I read this and my heart sunk.
It sunk for the hundreds of thousands who have taken their transfers and must now be wondering why they didn’t wait for ol’man Covid.
It sunk for those advisers who have either been barred , blocked or chosen not to offer transfers.
And it sunk for those deferred pensioners with the right to a cash equivalent transfer value who are going to read the LCP research in the FT and go on a hunt for an advisor to unlock their treasure chest.
It simply doesn’t make sense that while markets have fallen, DB transfers have risen by 30% in the pandemic. It exposes the nonsense of DB pension valuations for what they are, academic exercises uncoupled from reality.
Why oh why?
This is the lunacy of pensions lock-down, the mania for self-sufficiency, the drive to de-risk.
All the prudence that has been built into DB pension schemes has been at a cost to jobs, investment as George Kirrin pointed out in a comment on a recent blog on DB scheme funding by Keating and Clacher
And where does this prudence go? It is transferred to the wealth management accounts of those who by accident, have got lucky with a pension windfall.
Merryn Somerset Webb said a few years back now “If I had a DB pension I’d take my transfer now”. If it wasn’t for the economic nightmare that is upon us, interest rates should now be rising as we finally kicked off the shackles of austerity. Transfer values should be going down and the insanity of discount rates set at 1% or even lower would be a thing of the past.
Why oh why do we continue to dangle these over-inflated DB transfer values? They aren’t prudent and are an offence to the millions who face personal hardship at this time.
Here’s an excerpt from the FT report
Analysis by Lane Clark & Peacock, the pension consultants, showed the average value of defined benefit pension transfers reached £556,000 in the second quarter of 2020 — an increase of 30 per cent compared with the previous quarter — and the first time in three years that the average transfer has exceeded half a million pounds.
Only about one in five of those who received a transfer value quotation from their pension provider in this period opted to take the cash; the lowest quarterly take-up rate since 2016, according to LCP.
Although average pot sizes increased dramatically, the analysis also found that overall levels of transfer activity in the period fell by 25 per cent — partly because some pension schemes paused transfer quotations under lockdown, in line with regulatory guidance.
But we are also in that period before the arrival of the ban on contingent charging where advisers are reconsidering the economics of transfers. The risk of getting it wrong are substantial (which is why PI premiums for those still advising on them are so high). Coupled to this, pressure on fees, now they can’t be cushioned by contingent charging, mean that advisers may decide their boots are full enough.
So what can be done?
Many trustees still see CETVs as the victimless crime. They get liabilities away at below buy-out cost and please employers who can book the technical accounting advantage into their short-term reporting (often with positive impacts to management’s remuneration).
But there are victims. The true discount rate for these liabilities is what Con Keating and Iain Clacher call the CAR or the underlying rate of return needed to meet scheme liabilities over time. If the CAR was used as the discount rate , CETVs would be slashed and schemes would retain pensioners.
Of course that isn’t going to happen , but if we took a long-term view of our DB liabilities we would continue the ability of trustees to voluntarily ban transfers. Indeed we might decide to put funded pensions on the same basis as their unfunded counterparts and just stop transfers where the discount rate fell below a nominal level (say 3%).