Category Archives: Pensions

Plan-specific substitute mortality tables

In October 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released final regulations prescribing new mortality tables that apply to single-employer defined benefit pension plans for the purpose of calculating the actuarial liabilities for minimum funding requirements, benefit restrictions, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) variable-rate premiums. As with the prior regulations, the new regulations give plan sponsors the option to use either the standard mortality tables developed by the IRS, or to develop plan-specific mortality tables.

The new regulations significantly revised the rules regarding plan-specific substitute mortality tables. Under the prior rules, a plan was required to have fully credible mortality experience in order to use substitute mortality tables. The new rules allow for the use of substitute mortality tables for plans with smaller populations that do not have fully credible mortality experience. As a result, Treasury and the IRS expect that significantly more plan sponsors will request approval to use substitute mortality tables.

Using substitute mortality tables should theoretically improve the fit between expected and actual mortality rates, thereby producing smaller experience gains and losses over time. In addition, for plans employing a workforce that exhibits heavier mortality than the standard tables, using substitute mortality tables could potentially lower both minimum required contributions and PBGC variable-rate premiums.

For these reasons, plan sponsors may want to consider the use of substitute mortality tables. A written request must be submitted by the plan sponsor at least seven months before the first day of the first plan year for which the substitute mortality tables are to apply.

Note that the regulations do not allow plan sponsors to use plan-specific tables for determining minimum lump-sum values; standard IRS tables continue to be used for this purpose.

Outsourcing enhances a small pension plan’s administration

When a small pension plan disaffiliated from its larger pension group, it lost access to the retirement system infrastructure that helped administer its plan. In this article, employee benefits analyst Julie Sinke explains the sponsor’s decision to fully outsource its plan administration to Milliman and how the firm provided a more efficient and streamlined solution.

Change in amortization methodology reduces pension expense

Ninety percent of one pension plan’s expense was tied to its loss amortization component. The fact that this single component of pension expense influenced the results so heavily caused Milliman consultants to look more deeply into the loss amortization method in order to address the plan sponsor’s concerns. In this article, Michael Mikhitarian explains how the firm worked with the sponsor and its auditor to change the plan’s amortization methodology to reduce pension expense.

Public pension funding improves by $36 billion in Q3

Milliman today released the third quarter results of its Public Pension Funding Index (PPFI), which consists of the nation’s 100 largest public defined benefit pension plans. In Q3 2017, these plans experienced a $36 billion improvement as a result of strong investment performance. In aggregate, these plans saw investment returns of 2.97%, with a spread ranging from a low of 1.63% to a high of 3.83%. The funded status of the Milliman 100 PPFI climbed from 70.7% at the end of June to 71.6% as of September 30.

These plans are moving in the right direction, with two more crossing the 90% funded mark in Q3, bringing the total to 16 plans with 90% funding or above. But that progress is hampered as plan sponsors reduce their interest rate assumptions to reflect current market expectations—something one-third of the plans in this study have done in their latest reported fiscal years.

The Milliman 100 PPFI total pension liability (TPL) increased from $4.871 trillion at the end of Q2 to an estimated $4.908 trillion at the end of Q3. The TPL is expected to grow modestly over time as interest on the TPL and the accrual of new benefits outpaces the benefits paid to retirees. Asset values for these plans have increased from $3.443 trillion to $3.517 trillion during the same time period; and while investments brought in approximately $102 billion, the plans collectively paid out $28 billion more in benefits than they took in from contributions.

To view the Milliman 100 Public Pension Funding Index, click here.

To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

One-third of 100 largest public pensions reduced interest rate assumptions in latest reported fiscal year

Milliman today released the results of its 2017 Public Pension Funding Study (PPFS), which analyzes funding levels of the nation’s 100 largest public pension plans, including an independent assessment on the expected real return of each plan’s investments.

As of June 30, 2017, the estimated aggregate funded ratio of the nation’s largest public pension plans is 70.7%, up from 67.7% at the end of the plans’ latest reported fiscal years (generally June 30, 2016). Total assets for these plans at their fiscal year-ends were reported at $3.19 trillion, and as of June 30, 2017, are estimated to have jumped to a combined $3.44 trillion thanks to strong market performance in late 2016 and early 2017. As for Total Pension Liability (TPL), the Milliman 100 public plans reported at their latest fiscal year-ends an aggregate TPL of $4.72 trillion, covering more than 26 million members; this figure is estimated to have risen to $4.87 trillion as of June 30, 2017.

An in-depth analysis by Milliman, however, estimates these plans’ total liabilities could be even higher. Based on the market’s consensus views that long-term investment returns have been declining, the study recalibrated TPL for each plan using independently determined interest rate assumptions. For this study, we use the term “interest rate” to indicate the assumption the plan sponsor has chosen to determine contribution amounts, and the term “discount rate” to indicate the rate used to measure liabilities for financial reporting purposes. In aggregate, Milliman estimates the recalibrated TPL for the Milliman 100 plans is $4.98 trillion as of their fiscal year-ends–$260 billion higher than reported by sponsors.

In this low-interest-rate environment, market expectations on investment returns have been falling faster than plan sponsors can reassess rates. And the gap that creates between sponsor-reported and our recalibrated market-based liabilities is widening, which is all the more reason plans should continue to monitor emerging investment return expectations and adjust their assumptions as needed.

While plan sponsors report a median discount rate of 7.50% (with a spread of 6.50% to 8.50%), Milliman’s assessment of the expected real return for each plan’s investments puts the median rate at 6.71%-lower than all but six of the 100 sponsor-reported rates. Despite one-third of the plans lowering their discount rates since the last study, this gap between sponsor-reported and independently determined rates continues to widen, indicating that further reductions in discount rates will be likely in the coming years.

To view the Milliman 100 Public Pension Funding Study, click here. To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

Knowing participants’ profiles is becoming increasingly important

The debate about a new pension system in the Netherlands is becoming more and more complicated because of issues including solidarity, labor market flexibility, indexation security and uncertainty about the level of pension income. These subjects are complicated. The question regarding whether pension income from retirement date is high enough in relation to income received in active employment or more relevant to the spending pattern is not often mentioned in this context. The questions about how long pension is to be paid out (lifelong) and how much premium participants are willing to pay for their retirement are rarely discussed.

We suspect that one of the reasons that we find these questions so difficult to answer is because we do not really know about the (ex) participants (workers, retirees and former participants with vested pensions). As a consequence, the pension debate becomes an abstract compensation and benefits discussion focused on a complicated financing component.

Having relevant knowledge about our stakeholders could provide significant benefits. If we know and understand our participants well, then:

• Pensions, even without specific customization, could be fitted to stakeholders more appropriately.
• Choosing the most appropriate financing (in terms of risk, duration and reservation) could be ensured.

Getting knowledge and information about our pension stakeholders can be accomplished in various ways. This may include:

• The pension stakeholders ask the right questions at the right level of knowledge-estimated by using available data (such as salary level and job title)-and in understandable language
• Combining knowledge of our pension stakeholders with external data to gain more insight and to better understand their needs.

A good example is the correlation between education level and life expectancy of participants. The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) regularly publishes that the life expectancy of a Dutch man with a highly qualified education at the academic level is much higher than that of a man who has enjoyed a maximum of elementary school education. Milliman calculated that the remaining life expectancy at the age of 68 for the more highly educated group was more than two years greater than for the other group.

In practice, it appears that data about the training of individual participants is often not available to pension funds. If this information were adequately collected and stored in the near future, then additional analyses could be performed using this data. This contributes to the necessary knowledge and insight into the needs of our pension stakeholders. As a result, not only the expected duration of benefits can be determined, but also, by combining this data with other available data, we could estimate the individual’s income needs. The combination of data and analysis of connections between data can create even greater insight. For example, it makes a big difference whether a participant in a retirement scheme has a physically demanding occupation or a light one, whether he travels regularly or stays at home reading, and whether he maintains a healthy lifestyle or just the opposite.

Collecting knowledge about our participants and analyzing already available knowledge or information (big data) could ensure that we design better pension schemes and that their funding takes place in the most appropriate way.

Let’s start with that today. More knowledge and insight into participant profiles helps both the employer and the performer get better “demonstrable in control” information regarding their pension commitments, provisions, and HRM policies.