It said fund AP7 participants were “vulnerable” due to a lack of external controls and supervision, and called on the fund to revise its statement of goals and develop a better means of evaluating its index management and leverage strategy.Lastly, the audit office criticised the Swedish government for failing to focus on these aspects in its own reviews of the fund.AP7 said the fund was working continuously to improve, and saw the review as an “incentive”.And while it found some of the auditor’s recommendations as “reasonable and constructive”, it strongly disagreed on many other points.It described the review as “regrettably misleading”, pointing out that its goal was first and foremost to ensure that those participants who do not make an active selection receive an equally robust pension as those who actively select funds in the system.This goal, according to AP7, was not considered at all in the review, which was “surprising”.While conceding that active management was a “difficult” area, it said the buffer fund had worked hard to find an efficient form of management that balanced risk and return.It also claimed that its approach had outperformed more traditional forms of active management.Since AP7 was launched in 2007, it has returned 52%, compared with 20% for the average saver who selects funds available in the system.AP7 also pointed out that it was subject to comprehensive reviews and monitoring by auditors and the government, and maintained that it had always followed the laws and directives to which it was subject.The fund refuted that there were serious deficiencies in its internal supervision and controls, and said it was sceptical of refining its statement of goals, adding that the audit office had provided no indication of what this should look like. As of the end of 2012, almost 3m Swedes were invested in AP7, which has approximately SEK130bn (€14.6bn) in assets. Sweden’s National Audit Office (Riksrevisionen) has recommended that AP7, the default option in the country’s national defined contribution pension system, end its involvement in active management.In a recently published review of the buffer fund, the Riksrevisionen argued that active management had been of little benefit to the fund’s participants, and that the strategy was ill suited to the shorter investment horizons of those already retired.The review also urged AP7 to continue to develop its internal supervision and controls and strength the independence of these functions, after noting “serious deficiencies” in the area.The Riksrevisionen said savers in AP7 found it difficult to work out what returns they could expect, and pointed out that the fund was not subject to the same regulatory scrutiny as the other funds in the premium pension system.
Barnier expressed regret the Commission had been unable to win full support for its “ambitious” transparency proposals for bonds and derivatives, but said the changes marked an important step “towards greater transparency in this area”.The French commissioner, who last year was forced to shelve proposals to impose capital requirements on pension funds through a revised IORP Directive, added: “Today’s agreement also strengthens the existing rules to ensure effective cooperation between authorities and harmonised administrative sanctions in order to detect and deter breaches of MiFID.”Laura Cox, financial services partner at consultancy PwC, said that while the proposals had taken a long time to agree – the revisions were first tabled by the Commission in October 2011 – it was only the beginning of the process for companies regulated by the directive.She noted that the achieved consensus allowed the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) to begin the consultation process for the detail involved in implementing MiFID II.“The EU is coming more in line with the UK on investor protection measures, including a ban on inducements paid to independent financial advisers and an obligation to design investment products to meet the needs of specified groups of clients,” she added.She said that while much of the focus had been on “a handful of contentious issues”, MiFID II’s enhanced governance requirements would have a much wider impact.“MiFID II will affect all regulated firms in Europe, so firms need to begin assessing the full operational impact of these changes now,” she said. Political agreement on revising the European Commission’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) is only the start of a prolonged process for affected firms, PwC has warned.The consultancy’s comments come the day the European Commission announced that the European Council, Parliament and the executive branch agreed on a number of revisions to the directive following prolonged negotiations.The internal markets commissioner Michel Barnier said in a statement that MiFID II would mean trading would need to shift to “multilateral and well-regulated” trading platforms.“Strict transparency rules will ensure dark trading of shares and other equity instruments that undermine efficient and fair price formation will no longer be allowed,” he said.
The agency said yields for corporate bonds used in International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) would eventually rise and reduce liabilities on that front.“It would take discount rates to move from the current 3.5% to 4.7% to wipe out the current average deficit of £2.7bn based on our sample of UK corporates,” it said.“Low rates have been the main factor behind big increases in corporate pension deficits in the UK and Germany.“But interest rates are expected to increase in the medium term, which will eventually at least partially reverse the deteriorating deficits.“An increase in longevity beyond what has already been factored into expected pension obligations, however, would lead to an increase in deficits and would be highly unlikely to be reversed.“Historically, pension schemes have tended to underestimate these improvements, suggesting their longevity assumptions may have to be revised up,” Fitch’s report added.Fitch said there were few significant changes in longevity assumptions used in company pension scheme accounting in 2014 compared to 2013.The ratings agency said expected increases in interest rates and longevity could offset each other, with its impact on funding depending on the timing of the change, the discount rate and investment returns.“If the longevity assumption improves further in future – the pension deficits will follow suit,” it added. Fitch Ratings has warned German and UK companies that defined benefit (DB) scheme deficits are more susceptible to longevity than low interest rates.The ratings agency said that while a fall in discount rates used by DB schemes had recently driven up liabilities, its impact was not a serious as long-term increases in longevity.It calculated that in 19 UK and 14 German listed companies analysed, deficits rose 38% and 44%, respectively, over the course of 2014 – in both cases driven by low interest rates.However, for the UK schemes, Fitch suggested an increase in longevity assumptions by two years would immediately add £1.3bn, or 9.2%, to average deficits in its sample – and would be very unlikely to reverse.
Joanne Segars has stepped down as chair of PensionsEurope after three years in the role, to be succeeded by Janwillem Bouma.Bouma, managing director of Shell’s Dutch pension fund, will begin his term immediately.A member of the Dutch Pension Federation’s board, Bouma only joined PensionsEurope’s board earlier this year following the departure of Benne van Popta.Bouma also succeeded Van Popta as a member of the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority’s pensions stakeholder group. Bouma joined Shell in 1987 and has worked in various areas of finance for the business since then.He served as CFO at Shell Sulphur until 2010, when he was named managing director of Shell’s defined benefit fund.In 2013, he became executive director of its new defined contribution arrangement.He also sits on the board of the ANWB Pension Fund, the scheme for employees of the Dutch automotive association.Bouma paid tribute to Segars’s three years as chair, which saw her succeed Patrick Burke as chair of the European Federation of Retirement Provision, later rebranded as PensionsEurope, and laid out his vision for his time as chair.“Working together with the European institutions to develop practical solutions for the challenges we face in pensions, I will do my utmost to ensure our voice is heard by the European institutions and to promote good pensions for the citizens of Europe,” Bouma said.“The review of the IORP Directive will be essential, but we will also be working on cross-border issues and our role in providing long-term investments in this uncertain economic environment.”The association’s general assembly also re-elected Pierre Bollon of France’s AFG and Jerry Moriarty of the Irish Association of Pension Funds as its vice-chairs.Segars will remain a member of the board in her capacity as chief executive of the UK’s Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association.PensionsEurope also welcomed two new member associations, the Bulgarian Association of Supplementary Pension Security Companies (BASPSC) and the Lithuanian Investment and Pension Funds Association (LIPFA). BASPSC represents nine member companies worth €4.5bn, while LIPFA represents the interests of companies in Lithuania’s decade-old second pillar, now worth €2bn.Matti Leppälä, PensionsEurope’s director general, stressed the importance of further associations joining from Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries.He said: “It is important we grow stronger in the CEE region, and we hope others will follow the Bulgarian and Lithuanian example, so their voice can be heard at EU level too.”
The pension fund posted an overall return of 10.6% in 2016, including a 3% gain from its interest rate hedge. It said it had reduced hedging coverage from 60% to 50% of the portfolio, following dropping interest rates, as part of its dynamic hedge.Its equity holdings returned 10.1%. Within this, passively managed investments in Europe gained 8.2% while active emerging markets allocations gained 13.9%.The scheme also hedged 50% of the currency exposure of its worldwide equity holdings to the dollar, the yen, and the pound, while hedging an equal stake of its European equity against the pound.The scheme’s diversified fixed income portfolio – of euro-denominated government bonds, credit, high yield, and emerging market debt – returned 6.4%.PostNL said it had also started investing in small cap equities and Dutch residential mortgages.The scheme’s 8% property holdings – predominantly non-listed real estate in Europe, Asia, and North America – delivered 11%, with actively and passively managed property yielding 12.7% and 3.4%, respectively.PostNL based its investment policy on a multi-manager approach through investment funds of TKP Investments as well as discretionary portfolios.Outside of the investment portfolio, PostNL said it had improved governance through the appointment of a secretary tasked with preparing the board’s strategic agenda as well as upgrading the structure of the scheme’s advisory committees.It also replaced its external supervisory committee with a supervisory board (RvT).The pension fund reported administration costs per participant of €156, and said it had spent 0.28% and 0.14% on asset management and transaction costs, respectively.At April-end, its funding stood at 112%. The Pensioenfonds PostNL has 95,285 participants in total, of whom 20,640 are active and 29,440 are pensioners. The €8.3bn pension fund for PostNL has more than doubled its strategic equity allocation from 12% to 29% in order to improve its risk-return ratio.In its annual report for 2016, the postal service scheme said the adjustment had come at the expense of its fixed income holdings, which were reduced to 63%.The scheme also simplified its investment portfolio by ceasing the use of options. Explaining the decision, it said the Netherlands’ new financial assessment framework (nFTK) allowed for a longer-term investment approach.In addition, the pension fund decided to divest its swap positions in order to reduce complexity.
OneDB launched in June last year and now has seven clients, with more than 6,000 members and £900m of assets between them. The UK pension fund for drinks company Beam Suntory has appointed Willis Towers Watson to run provide a bundled service including investment, actuarial and administration functions.The £50m (€55m) defined benefit (DB) fund is the latest client of Willis Towers Watson’s OneDB service, an all-in-one offering for DB funds to offer multiple services and help reduce costs.Ron Welsh, chair of the scheme’s trustee board, said Willis Towers Watson was “a natural choice” having previously provided actuarial services for several years.Gareth Strange, head of OneDB, added: “For many corporate sponsors and scheme trustees the burden of managing legacy DB pension schemes is becoming more and more challenging as the regulatory environment, investment options and administration becomes more complex.” Beam Suntory owns the Jim Beam whisky brandBeam Suntory owns a number of alcoholic drink brands, including Jim Beam and Sipsmith.Trustee company wound up after insolvency investigationA UK court has forcibly wound up a trustee company after an Insolvency Service investigation found it had inappropriately invested £14m while overseeing two pension schemes.Ecroignard Trustees was responsible for the Uniway Systems Retirement Benefits Scheme and the Genwick Retirement Benefits Scheme, which had 229 members and £14m of investments between them.Investigators found “numerous instances of misconduct”, the Insolvency Service said, including the use of funds to invest in “vehicles that were illiquid, high-risk and not necessarily suitable for the members”.Ecroignard also “failed to comply with statutory requirements, best practice guidance and internal governance requirements”, the Insolvency Service said. Members were not told of changes to the investments or given a choice to move their pension savings.The trustee firm also “failed to maintain and preserve adequate books and records”, presenting problems to investigators trying to identify all investments and how much each member had contributed.The Insolvency Service also said it was “unclear” who had been in charge of the company for the past two years. Former director Roger Bessent resigned in April 2017 and was banned from holding company management roles in November that year. However, he remained the sole signatory on Ecroignard’s bank account until October 2018.Investigators reported that the current official director, Anthony Wakefield, had “insufficient knowledge” of Ecroignard and was unable to provide information – including the schemes’ assets and status.
The Dutch Pensions Federation has clashed with supervisor De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) over “unnecessary and costly” governance changes at a time when the sector’s attention is focused on external developments.Responding to the watchdog’s proposed extension of the rules for assessing the suitability of people in important roles at pension funds, Edith Maat, the industry organisation’s director, said that DNB was “trying to change the rules during the game”.In a letter to the supervisor, the federation said the proposed policy changes were extensive, contrary to what DNB had initially suggested.According to the industry organisation, DNB wanted to include people in the key positions for audit, risk management and actuarial matters – prescribed by the European pensions directive IORP II – in its screening process. Edith Maat, Dutch Pensions Federation“Pension funds must be enabled to govern and to fully focus on the interest of their participants, as they are currently under intense pressure from fast developments in the sector”Edith Maat, Pensions FederationThe federation also noted that the regulator intended to extend its assessment framework to the suitability criterion of having “sufficient time for the job”.As a consequence, pension funds would have to spend “a disproportional amount of time for internal reorganisation, rather than tackling external developments”, said Maat.The Pensions Federation argued that DNB’s plan lacked a legal basis, while the higher implementation costs and increased regulatory pressure hadn’t been balanced against “benefits and necessity”.It highlighted that pension fund governance had continuously been subject to change since 2012, and that it had strongly improved in the meantime.The organisation argued that DNB’s approach hampered the implementation of significant changes to the pensions system as it would destabilise scheme governance.“Pension funds must be enabled to govern and to fully focus on the interest of their participants, as they are currently under intense pressure from fast developments in the sector,” said Maat, referring to looming cuts to pension rights and benefits .Several pension funds have chosen to liquidate and transfer arrangements to other providers in recent months, citing increased regulatory pressure and rising costs.According to the FD, DNB said that “in particular in a challenging financial environment, a solid governance is needed to take the right decisions”.It said it disputed the organisation’s claim that DNB had used too liberal an interpretation of the law for the justification of its proposals, adding that it wanted to discuss the matter with the federation. The proposals would enable DNB to re-screen existing trustees that had been allocated a key position.Speaking to Dutch financial newspaper FD, Maat said pension funds would have to hire new staff for key positions. She compared the proposed additional rules to a “Christmas tree” of supervision and questioned the value of the proposals.
A shareholder resolution focussed on pushing French oil and gas major on target-setting for emission reductions was rejected by 83% of votes cast, although the 17% ‘for’ vote was welcomed by the co-filers as dispatching a “strong signal”.In a statement, the French-heavy group of 11 investors* behind the shareholder resolution declared themselves “very satisfied” by the level of support expressed at Friday’s meeting, arguing it was all the more significant because French law meant they had had to couch their request in terms of an amendment to the company’s bylaws. The co-filers also noted “negative recommendations from certain international proxy advisory agencies” and said they would be paying attention to the level of abstentions as a potential “complementary signal from shareholders”.The shareholder resolution is said to be the first environmental shareholder resolution to be filed at a French company. Its approval would have required the company’s management report to set out an action plan for the setting of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, including those generated by customers’ use of Total’s products (Scope 3). Total’s board had opposed the shareholder resolution for reasons including the company having adopted an “ambition” to be carbon neutral by 2050 and that resolution “would lead to [the] company being responsible for emissions on which it is not able to act, as only customers have direct control”.The net-zero emissions ambition, which was announced after the shareholder resolution was first unveiled, follows engagement with investors working through Climate Action 100+.Directors’ duties bylaws amendThe board also argued against the shareholder resolution by noting its proposal to amend its bylaws to “enshrine consideration of the social and environmental challenges involved in the company’s activities in the duties of the board of directors”.This resolution, which also involves the company taking on a European corporate form, was passed at the AGM with 98% of votes cast.During the meeting itself, which was a webcast closed session, chair and chief executive officer Patrick Pouyanné said the “constructive” dialogue with Climate Action 100+ was “preferable to a resolution that we were threatened with during several weeks and the contents of which were only made clear to us when it was filed”.He said its new carbon neutrality ambition was “strong and demanding” but that Total would only be able to meet it “with customers, with civil society, with the governments of countries in which we operate because governments will need to implement policies to support the carbon neutrality”. Offshore oil operationOne of the investors that voted against the shareholder resolution was PhiTrust, a French shareholder engagement and impact investing company that has been engaging with Total for several years, including on making environmental and social responsibility an integral part of the board of directors’ duties – as approved by the vast majority of shareholders on Friday.“We are delighted that the dialogue we have been engaged in with Total for more than 10 years, as well as with other institutional investors, has led Total’s managers to make major changes to their strategy, taking into account the need to produce ‘clean energy’ as quickly as possible, although we would be very pleased if this could be done more quickly,” a spokeswoman told IPE.‘Congratulations to both’In the UK, defined contribution master trust NEST had previously said it would be voting in favour of the shareholder resolution, backing the call that a more ambitious Scope 3 emissions reduction target was needed.“We have seen a positive trend of companies and shareholder resolution co-filers coming much closer together on their climate objectives”Councillor Doug McMurdo, chair of LAPFFThe Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) reacted to the outcome of the Total shareholder meeting by saying it “congratulates both Total and shareholders wishing to encourage the company’s climate change response for putting forth resolutions at the company’s AGM”.Councillor Doug McMurdo, chair of LAPFF, said: “We have seen a positive trend this proxy season of companies and shareholder resolution co-filers coming much closer together on their climate objectives.“As it did with Barclays, LAPFF is pleased to support both Total’s steps forward and calls by the resolution co-filers to improve transparency around the company’s move in the right direction on its climate aims.”At NGO ShareAction, campaign manager Jeanne Martin said Total’s new climate commitments were “verging on greenwashing”. She argued that the voting result on the shareholder resolution today constituted “a significant revolt against the company, which attempted to counter this resolution by announcing an ambition that fails to address its ever increasing investments in fossil fuels”.It’s a wrapTotal’s general meeting on Friday wrapped up the 2020 proxy voting season at oil majors.In Europe, Royal Dutch Shell and Equinor also faced shareholder climate resolutions focussed on target-setting. Promoted by shareholder campaign group Follow This, they were rejected by shareholders but with more support than in previous years.At Shell the Follow This resolution got 14.4% of the vote at its AGM, more than double the last time it was voted on, and at Equinor it got received 27% of the non-governmental votes, up from 12% in 2019.For Follow This founder Mark van Baal, the votes on the Total shareholder resolution meant that “[f]or the third time this month, responsible investors have sent a clear signal to an oil major.”At US-listed Exxon Mobil, shareholder resolutions on lobbying and splitting the roles of chairperson and CEO were backed by 37.5% and 32.7% of the vote, respectively, with an average of 93.6% of the votes in favour of directors’ re-election.Edward Mason, the now former head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners, said the results were “clear evidence of shareholders’ desire for change”.In the UK, the asset management industry lobby group maintains a public register of listed companies that have received significant opposition by shareholders to a resolution, with “significant” starting with a vote against of 20%.This is based on 2016 guidance on remuneration reporting from GC100 group of general counsel and company secretaries working in FTSE 100 companies.*The Total climate shareholder resolution was led by French asset manager Meeschaert with most of the other investors being French asset managers although Actiam from the Netherlands and Benelux asset manager Candriam are also involved, as is UK asset owner Friends Provident Foundation. Combined they hold around 1.36% of Total’s issued share capital. Total said the group of Climate Action 100+ investors with which it engaged represented more than 25% of the company’s shareholders.To read the digital edition of IPE’s latest magazine click here.
Jose Marques, Willis Towers WatsonAt end-March 2020, debt formed 64% of Portuguese pension fund portfolios, including 34% held directly in government bonds, according to data from regulator ASF and from the Association of Investment Funds, Pension Funds and Asset Management.Equities made up 18% and real estate 12% of portfolios at that date.Marques told IPE: “I believe most pension funds in Portugal are recognising the difficulty of making predictions about the future, and therefore avoiding big tactical positions based on uncertain forecasts.”He added: “We have noticed a significant increase of interest from pension funds in ensuring that they have diversified portfolios that are more resilient to market falls, and not so reliant on equity returns and interest rate levels.”To read the digital edition of IPE’s latest magazine click here. The Q1 losses brought the average annualised returns for Spanish occupational funds to -0.58% for the three years to end-March 2020, and 0.03% for the five-year period to that date, said Inverco.The PIPS survey showed that median returns for Q1 2020 were -8.6%. The survey covered a large sample of pension funds, most of them occupational schemes.Bellavista told IPE: “Non-euro equity exposure, which has been growing in the past five years to represent around 50% of the equity exposure, has been the main driver of return during this V-shaped recovery, performing better than euro equity.”However, he said non-euro fixed income was the main asset contributing a positive return for the year to date, although other fixed income growth assets such as credit and high yield had also made positive returns in the past two months.And he added that within alternatives – still with low allocations in most corporate pension funds, but being built up – assets such as private equity or certain hedge fund strategies are also contributing positive returns for the year to date.In terms of asset allocation, he told IPE: “Some funds have taken quick decisions to seize the opportunity offered by widening credit spreads, and have increased allocation to credit and high yield, reducing their cash exposure.”Meanwhile, according to Inverco, non-domestic equities continued to be the largest asset class for pension funds as a whole, although the allocation fell to 20% of assets over the first quarter. The equity allocation also fell, to 32.2% of assets.Fixed income rose over the first quarter, to 46.4% of portfolios, with Spanish government bonds still the biggest segment, at 19.4% of assets.Inverco said that at the end of March, total assets under management for the Spanish occupational pensions sector stood at €33.1bn, a 4.7% decrease over the past year.Portuguese funds pull back -8.1% Q1 lossPortuguese occupational pension funds recovered most of their first-quarter losses during April and May, as both equities and credit quickly rebounded after COVID-19 shocks, according to José Marques, director of retirement at Willis Towers Watson (WTW).The market slump had led to an average return of -8.1% for Portugal’s occupational pension funds over the first quarter of 2020, according to the consultants. This compared with an average return of 1.2% for Q4 2019.The 12-month return to 31 March 2020 was similarly affected by market volatility, with a -4.4% result, compared with 8.2% for calendar 2019, when markets had performed spectacularly well.Even longer-term results were negative: -0.6% annualised for the three years to end-March 2020, and -0.4% for the five years to that date.Performance figures were submitted to WTW by around 75% of the pension funds in Portugal, the overwhelming majority of them occupational funds.Marques said that during the first quarter, government bonds from core countries such as the US, UK and Germany performed very well, as investors sought safer assets.He added: “Public debt from non-core European countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy had poorer performances, and this affected some pension schemes in Portugal who tend to have an overweight to domestic public debt.”However, government bonds from countries not perceived as safe havens contributed to the recovery in the following two months, Marques said. Spain’s occupational pension funds have made a “significant” recovery since March, with an estimated return of 3.4%, according to Mercer’s Pension Investment Performance Service (PIPS).This brings the year-to-date performance at end-May 2020 to -5.5%, said Xavier Bellavista, principal at the consultancy.Market volatility had led to negative results for Spanish occupational pension funds in the first quarter of 2020, giving an average -4.26% return over the 12 months to 31 March 2020, according to the country’s Investment and Pension Fund Association (Inverco).This compared with a gain of 8.7% for calendar 2019.
Allianz France has launched a €13bn “fonds de retraite professionelle supplémentaire (FRPS), a new type of financing vehicle that some French insurance-based pension providers have been setting up.Regulatory approval for the creation of the vehicle, which Allianz France has named Allianz Retraite, was granted last week, according to a statement.Now housing the retirement business previously assigned to Allianz France, it has €13bn in assets covering 650,000 individuals and 20,000 companies.A key feature of the FRPS vehicles is that they are not subject to Solvency II requirements. “Allianz France has chosen to transfer all its retirement activities to Allianz Retraite, which will be able to invest over the long term in line with the investment horizon of policyholders,” said Sylvain Coriat, member of the insurer’s executive committee of Allianz France.“Freed from the short-term constraints of Solvency II regulations, this entity will be able to invest sustainably in equities, infrastructures and support for the national economy, thanks to a solid solvency which will exceed four times the regulatory margin.”The creation of the FRPS comes after the insurer earlier this year launched two new defined contribution retirement savings solutions, one for individuals and one for employers, under the Plan d’Epargne pour la Retraite (PER) wrapper introduced by the PACTE reform.“As a long-term player, Allianz France is pleased that the PACTE law has given new impetus to group retirement savings products,” said Jacques Richier, chair and CEO of Allianz France.“The time was therefore ideal to create our FRPS. It will allow Allianz France to support employees and the liberal professions* in preparing for their retirement.”Aviva, Malakoff-Médéric and Sacra are other among five other providers that have set up FRPS vehicles and as far as IPE is aware Allianz’s is the largest by assets.*Liberal professions refers to a wide-ranging regulated category of self-employed occupations in France.Looking for IPE’s latest magazine? Read the digital edition here.