Irish DB liabilities increased by c.10% in 2019 – Mercer

Irish defined benefit pension liabilities increased by around 10 per cent in 2019 due to lower yields, according to Mercer.

At the end of August, yields reached their lowest-ever level, driving pension scheme liabilities up c.20 per cent compared with the start of the year. However, from August onwards, yields rallied, causing pension scheme liabilities to fall back again and finish the year c.10 per cent higher than their starting level.

However, this was offset by a strong performance across all major asset classes leaving deficits for ISEQ companies steady at c.€1.2bn, similar to those at the end of 2018. The MSCI World Index of equities was up c.31 per cent (USD terms) over 2019 and major bond indices were up c.16 per cent. Mercer said these results are notable given the global trade wars and Brexit during 2019.

In addition, Mercer said members of defined contribution (DC) schemes have benefited from these strong returns, seeing the value of their DC savings increase over 2019. However, for those expecting to purchase a pension, the fall in yields mean the cost of doing so will have increased.

Commenting, Mercer Ireland, corporate consulting leader and principal, Peter Gray, said: “2019 has been an interesting year. Falling yields had the potential to cause a very difficult year for scheme sponsors and trustees. However, strong asset performance has effectively cancelled out the impact of increasing pension liabilities. 2019 could have looked very different had it not been for the strong performance in equity markets for schemes that were not well matched.

“I would encourage sponsors and trustees to consider whether their schemes are exposed if there were to be a correction in the equity markets over 2020. While deficits have remained stable the cost of funding DB schemes will have increased due to lower yields”

The industry continues to wait for regulation and guidance to bring the European pensions directive, IORP II, into Irish statute (the deadline was 13th January 2019). IORP II will require all DB and DC schemes to implement formal risk management structures and will lead to additional governance, member communication and disclosure requirements and ultimately increase the cost of operating a pension scheme.

Under the new European pensions directive, trustees will be required to establish and document robust risk management frameworks. The Pensions Authority will review and challenge trustees on their governance structures and decision making process.

“With some 10,000 pension schemes in Ireland, it is perhaps inevitable that a more onerous and expensive governance framework will cause a reduction in the number of schemes. This is likely to particularly impact DC schemes, through a combination of consolidation and increased popularity of master trusts.

“The introduction of auto-enrolment also has the potential to cause disruption in the industry when this is introduced. Companies should consider the impact of these changes on their pension arrangements and ensure they remain fit for purpose,” Gray added.

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