As many as 15 of the UKs 100 largest listed companies are set to offload their defined benefit (DB) pension schemes to insurers in the next three years, new research suggests.
Although few FTSE 100 companies have so far opted for full pension buy-outs, Lane Clark & Peacock (LCP) said there are "clear signs" of acceleration in this direction.
The actuarial consultants found that up to five firms have either closed the shortfall in assets to full buy-out or are not far from doing so, including business services group Rentokil Initial.
If current deficit contribution levels of £7bn per year continue, LCP predicts that this number will rise to 15 by 2021, before increasing to 24 through 2025 and 40 by the end of 2028.
"This would mark the final phase in the move away from final salary pension plans," LCP partner, Charlie Finch, said.
"Few FTSE 100 companies have offloaded in full to an insurer, but an increasing number will be able to - our projections show DB pension plans reaching a new stage in their journeys."
The forecasts come after a record year for buy-ins and buy-outs amid improved funding positions, with total volumes exceeding £20bn in 2018 and beating the 2014 record of £13.2bn.
Rentokil Initial's £1.5bn full buy-out in December 2018 was one of the most high-profile transactions to date, along with Rolls-Royce's £1.1bn buy-out in November 2017.
However, the total buy-out volume of FTSE 100 companies' pension plans so far only amounts to £5bn out of nearly £800bn in liabilities.
If the prediction of up to 40 companies being able to afford a full buy-out by the end of 2028 comes to pass, this would equate to £300bn of pension plan liabilities.
LCP said affordability for full buy-outs has increased significantly since the EU referendum, with the aggregate funding shortfall reducing by 30% to £200bn since August 2016.
Good asset performance, falling life expectancies and competitive pricing by insurers are thought to be driving this trend, with the market showing "no signs of slowing down".
"While market volatility and potential shocks such as a no-deal Brexit could throw de-risking plans off course, there is a clear direction of travel," Finch added.