Friday, 4 January 2008

'Milking' pension schemes

Here's a bit of strange comment from a marketing person at Gissings (a second-tier actuarial firm). It is in response to news that both the Pension Protection Fund levy and the general levy (that pays for the Pensions Regulator, Ombudsman etc) are increasing:

"Surely these organisations must realise that cost control is vital. They cannot allow themselves to be considered to be arrogantly milking pension schemes at will. What they are doing is tantamount to a tax on pension funds."

According to the story the comment appeared in - which is here - the levies will jointly total £62m over the following year, of which about £20m is for the PPF. Funnily enough the NAPF also makes a bit of a point about the increase in levies, which it says have gone up 530% since 2005 (see the table at the bottom of page 3 of this release).

So here come my grumbles. First the increase in levies isn't that surprising given that the PPF one is only a couple of years old (which probably explains the NAPF figure) plus the evolving nature of it. Equally some of us think its a good thing that pension schemes pay levies that fund a protection fund that covers all of them (like an insurance policy) and as such incentivises responsible stewardship of assets.

But more annoying is the idea that this is 'milking' pension funds. For one, these levies have a clear purpose. Also people who work for the likes of the PPF, Pensions Regulator, Ombudsman etc I have no doubt are paid less than other organisations - like consulting actuarial firms - that also charge schemes money. As I have posted about before, my local council fund pays out approx £2m in fund management fees a year, and that's a relatively small fund in local government pension scheme terms. And I am deeply sceptical that active fund management is even worth paying for!

By all means let's keep a close eye on how the levies are spent. But let's also bear in mind that the entire pensions industry owes its livelihood to the charges it takes out of pension schemes - typically much higher that regulatory levies. You never see a fund manager turn up in a cheap suit do you? Who is really doing the milking? One to remember next time your fund manager offers you a 'free' corporate jolly.

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