Pensions get the thumbs down

2004

Employers have claimed that many employees are losing out because they are failing to take advantage of company contributions to pension schemes. But could this be because the type of pension most commonly offered have lost their gloss?

Research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Mercer Human Resource Consulting shows that almost all (96 per cent) employers provide occupational schemes or contributed to individuals' private pensions.

Eight out of ten said they want to help employees plan for retirement and three-quarters firmly believe that offering a pension scheme helps to recruit and retain staff.

But the survey also highlights the rapid demise of final salary (defined benefit) schemes that guarantee a fixed level of pension in favour of riskier money purchase (defined contribution) pensions whose value depends on the returns made on the stock market.

Over the last two years, four out of ten firms have shifted away from final salary to defined contribution schemes for new employees with a further one in ten saying they will be changing in the coming 12 months.

"The cost of defined benefit pension provision has risen sharply in recent years," said Mercer's Peter Thompson. "Many employers are having to contribute large, unplanned amounts to defined benefit schemes, which explains why so many companies have now closed them to new members."

Two thirds of employers have kept defined benefit schemes for existing employees, but only a quarter of companies now offer them to new employees - half the number of a decade ago.

The survey found that almost half (48 per cent) of employees had the opportunity to join a defined benefit scheme and 38 per cent a defined contribution scheme.

But while the survey showed that employers are still committed to providing pensions, is also clear that what they are offering is not proving particularly attractive to many employees. More than eight out of ten (83 per cent) of those eligible joined defined benefit schemes, but the take-up for defined contribution schemes was fewer than four out of ten (38 per cent).

CBI's deputy director general, John Cridland, said: "The pensions issue has received enormous public attention so it's deeply worrying that, despite the efforts of business, so many employees are failing to see beyond tomorrow and are rejecting employers' attempts to help secure their future."

Asked to predict pension provision in ten years time companies were clear that defined contribution schemes will dominate. They will be the main form of pension for six out of ten companies.

Looking further ahead, there is growing interest in hybrid schemes - a combination of defined benefit and defined contribution - which share the risk between employers and employees. Many senior executives expressed the view that future retirement savings need to be more flexible and will probably involve products such as share plans and ISAs.

Acording to John Cridland: "These findings indicate that a major shift may be under way from occupational pension schemes to a much more flexible range of savings products. As people live longer and retire later so the whole concept of retirement pensions will also change. Employers believe that new savings routes will be more suitable to meet employees' evolving needs."