Nov 21, 2010

THE FUTURE | Pension Schemes

Add a note hereLooking at the medium-term future of UK occupational pension provision, a number of key questions arise, as considered in the following sections.

Add a note hereDoes the Final Salary Scheme Have a Future?

Add a note hereIt remains to be seen whether the final salary occupational scheme has a long-term future. Its obituary has been written many times before. However, this time there is significant evidence of a move away, with more than 50 per cent of such schemes now closed to new entrants.

Add a note hereWhere final salary provision is surviving in the private sector, one or more of the following factors may apply:
§  Add a note hereThe scheme is still in surplus.
§  Add a note hereProviding a guaranteed, final salary pension is a component of a very caring and paternalistic people strategy.
§  Add a note hereThe employer has deep pockets and/or people costs are low compare to turnover.
§  Add a note hereThe scheme has been modified to reduce employer cost.

Add a note hereWill the Public Sector Move Towards Defined Contribution Schemes?

Add a note hereGiven the huge (and rising) costs of its current schemes, this is a possibility. However, doing so would remove a significant retention lever and would cause major industrial relations problems. Any such change would probably imply a need to increase other elements of pay.

Add a note hereWill Defined Contribution Schemes Provide Adequate Retirement Incomes?

Add a note hereThere is a significant risk that many defined contribution schemes will fail to deliver the standard of retirement living expected by their members. A previous generation of defined contribution schemes failed for just this reason.

Add a note hereTackling this issue implies increasing employer contributions and/or providing education to employees to allow them to increase their own saving. For example, some employers pay for financial advice or offer online pension modelling through the company intranet.

Add a note hereThere are also strong arguments for considering some of the hybrid design options outlined above. These generally involve providing at least some pension guarantees to employees, but should avoid the degree of cost fluctuation associated with traditional final salary schemes.

Add a note hereCan Two-tier Pensions be Sustained in one Employer?

Add a note hereWhere an employer has scaled back pension for new employees, this creates inequalities with longer-serving staff. Some commentators have suggested a compensating increase to another part of the package. However, unless this is as part of a flexible benefits scheme, such an approach can fall foul of equal pay legislation, where comparisons are made for each element of pay separately.

Add a note hereAnother factor to consider here is that staff in the final salary scheme, particularly any who are nearing retirement, will be unlikely to leave. This is especially true if alternative employers have also moved to defined contribution provision.

Add a note hereCan Pensions be Communicated Effectively?

Add a note hereA key and long-standing problem in the pensions field is communications. The difficulties arise because:
§  Add a note herepensions are intrinsically complicated;
§  Add a note hereretirement feels a long way off to many people;
§  Add a note herethere can be a tension between effective design and ease of communication - for example, providing employees with choice may be desirable, but requires clear communication;
§  Add a note heresome of the language used around pensions is not always helpful to the layperson;
§  Add a note herepension scandals have reduced employee confidence.

Add a note hereThis is a field where HR, marketing and communications professionals can add value. Sadly, many pensions booklets and annual benefits statements are virtually indecipherable for most employees. In addition, communications are often very dependent on the written word.

Add a note hereTo ensure employee engagement, pensions communications should:
§  Add a note heregive a clear, easily assimilated overview of the main scheme provisions;
§  Add a note hereallow employees to understand the likely level of pension payable;
§  Add a note hereencourage additional saving, where appropriate;
§  Add a note herehighlight where advice and clarification are available from;
§  Add a note herein final salary schemes, identify how much the employer is spending on the employee's behalf.

Add a note hereA variety of media should be used, perhaps involving booklets, annual statements, frequently asked question sheets, workshops and interactive pension-modelling tools. Written materials should be tested on non-experts to ensure readability.

Add a note hereIssues and Opportunities Arising from Tax Simplification

Add a note hereThe government's tax simplification proposals (see above, 'Executive pensions') and other changes have created some challenges and opportunities for people management looking forward, as follows:
§  Add a note hereMany of the restrictions on scheme design that currently exist will fall away. This should allow some more creative designs to emerge.
§  Add a note hereIt will become possible to draw a pension while still working for the same employer. This will allow a phased approach to retirement that may suit some employees and employers.
§  Add a note hereCompulsory retirement on the grounds of age will disappear. This will probably mean more active performance management and a more creative approach to career management for older workers.
§  Add a note hereThe minimum retirement age (other than on grounds of ill health) will increase from 50 to 55. Schemes will be given discretion on how to achieve this.
§  Add a note hereEmployers may wish to help employees to make the best of the very liberal regulations for making extra voluntary contributions.

Add a note hereAre Final Salary Schemes Well Enough Funded?

Add a note hereThe security of final salary pensions in a closed scheme is a complicated question well beyond the scope of this post. However, the latest government proposals are set to:
§  Add a note hereconsiderably bolster the level of financial obligation on solvent employers in respect of closed schemes;
§  Add a note hereintroduce a levy-based scheme to fund a minimum level of benefits from under-funded schemes where the sponsoring employer is insolvent.


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