 5% increase in total assets but a 5.6% increase in combined liabilities.
Andy Tunningley, head of UK strategic clients at BlackRock, said: “In general, pension schemes appear to have withstood most of the surprise equity market falls in the latter months of 2018 and equity markets have retraced most of those losses over the first quarter.
“This is mirrored in other asset classes such as global credit, high yield and emerging market debt. With yields falling 60 basis points over the last six months, increasing liability values by over 10%, those schemes with liability-driven investment strategies in place will have come through the period largely unscathed and can sail on to self-sufficiency.”