Reputational risks, governance and rising cash costs mean pension funding should make Boardroom Agenda this autumn. The Government consultation on creating a “Stronger Pensions Regulator” means that directors of companies with final salary pension schemes to fund can have no doubt who’s responsible if things go wrong? If dividends are paid; transactions undertaken; financing strategies set without reference to pension funding; then reprimands, fines and custodial sentences are all possible.
Further, the Pensions White Paper spells out journey plans that move beyond today’s actuarial deficit numbers to self-sufficiency and buy-out. Given the relentless derisking moves by schemes’ trustees, that can only mean more money from the company.
And post BHS and Carillion, directors need to consider personal and corporate reputations. As with taxation, so now with pensions, being good at minimising the bill may not be a virtue. Is managing down pensions payable really what you should do even if you can?
Leaving it to the finance directors and pension advisors to deal with funding discussions may have been fine. But whether you are a UK PLC; private equity owned business or a subsidiary of a global major, who wants to be the person or the advisor that is arguing with the trustees or The Pensions Regulator against shorter recovery plans or against derisking investment portfolio? Certainly, it’s only fair for Boards to provide clear instructions.
That’s all before pension funding is factored into strategy sessions. How does a Board argue against an offeror able to provide greater security for pension scheme if the Board cannot match it? To do so on the grounds that the value of the equity is not enough is tricky if you read through the consultation paper.
In assessing transactions as offeror or offeree, pensions is worthy of Boardroom airtime.
With your current journey plan, even damage limitation strategies are difficult to implement when improved funding positions simply mean that you derisk faster and trustees ring bulk annuity providers.
Right now, the trustees have the moral high ground; well-armed and trained advisors and new, super powered support from The Pensions Regulator.
So the problem statement has plenty of sub clauses. And the answer?
You need to move to a defensible position. That means underwriting self-sufficiency if the trustees keep to an agreed investment that can get your scheme there without just asking for more cash. Banks and insurers will provide the back-up pension schemes want.
Plenty of detail to work through and it can be done. But for the Board, the policy decision should be, in light of Government changes to the regulatory framework, it adopts a new tenable position that reiterates the commitment to all stakeholders. That’s how to stop pension funding being too frequently a Boardroom agenda item.
“Given the Government expectations and the financial and reputational risks that brings, Boards should be ready to change their approach decisively. Underwrite now the scheme’s journey to financial self-sufficiency. In exchange the scheme should have an investment strategy to get there without you.” William McGrath - CEO C-Suite Pension Strategies
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