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How Multinational Companies are Preparing Their Pensions in Europe for the Future
 

How Multinational Companies are Preparing Their Pensions in Europe for the Future

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    How Multinational Companies are Preparing Their Pensions in Europe for the Future How Multinational Companies are Preparing Their Pensions in Europe for the Future Document Transcript

    • PENSIONS IN EUROPE – HOW MULTINATIONAL COMPANIES ARE PREPARING THEIR PENSIONS IN EUROPE FOR THE FUTURE Thurstan Robinson, Erik Schouten and Heleen Vaandrager For its European Pensions Survey, AEGON Global Pensions interviewed pension directors from 15 leading multinational companies with operations in Europe, six international pension consultants, three representatives of the European Commission and two representatives of national supervisory bodies. By revealing the hopes, aims, concerns and experiences of these different parties, we wished to come to a better understanding of the current state of company pensions in Europe and to see how the many parties involved view the present state and the future of European pensions. In addition, the paper examines what the European Commission is doing to help multinational companies, and concludes with five short guidelines on how to assess possible ways to take advantage of cross-border opportunities in Europe. Pensions in Europe reveals three dominant trends in how multinational companies are managing their pensions today – a drive to improve and centralise pension governance, a strong shift to Defined Contribution (DC) pensions, and the move to de-risk Defined Benefit (DB) pensions. In addition, cross-border pension provision was viewed by the majority of interviewees as potentially useful, with a minority actively involved in developing cross-border pensions. The interviews confirmed several recurring assertions: control and risk are of increasing importance, and this, in turn, is forcing Defined Benefit pensions into decline. In addition, this raises corporate interest in solutions that provide governance benefits, including cross- border pension solutions. For almost 10 years now, there has been talk of cross-border or pan-European company pensions. Although the idea of pan-European 2nd pillar pension provision has inspired many, to date only 84 cross-border Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (IORPs) have been created.1 The interviews confirmed that many companies find the prospect of having to overcome the complexities of the European pensions environment to be daunting and even prohibitive. Four categories of companies: Pragmatists, Trailblazers, Visionaries, and Transformers Although the companies interviewed were all affected by similar issues, it was clear that they adopt different approaches in trying to achieve better control over their pensions. On the basis of how the different companies view their pensions and the degree to which the companies and their pensions are centralised, four distinct categories were identified – the Pragmatists, Trailblazers, Visionaries, and Transformers. By distinguishing these different categories, it is easier to identify which1 See the EIOPA IORP Market Development Report 2011 at https://eiopa.europa.eu/publications/reports/index.html. 1 November 2011
    • companies may benefit from employing centralised pensions solutions such as asset pooling andother cross-border pension solutions.PragmatistsThese are centrally-led companies with a strong focus on their core business and a ‘no-nonsense’approach to pensions. Their local businesses have a considerable degree of autonomy, and of allcompanies interviewed, they placed the least value on pensions as part of the benefits package.They were typically the least interested in cross-border European solutions, and the most wary ofpotential disruption to their businesses from legislation in the EU. These companies did howeverstate that if a proven, simple pan-European DC solution were to be introduced – a 401(k) for Europe– then they would be interested.TrailblazersThese companies are centrally-led, capital-rich and well established. They have a strong pensionstradition and large Defined Benefit plans. They consider pensions to be important, and thesecompanies have substantial in-house pensions expertise. Trailblazers are prepared to move intouncharted territory, and have the knowledge and determination to succeed. They are first movers inasset pooling for pensions and in the exploration and adoption of cross-border pension vehicles.VisionariesThese are companies that have generally experienced a period of impressive growth, and thecreation of an international centralised pensions framework has typically lagged development ofother business structures. These companies have been looking again at their pensions governanceand indeed at their entire pensions policy. They realise that retaining and attracting staff is of vitalimportance, and are interested in efficient and effective solutions that will help them achieve theirambitious goals. They are interested in cross-border and pan-European pensions but are reluctant tobe first movers. They are often in contact with the Trailblazers to share ideas and experiences.TransformersThese are established companies operating in highly competitive environments. They need to adaptthemselves to continue their past success and their pension structures also need to change. Thesecompanies need to balance the requirements of their legacy pension structures with their needs forthe future. As these are companies that are often reshaping themselves through mergers,acquisitions and divestments, although they are looking at their pension structures and policiesacross the company, they are often looking for shorter term solutions and de-risking solutions. Theytypically have a ‘wait and see’ approach to cross-border and pan-European pensions. 2 November 2011
    • The role of the European CommissionThe idea of cross-border pensions has stimulated considerable interest over the past few years, andour survey revealed that the concept of cross-border pensions is attractive to most of the companiesinterviewed. However, developments in this area have been slow, which is why the EuropeanCommission (EC) is looking again at how it can stimulate and facilitate the provision of pensionsacross borders. Although the role of the EC in this area is difficult, and sometimes contentious, it isalso crucial to the further development of both single-country and cross-border pension provision inEurope. On the basis of our interviews, we analysed the main issues companies face in managingtheir pensions in Europe and how the activities of the EC will shape the progress of cross-borderpension provision. Present legislative complexities are a challenge for Europe itself. Europe hasgrown impressively over the last years and pensions are not the only area where it is difficult to alignthe interests of 27 countries. Moreover, progressing European pensions does not just involveunderstanding the interaction between pieces of legislation it also involves understanding the driversand restrictions of market participants.The reason for the limited uptake of cross-border pension vehicles is partly historical – pensionshave typically been the responsibility of local HR departments and most companies have onlyrecently started to centralise their pension management – but it partly reflects the position ofpensions themselves in European law. Pensions sit in a grey area straddling various areas ofnational and European laws and regulations.Although the European Union has considerable power over elements within the national systems,European Member States are responsible for the structure and management of their own pensionssystems through Social and Labour law. Despite this, the EU internal market for financial services,which is intended to ensure fair competition across the EU, applies at least in part to the provision ofpensions. In addition, the European Stability and Growth Pact is increasingly having an effect onpensions systems. The EU therefore has considerable power over the way in which the Member 3 November 2011
    • States construct and fund their pension systems, and the European sovereign debt crisis may lead to an increase in this power.2 The EC is often criticised for producing ‘red tape’, increasing the burden on businesses and hindering competition. In part, this reflects what may be called ‘the legislator’s burden’ – legislators have a single tool, the ability to pass laws, and laws may not always be the best way to achieve a goal. Bearing this in mind, the actions of the EC in its present review of pensions (the forthcoming White Paper on Pensions) are laudable. The EC has explicitly asked for input from all stakeholders, and has engaged in an open and transparent process of review. 3 Pensions are presently receiving unprecedented attention and it is up to the various stakeholders to make sure that their hopes and concerns are heard. On the part of multinational companies, it is clear that they would welcome a simplified system of cross-border European pension provision and that the present system is proving difficult to negotiate. The EC is looking now to find a way to remove some of the roadblocks and is actively engaged in challenging all and any unfair barriers to competition as a result of discriminatory tax treatment in different countries. It remains to be seen how effectively the Commission can avoid the legislator’s dilemma when the time comes to legislate. The way ahead From the perspective of multinational companies, European pensions are at a crossroads. Globalisation, increasing governance requirements, a focus on derisking and the desire for predictability are all driving companies to reassess and redesign their pensions – and the global financial and economic crisis has acted as a catalyst. Although the crisis has made it more difficult for some companies to derisk their DB pension plans, it seems also to have confirmed or even accelerated the shift to DC pensions. In the area of cross-border pension solutions, if we look at how different companies are managing their pensions today, we can see that the Trailblazers are continuing to push ahead with cross- border integration of their pension plans while the Pragmatists have chosen to stick with single- country plans. The rest are assessing the available options, waiting to see which will provide the best outcome. Although there seems to be something of an impasse, as the different players wait to see what actions others are taking, the European pensions environment is far from static. Looking at developments taking place today, we can identify four potential drivers for the development and adoption of cross-border pensions in Europe on a broader scale. Companies The Trailblazers are strong companies, with long-term perspectives, deep pensions expertise and considerable resources. They are also companies who stand to gain the most from pan-European pensions. Trailblazers are already exploring cross-border solutions, including the use of captives to provide DB pensions, and the use of Belgian OFP cross-border IORPs to manage2 For example, reform of the state pension system was one of the conditions of financial support to Greece. See, forexample, the March 2011 IMF country report no. 11/68 on Greece,http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2011/cr1168.pdf.3 For an overview of the Green Paper, see http://www.aegonglobalpensions.com/en/Home/Publications/News-archive/News/The-EU-Green-Paper-on-pensions--a-vision-of-the-future/ andhttp://www.aegonglobalpensions.com/Documents/aegon-global-pensions-com/Publications/Newsletter-archive/2011-Q1/2011-a-year-to-renew-Europes-pensions-partnership.pdf. A summary and overview ofresponses to the Green Paper can be found athttp://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/11/st06/st06918.en11.pdf. 4 November 2011
    • problematic/legacy DB plans, and are exploring the development of cross-border IORPs for DCplans.European CommissionThe EC is presently preparing its holistic white paper on pensions and its new IORP directive, havingengaged in a thorough consultation of market participants. The EU may lead the way by creating acoordinated legislative system and a level playing-field for pension provision, providing fertile groundfor further developments. The idea of a 401(k) for Europe, a simple but effective pan-European DCsavings vehicle that is accepted across Europe is perhaps the holy grail of pan-European pensions.It is possible that a single pension plan could be created as a 28th regime vehicle, but this wouldrequire unanimity among the EU member states. Alternatively, it may be possible for the outlines ofsuch a plan to be described in the new IORP directive such that the EU member states could chooseto implement it into their local social and labour law.ProvidersSpecialised providers are starting to create distinct solutions to enable the efficient functioning ofcross-border pensions, including multi-country administration, asset pooling, IT, and insurancesolutions. For example, 60% of those companies interviewed expressed a positive view on assetpooling and the potential benefits that it may offer. By providing outsourced, cross-border facilities(‘shared service centres for pensions’), providers will enable companies to focus on theirbusinesses.ConsultantsMany of the interviewees saw cross-border pensions presently as the domain of the Trailblazers andthe international consultants. There is some truth to this: consultants are often at the forefront ofpension developments, and they can highlight opportunities and play an important role in unitingproviders, sponsors and regulators.Preparing for change, building for the futureThe European Pensions Survey highlights the fact that different types of companies have divergentaims and desires for their pensions, but equally that they are unified by their desire for simplicity,clarity, sustainability and good governance. Globalisation, increasing governance requirements, afocus on derisking and the desire for predictability are all driving companies to reassess andredesign their pensions. The global financial and economic crisis has accelerated this process.Although the crisis has made it more difficult for some companies to derisk their DB plans, it seemsalso to have increased the urgency of moving to DC pensions. And, as many of our intervieweespointed out, the next step is to ensure that these DC pensions are not only cost-efficient, but also fitfor purpose. At the same time, it is clear that the pensions landscape in Europe is shifting. In such atransitional period, continuing and deepening the dialogue is crucial for all stakeholders – legislators,supervisors, providers and companies. Although it may look like something of an impasse hasarisen, the European pensions environment is far from static, and we can expect some significantdevelopments over the next year.Receive the full white paper If you would like to receive a copy of the white paper Pensions in Europe - how multinational companies are preparing their pensions in Europe for the future, please complete the form on our website and we will send you a PDF version. 5 November 2011