Archive for October 2019

Andrew Kerrin

Welcome to our third Quarterly Update for 2019. We’ve only just said goodbye to British Summer Time, we thought we’d be saying hello to the post-Brexit era, but instead we’ll be wrapping tinsel around our polling cards as we head out to vote in the upcoming General Election. Anyone for a surprise Christmas gift?

You would be forgiven for thinking that there is no other news, and hoping that extensions, flextensions and even political tensions would melt away in the snows of winter … but regardless, the pensions world continues to turn and we’ve compiled our list of topical pension articles from the last quarter.

Inside you’ll find details of the new CMA requirements for trustees to engage with investment consultants and fiduciary managers and an update on your favourite subject (next to Brexit!) – GMP Equalisation. We also look at the ‘legacy’ that is RPI and the anticipated move to CPI. Should there be a professional trustee on every scheme? We look at both sides of the debate. And as if that’s not enough, we’ve got an investment market update, news from the Pension Scams Industry Group and PRAG, a summary of the TPR and PPF Report and Accounts and information on changes to Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs).   

You can’t vote for your favourite, but we do hope that you enjoy reading our take on the latest industry news.

Click on image above or this link to download.

Brendan McLean

Greenwashing

In recent years there has been a huge push for society, and fund managers, to consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. This has led to claims of greenwashing. Greenwashing is when a firm claims to have a greater ESG focus than they actually do.

As people grow increasingly interested in ‘going green’, the issue of greenwashing is becoming a problem faced by all of society, not just pension schemes. Investment managers and companies are seeing opportunities to capitalise on the changing sentiment by making their products appear greener than they really are. A recent example is the fast food restaurant McDonalds. They swapped their single-use plastic straws for a paper alternative. However, in August 2019, a leaked internal document showed that the straws were non-recyclable.

From October 2019, trustees need to set out how they take account of ESG issues in their statement of investment principles (SIPs). This has resulted in a frantic push from managers to make their funds meet the standards – which could encourage greenwashing. A key issue with ESG factors is the lack of clarity on what it means, making it easier for managers to greenwash their funds.

Going colour blind

Pension schemes could have been affected by untrustworthy ‘green’ credentials from investment managers. I suspect many may not realise it has happened as it is difficult for trustees to scrutinise managers’ ESG claims. A concern for trustees is that if they allocate to a manager based on their ESG values, the manager may not act as expected, which would create a lack of trust with ESG investing. Greenwashing could, therefore, destroy investors’ confidence as they may lose faith in companies or fund managers that promote themselves as focusing on ESG issues. This could have a knock-on effect by slowing down the pace of ESG investing, which would be detrimental to the positive impact it can have. Greenwashing also makes it harder to identify managers who are truly trying to make a difference, potentially reducing the pace of ESG innovation.

The grass can still be greener

Often managers state they have been integrating ESG for many years, but their team and head of ESG are all recent hires. Trustees should look for a more seasoned team to mitigate this concern. Many managers make assertions that they have been following ESG practices for many years by excluding certain sectors. However, this is often driven by client demand rather than the managers’ ESG beliefs, so it can be tricky to get a clear understanding of a managers’ ESG credentials.

It is difficult for trustees to ensure that their investments are as environmentally responsible as managers claim. Trustees place a great deal of trust in their investment managers to act in their  best interests, but it is hard for them to monitor. Often, the easiest way for trustees to be confident that their investments are environmentally responsible is to allocate to managers who have a genuine track record of integrating ESG into their investment philosophy and process; and not to those managers who have simply jumped on the bandwagon to include it.

Trustees should look at managers’ track record of stewardship and engagement with companies, and to the quality of their ESG team. They should also work with their investment consultants to help provide a deeper understanding of the managers’ credentials.

Angela Burns

This guide is intended to be a useful reference for companies preparing their 30 September 2019 pensions accounting disclosures, whether under FRS 102 or IAS 19.

In this guide, we will review the changes in the investment markets over the last 12 months and consider the impact these will have had on a typical pension scheme. We will also review recent developments in the area of pensions accounting, highlighting issues that you should be aware of.

With the wealth of corporate advisory experience available at Spence, we are well placed to provide you with guidance in how to best manage your pension scheme liabilities.

The implications of the recent developments should be considered to help you avoid any surprises. Spence can help guide companies through these complexities and have a proven track record in navigating to the best outcomes for our clients.

We would be happy to discuss the options available to you in reaction to the market trends discussed above, including:

  • How to lock in asset gains;
  • Decrease future risk;
  • Reduce funding level volatility.

To discuss these topics further, please contact Spence through your usual contact or connect with our Corporate Advisory practice associate, Angela Burns, at angela_burns@spenceandpartners.co.uk  or by telephone on 0141 331 9984.

Angela Burns

In our last update we provided a summary of the GMP equalisation ruling in the Lloyds Banking Group court case that has required all pension schemes to equalise guaranteed minimum pensions.

Our update was very much ‘wait and see’ as a number of points had still to be clarified. 

There are still a number of outstanding issues but there has also been positive movement in some areas.

The formation of the GMP Equalisation Working Group

The first guidance from the GMP Equalisation Working Group has been issued.

Contrary to previous updates, the working party guidance has more of a ‘get things moving’ feel to it.  The path for equalising GMP’s seems a bit clearer although there are still a number of outstanding issues to be clarified.

The guidance sets out a summary of the requirements of GMP equalisation and includes some helpful worked examples on each permissible method for equalising GMP’s.

There were some interesting comments in the guidance surrounding previously raised issues:

  • De minimis cases – the guidance states that it expects most Trustees would not apply a de minimis amount, as the work required to determine the amount is comparable to the work required to calculate and pay the uplift;
  • No further liability cases  – the guidance suggests Trustees should write to members to determine if contact can be made, prior to agreeing that no calculations should be carried out;
  • Lack of opportunity cases – where members have lost out on an opportunity as a result of having unequalised benefits (for example retiring early) it will not be possible to compensate for this.

The GMP Equalisation Working Group will produce further guidance on:

  • the availability of data to carry out the exercise;
    • impacted transactions;
    • tax issues (alongside HMRC guidance);
    • reconciliation and rectification of GMP’s.

Issues still to be clarified

The following issues have still to be clarified:

  • There will be a further instalment of the Lloyds court case to determine if transferred out benefits have to be considered in equalisation projects;
  • HMRC are producing guidance on how uplifts should be treated for tax purposes.

Actions for Trustees

The guidance expects that most schemes won’t implement a solution until the tax implications are fully understood.  However, Trustees should be speaking to their advisers about:

  • An appropriate methodology given their schemes circumstances;
  • Availability of data and GMP reconciliation (bearing in mind that further guidance will be released);
  • Understanding the Trust Deed and Rules and any forfeiture rules.
Brendan McLean

Recently, the government rejected the suggestion from the British Business Bank (a state-owned bank that helps finance new and growing businesses) to reform the current 0.75% cap on annual charges that defined contribution pension scheme members pay for the default investment strategy. Maintaining the current charge cap can reduce members’ ability to invest in more alternative (and also more expensive) asset classes such as venture capital (VC).

No entry to the dragon’s den

Venture capital involves investing into early stage companies, as in the premise of the BBC show Dragons’ Den. VC investments can grow from minor beginnings into hugely successful companies, e.g. Facebook and Uber. It offers investors the opportunity of significant returns. The government’s rejection denotes that members may find it difficult to get access to a potentially rewarding area of the market which would help diversify and increase their pension pots. However, it will save them from paying high management fees, and also from the risk of their capital being locked away for a long time due to the inherent illiquid nature of the asset class.

Allowing VC and other expensive and illiquid funds to be accessible to DC members would increase member potential returns, but also increase risk. Selecting any investment manager that outperforms net of fees is notoriously difficult and there is little evidence to suggest retail, or even institutional investors, can do this successfully over time. The performance of VC managers varies considerably and there is no way of knowing which would be successful – this would put members’ capital at risk.

What’s the alternative?

A key challenge to changing the charge cap is in answering the question ‘what do we change it to?’. VC fees can become complicated as they charge carried interest, similar to a performance fee. This could result in the member paying many multiples of 0.75%. Carried interest could encourage the VC manager to take excessive risks to get their very lucrative carried interest fee. Perhaps having a higher base fee could be a solution i.e. some funds have two share classes, one with a performance fee, the other with no performance fee but a higher standard fee.

An alternative to VC could be investing into small or micro-cap passive indices as these are more correlated to VC than traditional large cap indices. This may help members achieve higher growth but will increase the volatility of returns. As most members are likely to be invested for an extremely long time (e.g. 30-40 years), many listed and passive funds could provide a similar return to their illiquid active peers without the need to allocate to expensive and illiquid VC funds.

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