Wealth Management News

Defined benefit pension schemes look to de-risk

According to consultancy Aon and its Global Risk Survey, defined benefit schemes are increasingly looking to de-risk their investment approach to protect their improved funding levels.

The survey asked 137 UK representatives of schemes of all sizes about their approach to investment and found that three-quarters of schemes now have funding levels higher than they were before the pandemic.

Thanks to the additional availability of funding, just over half of the scheme operators questioned are looking to lower their equity exposure over the next year, while 34 per cent expected to increase their use of credit.

According to similar research within the Pension Protection Fund’s Purple Book, scheme deficits have recovered by £100 billion from their lowest point in the pandemic, with overall funding in the sector standing at 102.8 per cent.

Calum Mackenzie, partner at Aon, said: “Since the initial market reaction to COVID-19, pension scheme funding levels have recovered, and many schemes are in a better place than at the start of 2020.

“As an unprecedented number of schemes are seeking buyout, it is no surprise that they are also adjusting their investment strategies in line with that.

“More than 50 per cent of respondents have reduced their equity allocation over the past two years and we expect this trend to continue.

“We have not only seen schemes offsetting exposure to equities with credit purchases, but also an increase in interest rate hedging — 74 per cent of respondents now have interest rate hedges in excess of 80 per cent of their assets. This was true of only 43 per cent of respondents two years ago.”

Mackenzie also noted an increased focus on environmental, social and governance factors, especially climate risk, with 92 per cent of respondents saying they had “considered their ESG policy”, a figure Aon attributed in part to regulatory changes.

“Schemes are also supporting ESG considerations with action — a fifth of schemes have already made changes to their investments, having reviewed their ESG policies over the past two years. These steps have often involved moving to ESG benchmarks, screening out poor ESG holdings, and focusing investment on assets that will make a positive impact on society,” he explained.

“We believe that this is a trend that will continue, as 85 per cent of respondents have either already reviewed or will review climate change risks in the next two years. They will look beyond the physical risks and be proactive, assessing how financial gains can be sought from the transition towards a lower-carbon environment.”

Link: Global Risk Management Survey

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