Tag Archives: defined benefit

Corporate pension contributions reach record-level in 2017, funding status improved to 86.0%

Milliman today released the results of its 2018 Corporate Pension Funding Study (PFS), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. Overall, this year’s study found that in 2017 corporate pension contributions hit $62 billion, tying the amount contributed in 2012 for the highest contributions since the inception of the PFS. Seventeen employers contributed at least $1 billion to their plans, with seven of them contributing more than $2 billion.

There were incentives to increase contributions in 2017. Additional contributions can both reduce the PBGC premiums paid by these plans, and allow them to leverage higher tax deductions in light of tax reform enacted at the end of 2017. It’s a trend that’s likely to flourish in 2018, as plan sponsors with calendar year plans can continue to leverage those higher 2017 tax deductions with contributions made prior to September 15 of this year.

The funded ratio for the Milliman 100 plans rose from 81.1% in 2016 to 86.0% in 2017, an increase due largely to strong investment returns coupled with a modest decline in life expectancy assumptions, and the higher level of plan contributions as noted above. Funding ratios for plans ranged from a low of 62.4% for American Airlines to a high of 155.0% for NextEra Energy, Inc.

Other key highlights from the 2018 study include:

Analysis of asset gains. Strong investment returns added $175 billion to the Milliman 100 plans, with a 12.7% rate of return (compared to an expected investment return of 6.8%). Pension assets for the Milliman 100 plans increased to an all-time high of $1.55 trillion.

Analysis of discount rate and pension liabilities. The median discount rate as of year-end 2017 declined to 3.60%, down 37 basis points from 3.97% the year before. Pension liabilities for the Milliman 100 plans increased to an all-time high of $1.80 trillion.

Pension Risk Transfer (PRT) market matures. The 2017 PRT activity for the Milliman 100 plans was slightly smaller than in 2016, with an estimated $12.7 billion in reported dollar volume.

To view the complete Pension Funding Study, click here. To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

International M&A deals can benefit from independent actuarial valuations

A Milliman client, a global information technology (IT) company, acquired an operation in Spain. Along with the acquisition came the operation’s local retirement program, with its associated assets and liabilities, including a defined benefit (DB) pension obligation.

As part of the acquisition process, an actuary—appointed by the seller—carried out an actuarial valuation of the existing local retirement liability. Not long after the acquisition, the company asked Milliman to carry out the actuarial valuations for accounting purposes, covering operations in several countries.

To read more about the work Milliman did—and to learn why expert international actuarial advice is so important for successful global M&A deals—see Dominic Clark’s article here.

Bitcoin considerations for retirement plan sponsors

Bitcoin is a digital “currency” or cryptocurrency not tied to a sovereign or bank. It is mainly a tool for transactions (purchase of goods, payment of services), and the number of bitcoins is governed by the blockchain technology that underlies its use.

Bitcoin is most popular with people and institutions on the leading edge of technology, and a large number of investors, rather than the everyday consumer. Very few businesses currently accept bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies as payment, but cryptocurrencies are being used by a small number of companies and may be used more often in the coming years.

In this article, Milliman’s Charles Hodge discusses bitcoin and whether it is an appropriate investment vehicle for retirement plan sponsors.

Corporate pensions’ investment losses in February buoyed by higher discount rates

Milliman has released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. Despite the market volatility in February, these pensions experienced a $13 billion improvement in funded status thanks to an increase in the corporate bond rates used to measure pension liabilities. While the market value of assets for these pensions lost $32 billion in February, plan liabilities also shrunk, narrowing the deficit from $219 billion at the end of January to $206 billion as of February 28. The funded ratio for the Milliman 100 PFI rose from 87.3% to 87.7% during the same time period.

Despite the recent market volatility, February’s 21 basis point discount rate increase buoyed pension funding this month. In fact, thanks to strong investment performance in January along with an increase in discount rates in both January and February, overall pension funding for these plans has risen $75 billion over the past two months—not a bad way to start 2018.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.45% by the end of 2018 and 5.05% by the end of 2019) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 99% by the end of 2018 and 114% by the end of 2019. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.45% discount rate at the end of 2018 and 2.85% by the end of 2019 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 82% by the end of 2018 and 75% by the end of 2019.

To view the complete Pension Funding Index, click here. To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

Dealing with disability claim procedures: Plan sponsors need foolproof plan by April 1

In order to avoid an unwanted April Fools’ Day surprise, employee benefit plan sponsors need to review their existing ERISA claims procedures and plan documents to determine whether any revisions are required to comply with the new U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations that become effective for disability claims filed after April 1, 2018.

Which types of plans may be subject to the new rules?
The rules potentially apply to any ERISA employee benefit plan that provides disability benefits. As a result, in addition to employers’ health and welfare plans, all qualified retirement plans, whether they are defined contribution or defined benefit, need to be reviewed. Furthermore, while exempt from many of ERISA’s provisions, nonqualified deferred compensation plans are not exempt from the ERISA claims procedures requirements and thus must also be checked. This blog will only discuss the rules as they pertain to qualified and nonqualified retirement plans.

Which plans will have to change their procedures to comply with the new rules?
The good news is that not all plans of the types described above will have to revise their claims procedures. The only ones that are affected by the new rules are those that grant the plan administrator the authority and discretion to determine a participant’s disability status. If the plan’s “disability” definition provides that a participant is considered disabled if such participant qualifies for disability benefits either under Social Security or the plan sponsor’s long-term disability plan, then the new rules don’t apply and no change is required.

What are the new rules?
In general, the updated claims procedure rules require impartiality and independence in decision-making and will require plan administrators to go through additional steps and provide more detailed information when denying claims (either initially or upon appeal). In addition, the rules specify circumstances under which plans will be required to include culturally and linguistically appropriate language in denial notices and offer translation assistance.

For more information, please see the DOL Fact Sheet’s description of the rules here.

What should affected plan sponsors do before April 1?
For those sponsors of plans that currently leave disability determinations to the plan administrator, there are two options:

(1) Amend the plan’s disability provisions so that, effective for claims filed after April 1, 2018, participants’ eligibility for disability benefits under Social Security or the plan sponsor’s long-term disability plan will qualify such participants for disability benefits under the plan.

(2) Administer any claims after April 1 in accordance with the new rules. If this option is elected, and the plan document currently includes a detailed description of the claims procedures, the plan document will need to be amended, effective for claims filed after April 1, 2018, to reflect the new rules so that the plan will be administered in accordance with the plan’s terms. A summary of material modifications to the plan’s summary plan description will also be needed to communicate the change to participants.

Given the complexity of the new ERISA claims procedure requirements for disability claims, plan sponsors may wish to consider option 1 if they wish to avoid having to administer and communicate these rules. However, before proceeding with this alternative, they will need to first consult their ERISA advisers to ensure that their current plan provisions may be amended without violating the applicable Internal Revenue Service (IRS) anti-cutback rules for any plan provided disability benefits or rights already earned before the amendment effective date.

If you have any questions regarding the new rules or the above-described two alternatives, please contact your Milliman consultant.