Concerned have been raised about insurers’ capacity to manage defined benefit assets in future, with Mick McAteer, co-director of the Financial Inclusion Centre calling for a “full investigation” into this issue.
Speaking at Corporate Adviser’s summit, McAteer expressed concerns about the rate at which insurance companies were now “hoovering up” DB assets, via buy-outs, as more of these schemes moving into surplus.
McAteer claimed some insurance balance sheets may not be robust enough to ensure payouts continue in the wake of future economic shocks, and he blamed “weaker” Solvency II regulations for exacerbating this issue.
He called for the regulation of these schemes transfer to be switched from the The Pensions Regulator to the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) — whose primary role is to assess whether banks, insurers and other financial firms are financially sound.
McAteer’s comment came in a panel discussion which looked at how the main political parties might develop pension policy in the run up to a general election.
There was also concerns about new government proposals to encourage pension schemes to invest in the UK private assets and the UK economy via ‘productive finance’.
Shula PR and Policy founder Darren Philp said it was important to look at whether these Mansion House proposals were in the interests pension members. “This is the lens this needs to be viewed through, not the wider economic focus.
“Trustees need to look at whether these proposals can done while putting members’ interests first.”
McAteer added that he would like to see more transparency around productive finance. He said pension funds might be seen as a source of finance for government, but schemes will only invest in infrastructure, social housing or other projects if they are getting a return on their money. “This is likely to lead to higher costs for service users or consumers. It all has to be paid for by someone.” He said that productive finance is in many ways another form of PFI — used to fund schools and hospitals back in the early 2000s, but leaving some tax-payer funded organisations tied into high-paying contracts.
Looking ahead Philp said he would like to see any incoming government start a more radical programme of tax reform and simplification, which would include pensions. “The fact that there were pages and pages of legislation involved in proposals to abolish the lifetime allowance, shows just how complex the tax rules around pensions have become.”
Philp added though that he did not see Labour reinstating the LTA – at least in its current form if they win the next election, despite previous assurances that they would do so.
McAteer agreed that he would like to see tax reform which would include the way tax relief is applied to pensions. “The government spends billions on tax relief on pensions for higher earners for no appreciable benefit when it comes to levels of pension saving.
“This money could be better targeted at those on lower incomes and the self employed.”
McAteer added that he would like to see this as part of a wider focus on financial resilience and boosting the pension provision of those who currently have inadequate savings, while also developing a more effective approach to green finance.
McAteer described the FCA proposals for a new green taxonomy and sustainable labelling as “poorly designed” and “a mess”.
“Firms will be able to be aligned with these new rules but still be financing climate damage at scale.” The new rules will not enable customers, investors or policymakers to see yell “how much climate damage individual financial institutions are financing,” he added.
He pointed out that the industry continues to “mark its own homeowners” on this important issues. Currently there are plans to introduce a new code of conduct for the industry, but the final version of this is being overseen by a panel, the vast majority of which are industry participants.
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