Insights from MassMutual, an experienced institutional risk manager and pension expert, reveal how life insurers evaluate and manage the risks associated with pension obligations.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass., Sept. 19, 2018 – Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual), with more than 70 years of pension management experience, has published a white paper to help guide and inform employers about how to successfully de-risk and potentially transfer defined benefit (DB) pension obligations.
The white paper, “Pension Risk Transfer: Insights from an institutional risk manager about how to successfully de-risk and transfer pension obligations,” is designed to be a primer for evaluating pension risks and determining potential courses of action to manage those risks over time. The white paper was created by MassMutual’s Institutional Solutions unit, which offers defined benefit pension management, pension risk transfer (PRT) solutions, and other institutional investment offerings.
"MassMutual’s white paper is an in-depth view of how life insurers evaluate pension risks, especially in light of the growing demand for expertise in the pension risk transfer business,” said Keith McDonagh, Head of Institutional Solutions for MassMutual. “We want employers that sponsor DB plans to better understand the relative risks associated with their plans and what options they may have for managing those risks well into the future.”
The PRT market has been growing steadily, especially in recent years as economic and regulatory factors have converged, prompting plan sponsors to reconsider their risk management strategies, according to McDonagh. MassMutual, a leader in the PRT marketplace, has seen a strong increase in customer demand as more sponsors conclude that the stewardship of pension obligations can be well-served by life insurers with deep resources and expertise to focus on the management of long-term risks, he said.
Single premium PRT product sales in the United States were $23.9 billion in 2017, up from $13.7 billion in 2016, a 68 percent increase, according to a survey of sales by the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute1. The growth has continued unabated with $9.6 billion in sales through June 2018, LIMRA reports2, as more employers have moved to shift risk off their balance sheet.
McDonagh attributed the rising sales of PRTs to a confluence of economic, regulatory and other factors, including a long bull market, which helped improve pension funding ratios3. The equity markets have prompted some pension sponsors to secure their gains and leverage improved pension funding ratios to explore the feasibility of removing pension liabilities from their balance sheets, he said.
Tax reform has also given PRT a boost as U.S. companies had until mid-September of this year to take advantage of the higher 35 percent corporate tax rate when deducting contributions to DB plans from their federal taxes. Afterwards, the new 21 percent corporate rate applied.
The federal government is also passing on higher costs for backstopping pensions to employers, providing further motivation for employers to consider PRT, according to McDonagh. Premiums for the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. (PBGC) have climbed dramatically, with the per-participant flat premium rate for plan years beginning in 2018 now $74 for single-employer plans (up from $31 in 2007) and $28 for multiemployer plans (up from $8 in 2007)4.
With the current climate for PRT, MassMutual’s white paper discusses both short- and long-term risks to pensions, evaluates specific risks such as longer lifespans for both workers and retirees, examines complications from pension benefit options, weighs “carve-outs” of pension participants, reviews considerations for pension assets and how they are invested, and suggests how sponsors should evaluate pension managers.
“MassMutual is seeing increased sponsor interest in PRT and other risk mitigation strategies to help plan sponsors better manage their long-term risks,” McDonagh said. “We hope our white paper will help employers better understand the risks associated with their pensions and better prepare them to discuss the prospect of executing a PRT or other risk mitigation strategies when they have discussions with consultants and financial advisors.”