Longer life expectancy adding billions to pensions bill

2007

It's self-evidently good news that people are living longer. But every extra year added to the life expectancy of the average British worker adds another £15 billion to the private sector's pension bill.

A study by accountancy firm KPMG has concluded that British private sector companies have added some £30 billion to the level of pension liabilities shown in their accounts over just two years.

The reason for this, it said, was solely the increased life expectancy of its pension scheme members.

Currently total British private sector pension liability is around £500 billion, argued KPGM, with FTSE-100 companies bearing the majority of this cost.

Britain's biggest 100 companies added some £25 billion to their balance sheets over 2005 and 2006.

As their approximate overall deficit as of the end of March was also £25 billion, what this meant was that, had life expectancy remained at previously assumed levels, FTSE 100 companies might have been able to wipe out their deficit by now.

But as it is, they remain deeply in the red and are in effect having to pump money in simply to stay at a standstill.

KPMG analysed 200 companies reporting from 31 December 2004 to 31 December 2006.

It concluded that the life expectancy of the average UK pension scheme member assumed by companies at the end of 2006 was around one year higher than at the end of 2005 and two years higher than at the end of 2004.

In addition, companies are assuming that the next generation of pensioners will live on average a year longer than the current generation.

This meant that companies had been forced to date to set aside £10 billion to cover the anticipated extra cost of benefits for this younger group.

Nearly half of the companies surveyed made explicit allowance for the longer life expectancy of the current healthy generation of "baby-boomer" pensioners in their 2006 pension liabilities calculations, almost double the 2005 figure.

Alastair McLeish, head of KPMG's pensions practice, said: "When increasing life expectancy and falling market returns started putting a strain on companies' finances, many closed their defined benefit schemes. But this is not always the best solution.

"Companies are increasingly looking at new ways to approach defined benefit pensions risks. Some have introduced ways of sharing the risk of longer lifetimes with members, for example by setting employee contributions or the level of future benefits to change in line with changes in life expectancy.

"Other employers are considering hedging their pension liabilities using emerging life expectancy derivative products. Whatever strategy is adopted, there is always going to be a need to keep up to date with current thinking in this area and to ensure that the approach to pensions continues to fit with the overall business needs," he added.

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