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Is Defined Ambition the Answer?
On 22 November the DWP published "Reinvigorating Workplace Pensions", which sets out the Government's strategy to resolve the long-term challenges of an ageing population and getting people to save more for their retirement.
Stating that each of the Government, employers and the pensions industry has a role to play in making pensions easier to understand, the paper draws on extensive discussions with pensions professionals to do the following:
The DWP admits that confidence in pensions is low and states that auto-enrolment is the first step towards a fundamental shift in culture and attitude towards savings and pensions.
Whilst the Government's paper covers a range of issues affecting pension provision in the UK, one of the most interesting proposals relates to what the Government refers to as "Defined Ambition" or "DA".
Steve Webb sees DA as a way of bridging the gap between DB and DC pensions. A DA pension would seek to give members greater certainty about the final value of their pension with less cost volatility for employers than a DB pension. The DWP believes this could be achieved by sharing longevity and investment risks between several parties, including employers, scheme members, insurers and investment businesses.
The Industry Working Group has identified four potential new models to make some provision of DB sustainable:
The paper identifies several models which look like DC but offer something more, recognising there are ways this could be achieved within the current legislative framework:
The DWP acknowledges that all the DB and DC based options require further work, covering government policy, legal and financial issues.
Finally, the DWP paper examines whether Collective DC schemes could offer a more effective structure for DA schemes. This requires further work from the Industry Working Group and a review of the legal framework.
There are significant challenges facing the pensions industry now, the most pressing of which is a lack of adequate pension saving among many working age people. Few employers want to carry on with DB provision, because it is an open-ended cheque book, but, equally, is it fair to ask employees to carry all the risks associated with DC.
DA may be the way forward but we see this as being DC with add-ons, rather than a form of "DB lite". Employers have been too traumatised by DB provision to consider re-entering this arena, even in a watered-down version. Those who have already exited DB are more likely, at most, to consider enhanced DC as a possibility. Those who cannot exit DB provision may be attracted by the opportunities for risk-sharing for the future subject to being able to amend existing schemes. One of the important areas that the paper does not address is the manner in which the new ideas would inter-face with existing DB provision. It is unlikely that new legislation would permit retroactive impact.
We applaud the desire to increase confidence in pension saving and member engagement. However, this needs to be supported by a clear strategy on pensions legislation and tax relief. Continual change is unsettling and counter-productive to ensuring stability and sustainability.
Some of the risk-sharing ideas are novel and worthy of further consideration. We will continue to monitor developments and keep readers up to date.
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