The number of defined benefit (DB) pension scheme trustees targeting buyouts with insurers in the UK has increased three-fold over the last five years, new research has found.
It reveals that one in three trustees are seeking a buyout outright, compared with just one-tenth back in 2013, with pricing thought to be at its most competitive in a decade.
It was also found that a further 5% are aiming to run their schemes off with a buyout-like level of funding.
Shelly Beard, senior director of transactions at Willis Towers Watson, which carried out the research, said that some schemes might be "closer to a buyout than they think."
For example, she explained how insurance pricing could be keener than an actuary's solvency valuation, or that life expectancy assumptions may have softened since the last valuation.
"Perhaps the biggest question mark concerns the availability of long-term assets carrying an illiquidity premium," she continued.
"Typically, these account for 30% to 40% of the investments a buy-in provider makes to back the pension commitments it takes on. If supply does not keep pace with demand, prices could worsen."
The research shows that 63% of trustees and 68% of pension managers see long-term journey planning as one of their three most important issues over the next three years.
The number of schemes with long-term journey plans, which document these ultimate goals, has remained steady in the past five years, at around two-thirds.
For the remaining third of schemes, 22% are in the process of developing a plan, up from 6% five years ago, with a recent government white paper requiring schemes to be explicit about their long-term objective.
WLTW head of scheme funding, Graham McLean, said: "Focusing on where the scheme ultimately wants to get to sounds like an obvious thing to do.
"In practice, some sponsors may be wary of locking in more demanding long-term targets if they fear this will limit their flexibility when it comes to agreeing contributions over the next few years."
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