Companies are reporting record numbers of members wishing to transfer out of defined benefit schemes, with one financial services company reducing its pension liabilities by a tenth, or more than £100m, in just six months.
Aon, which administers pensions for 1 million members in 205 defined-benefit schemes, told FTAdviser's sister title the Financial Times that the number of pension transfers had increased six-fold since 2014.
This was the last year before pension rules were relaxed to give savers more flexibility over how they spend their funds.
Speaking to the FT, Ben Roe, partner with Aon Hewitt, said: “There’s been an increased awareness among members of the high transfers being offered.
“For example, we have seen a 15-times increase in the number of transfer offers made in excess of £500,000, particularly to members aged over 55.”
Mr Roe said the banks and insurers were seeing the highest levels of pension outflows.
“We typically find that pension schemes in this sector are better funded than average, and all else being equal, this tends to lead to higher transfer values,” said Mr Roe.
Figures from The Pensions Regulator found that up to 80,000 defined benefit pension transfers were made in the year ending 31 March.
Transfer offers are being a encouraged by low gilt yields, which have the effect of inflating the cost of future pension promises. That, in turn, means higher sums offered to those removing their share of pension risk today from the scheme.
Consultants said some companies were using transfer exercises as a cheaper way of reducing pension risk rather than offloading the scheme to an insurance company through a “buy out”.
The steep rise in transfer activity has coincided with increased interventions by the Pensions Regulator, which in recent months has removed advice permissions from several firms operating in the pension transfer market.
“It is important advisers continue to assess each case on its own merits as defined benefit transfers will not be suitable for all clients,” wealth manager Old Mutual Wealth, has stated.
Meanwhile 71 per cent of UK advisers are expecting demand to increase even further in the next 12 months, according to a recent survey by Old Mutual Wealth.
Of those polled, 67 per cent of advisers said the increase in demand was fuelled by fear the DB scheme will not be able to meet its long term liabilities and 66 per cent believed the improved transfer value/critical yield is a factor.
The aggregate deficit of the 5,794 schemes in the PPF 7800 Index rose to £245.6bn at the end of April 2017, while the funding ratio deteriorated from 87.0 per cent at end March 2017 to 86.0 per cent.
According to Xafinity's most recent figures, average transfer values now stand at around £241,000 for a pension worth £10,000 a year at age 65.
That's £30,000 more than the same pension was worth on 1 June 2016, before the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Transfer values have been hovering around that level now since January, after peaking at almost £245,000 in October.