The publication of the Pensions Regulators first annual funding statement has already elicited a considerable response from actuaries and others involved in the pensions industry.
In today’s statement setting out how schemes should approach funding the regulator acknowledges the difficult economic situation and says struggling schemes will be given 'breathing space' to fill deficits.
Huw Evans, from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, welcomed the statement and said the Profession 'fully endorses' its emphasis on managing funding risks without being too prescriptive in the approach used.
'Actuaries have the necessary skills to give the advice that trustees and sponsors will need in dealing with these risks. We shall be working closely with the Regulator to ensure that actuaries play their part in ensuring these risks are identified, measured and managed effectively,' he said.
'The statement makes it clear that the scheme funding regime has the flexibility to remain fit for purpose even in extreme conditions, and that trustees and employers should look for evidence based solutions to address the risks that they face.'
He added: 'On 10 April 2012 the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries hosted an event to discuss the impact of low bond yields on pension schemes at which it was concluded that it was important that actuaries should illustrate the impact of a broad range of future yield scenarios to their clients. We are pleased that the Regulator also believes that schemes should undertake such contingency planning,'
Phil Wadsworth, chief actuary at JLT, welcomed the 'clarification' given by the regulator, and the acknowledgement of the impact the economic situation was having on schemes.
'The Regulator was in a very difficult situation,' he said. 'It could hardly permit a wholesale weakening of bases, having spent the last seven years getting schemes to where they are. Therefore tackling this in the recovery plans is entirely reasonable and consistent.
'JLT now looks forward to working with its clients and the Regulator to achieve consistent
Jonathan Smith, UK strategic solutions at Schroders, said that schemes hoping for leeway on the discount rate in light of current low bond yields would be disappointed by the statement. But, he said, there was potential breathing space for schemes with sound integrated funding and investment plans.
Commenting on the statement's implications for investment strategy, he said: 'Schemes need to prepare themselves if yields continue to fall, as it now looks unlikely that that TPR will provide a lifeline. For many trustees, this will push funding level risk management further up the agenda.
'Furthermore, more so than ever, it is clear that schemes need to think holistically about how they fund their scheme and invest their assets. In its guidance TPR emphasises that any risk in the pension scheme must be supported by the sponsor's covenant (i.e. its ability to plug deficits if risks do not pay off). For schemes with weaker covenants this means thinking carefully about the types of risks they are taking, be they rewarded or unrewarded, and potentially using a wider range of tools to manage risk and generate return.
He added: 'Finally, trustees need to be able to demonstrate that they have a plan - a plan if things continue to deteriorate, but also a plan to capture funding level gains if these do materialise.'
John Broome-Saunders, actuarial director at Broadstone, said: 'We have to reflect the world we are in, not the one we would like to be in and that world could continue for many years to come.'
'It is about time that scheme sponsors stopped treating pension scheme trustees as a soft target - they need to wake up and realise that repayment of pension scheme debt is not somehow optional particularly when you hear that corporate Britain is sitting on a reported colossal £750bn cash pile.'