Defined Benefit 

DB consolidation plans face heavy criticism

DB consolidation plans face heavy criticism

Government plans for the creation of an "aggregator fund" for small defined benefit schemes have been branded "un-Tory" and likely to kill the annuity buy-out market.

David Brooks, of pensions consultancy Broadstone, told FTAdviser that the plan, expected to be included in an upcoming government green paper on the future of the DB system, was misguided and unnecessary.

He said it was based on the mistaken belief that "small" equated to "bad" and the view that large alternative assets such as infrastructure were a desirable investment for a DB scheme.

Mr Brooks insisted that infrastructure in particular was ill-fitted to DB schemes because it was completely uncorrelated to liabilities. He described the asset class as "pie in the sky".

The Work and Pensions select committee promoted the creation of an aggregator fund in the final report of its DB inquiry, published in December.

The aggregator fund, the committee said, would be a full-benefits version of the current Pension Protection Fund, also managed by the PPF, and provide the sponsors of smaller schemes with an alternative to an annuity buy-out.  

The idea received the provisional backing of current pensions minister Richard Harrington during the consultation period, as well as that of his two predecessors Ros Altmann and Steve Webb.

The PPF's Alan Rubenstein confirmed the PPF would take up the task if asked.

Mr Harrington told the committee: "There must be some kind of product or system that involves a non-PPF PPF that is at full level, not at a discounted level, where small sub-scale funds would be quite happy to put their members’ money and benefits into, knowing that they are going to have a chance of getting better returns."

At a recent conference hosted by the Trades Union Congress, Mr Harrington reaffirmed his support of consolidation, saying it would give DB schemes the scale to invest in large, valuable, but relatively illiquid alternative assets such as infrastructure.

"If you’re a £20m scheme, you couldn’t put £10m into [a single asset]. But if you’ve got £10bn under management, you certainly could consider the sort of [investment],” he said.

But Mr Brooks dismissed this idea. He said that while infrastructure might be good for DC schemes, for DB it was a “terrible idea”.

"When your liabilities move, which they will, it [infrastructure] has no correlation with any of those things. You want to be as correlated as you can because then you’re de-risked. It’s adding a risk element that this is not going to pay out when you need it to pay out."

He also said that an aggregator fund would "destroy" the private sector annuity buy-out market - that is, the market for private insurers to take on the liabilities of a DB scheme through a bulk annuity policy.

“Say you’re in a world where it [the aggregator fund] exists and it’s cheaper than buy-out to go into this aggregator fund. That destroys the buy-out market. Why would anyone ever go into buyout again?"