“A CDC design is not needed for the savings phase” – Stefan Lundberg

For those who read headlines , this article by Stefan Lundberg , may look an attack on CDC.

For those who read articles, this is one of the best explanations of how CDC can be adapted to be a mass market rather than a specialist service.

For reasons we don’t need to go into again, the Royal Mail created a CDC plan that met a particular set of  circumstances that will not be repeated. Each CDC scheme written to both build up and provide a right to a wage for life will face challenges that need both the apparatus of its CDC plan and the regulation of the CDC Code. But for most of us, we do not need to cross that river to drink its water.

In the second of a series of articles from the clearest thinking , most articulate and most generous of commentators, here is how Stefan suggests CDC could become a mainstream pension product when it is most needed.

A model is a good servant, a bad master and a terrible religion

Pooling risks that are diversifiable, such as individual longevity risk, makes perfect sense, but pooling of systemic risks, such as financial market risk, doesn’t. Some believe in time diversification, that stocks are less risky over time, and make use of that as an argument for sharing financial risks across generations. The shadier versions of CDC are built on this belief.

The problem is that the ‘evidence’ backing time diversification is derived from the mean-variance framework. But that ‘evidence’ holds if, and only if, the model holds. Nobel Laureate, Paul Samuelson , Professor Zvi Bodie, and many more academics, have shown that time diversification does not hold. It is an empirical observation but should not be taken for granted.

We should not anchor financial risk sharing solutions on models that don’t capture the dynamics of the real world. In the UK, the recent move in 30yr Gilt yields, from 0% to +2% in a week was so unlikely, that according to most traditional models it probably would never have happened. The Japanese crash in the 1990s followed by flatlined real stock returns are even more unlikely, according to traditional models. To paraphrase Amory Lovins, an American energy policy analyst, a model makes a good servant but a bad master and a worse religion.

The North Star for CDC design

The north star for any funded pension design, is that future generations should not pay for current generations. The generational accounting principles, proposed by Professor Larry Kotlikoff, as a way to measure the impact on future generations, should be used as a litmus test for any CDC design.

A good way to achieve this is to separate accumulation and decumulation in the pension design. Keith Ambachtsheer, a world renown thinker on pension design, argues for the two pot model based on the difference in objectives; solving a savings or a spending problem.

For active members, the economic value of pooling individual longevity is limited. From a family perspective, the risk in the savings phase is to die prematurely. In that case it feels better to leave the pension savings behind for the family rather than to share it with other members of the pension fund. Therefore, a CDC design is not needed for the savings phase.

For the spending phase, CDC solutions provide an alternative to traditional annuities. Well-designed CDC solutions periodically rebase pension rights based on realised investment returns and mortality gains. Good solutions do not include smoothening or buffers motivated by the vague arguments of time diversification.

Similar but different

Similar outcomes can be achieved by allowing for longevity pooling within an existing individual DC solution, such as a Master Trust. This has been done successfully in both Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. In terms of outcomes, a well-designed CDC solution and an individual DC solution with longevity pooling will be similar. The main difference is to be found in the accounting approach – pension rights or units – which is largely a matter of taste.

In anticipation of a CDC consultation paper next year, I can’t help but think; are we not crossing the river to fetch water?

Stefan Lundbergh, Head of DC Design

And is it not perhaps a simpler and more practical solution to allow Master Trusts pooling individual longevity within a dedicated section?

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to “A CDC design is not needed for the savings phase” – Stefan Lundberg

  1. Derek Benstead says:

    “The north star for any funded pension design, is that future generations should not pay for current generations.”
    Which is why UK CDC legislation mandates the use of “best estimate” (or neutral or unbiased, whatever your favourite terminology is) discount rate for CDC planning, because to be deliberately prudent is to withhold money from members while a CDC scheme is growing only to release it when it shrinks (and conversely if the discount rate is over optimistic).

    “A good way to achieve this is to separate accumulation and decumulation in the pension design.”
    I disagree that this is a good way to achieve intergenerational fairness, because the separation of accumulation and decumulation brings investment disadvantages. A whole of life CDC scheme in which people both save into and draw pension from one pool results in an offset of cash flows in and out. The investments can sit there for the long term providing cash flow with which to pay benefits. Trading in investments is reduced, reducing exposure to the effect of market value fluctuations.

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