Majority of DB cashflow negative as transfers surge

Transfer moneyThe majority of DB schemes are now cashflow negative as pension freedom cashouts accelerates withdrawals, analysis from Hymans Robertson shows.

Today 57 per cent of schemes have more money going out in pension payments than they have coming in through contributions, up from 50 per cent last year.

Hymans says there has been a 10 per cent increase in payments out of schemes as a result of people cashing in DB pensions post pension freedoms, introduced in April 2015. The surge in cashflow negative is also down to the almost 15 per cent drop in benefits being earned due to schemes closing, lowering future accruals

The consultancy says these effects have more than outweighed the £2bn increase in the amount of cash companies have put in to their DB schemes, which is up to over £16bn from nearly £14bn last year.

Hymans says the situation could worsen over the next year as an increasing trend of scheme closures, people cashing in DB pensions and the inexorable maturing of pension schemes continues.

Schemes turning negative urgently need to turn their attention to cashflow planning, according to Hymans, increasing exposure to income-generating assets rather than higher risk growth assets.

Hymans Robertson head of corporate consulting Jon Hatchett says: “57 per cent of FTSE350 DB schemes are now in a position where they need to generate income as a priority. If they don’t have clear income-generating strategies in place, they run the very real risk of becoming forced sellers of assets to meet pension payments. When schemes have to sell assets in a market downturn they go on a downward spiral, as a greater proportion of the asset base needs to be sold to meet benefits. Remaining funds then have less potential to bounce back when markets recover.

“The Pensions Regulator flagged the importance of cashflow planning for the first time in its 2016 Annual Statement, which acts as a guide to trustees of DB schemes. This is an approach we’ve advocated for some time, and it’s one that schemes need to turn their attention to as a matter of urgency.

“The difficulty of managing scheme cashflows has been exacerbated by the 2015 pension freedoms. More recently, headlines highlighting the plight of some distressed schemes, and low yields leading to record high transfer values, mean further increases in transfer volumes are likely. Many scheme members have been taking a ‘wait and see’ approach, asking for transfer quotations but not taking action. We think that more could bite the bullet and transfer out over the next year.

“By the time schemes are cashflow negative they need to do two things. First, invest in income-generating assets to meet their cashflow requirements. And second, ensure they have protection assets in place to hedge against interest rates and inflation. This is not a big enough priority for many schemes. Many FTSE350 schemes are still too heavily invested in higher risk, potentially higher returning assets. We would expect lower returns for more mature schemes, to reflect the nature of the investments they should be prioritising.

“To meet the cashflow challenge, schemes need to have a clear purpose. Many schemes, despite having a very low target level of risk and the destination of buy-out in the future, are still taking a significant amount of investment risk now. The fall in yields post Brexit mean these targets are further away than ever.

“Re-basing to a long-term run-off objective means investment risk can be dialled down now as returns start to fall. This paves the way for a slow and steady approach to full funding. It also frees up more assets to invest in income generating assets to meet the cashflow challenge.

“Schemes also need to ensure their cashflow projections are accurate. Schemes need liability and cashflow projections that are regularly refreshed with new membership data, rather than based on data that’s up to three years’ out of date from the last triennial valuation. Cashflow planning can’t happen without a move from the anachronistic practices of the past. The technology is available to schemes today and they should harness it to meet the cashflow challenge.”