Here’s why final salary pension schemes are disappearing

Workers increasingly lose out on access to more lucrative final salary defined benefit (DB) pension schemes, new research shows, as employers struggle to meet ongoing costs.

Employee benefit provider JLT found that just 19 companies listed on the FTSE 100 stock exchange continue to provide access to DB pension schemes, based on ongoing DB service costs of more than 5 per cent of the total payroll.

According to JLT, businesses are on the whole shying away from DB pension schemes due to soaring costs, ‘onerous’ pension regulations, and challenging economic conditions. The company estimates that ongoing DB pension provision has seen an underlying reduction of 15 per cent in the past year.

Of the 10 FTSE 100 companies with the highest DB pension provision levels, nine have significantly cut back their DB service costs in recent times. Tesco closed its DB scheme to new entrants in 2016, and BP has slashed its pension costs from £699 million in 2016 to £590 million in 2017. BAE Systems and Royal Bank of Scotland are close behind in reducing pension costs.  

Shedding light on the astonishing burden that DB schemes have, JLT says that 11 FTSE 100 companies have total disclosed pension liabilities, which are greater than their equity market value (as of 31 March 2017). In particular, International Airlines Group, BT, and Sainsburys have total disclosed liabilities worth almost double their equity market value.

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The total disclosed pension liabilities of FTSE 100 companies rose from £584 billion to £705 billion in 2017.

See the table below for the FTSE 100 top 10 companies’ contributions to DB schemes in 2016 and 2017.

The final demise of DB pension schemes

Charles Cowling, director of JLT Employee Benefits, comments: ‘It is sad to see that we are now witnessing the final demise of DB pension schemes in the UK – at least in the private sector. They have simply become too expensive as an employee benefit.

‘A typical final salary pension scheme now costs employers more than three times the cost of 30 years’ ago, largely as a result of increased longevity and changing market conditions. A DB pension scheme that might have had an employer cost of 10 per cent to 15 per cent of payroll in the late 1980s now costs the same employer well over 40 per cent of payroll – and that is before any allowance for the costs of paying for large deficits.

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‘These costs come up for debate and negotiation at the time of each triennial actuarial valuation. In previous cycles, it has been the smaller schemes that closed the door on future DB benefits for all their members. Now it is the last few massive DB schemes that are closing down. Tesco closed its DB pension scheme in 2016 and Royal Mail is in the process of closing its DB pension scheme. Even the employers for the UK’s largest private sector DB scheme, the Universities Superannuation Scheme, have announced plans to close to all future DB benefits.

‘Employees in much poorer defined contribution (DC) schemes will cast a jealous eye on those lucky individuals still enjoying DB benefits, reflecting not only on how many employers have had to channel the large part of their pension spend on propping up expensive DB schemes, leaving little left for their DC schemes, but also reflecting on how an increasingly large part of their taxes is paying for public sector employees to continue to enjoy the expensive luxury of a gold-plated DB scheme.’  

This article was originally written by our sister publication Moneywise.

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