Will DB Pension Schemes Ever Recover?

12 Nov

Based on the current figures coming out the deficits are just going to get bigger and bigger.  With most schemes invested in Government Bonds, mortality rates increasing and less people joining pension schemes it seems almost impossible for company schemes to survive.  Here’s some notes from Reece Fallaize deVere Group in house pension specialist.

First lets look at some examples of large DB schemes:

Universities Superannuation Scheme

This is the second largest scheme in the UK with almost 300,000 members. It is also one of the worst. As at March 2011 the scheme had a deficit of £2.9 billion which represented a funding level of 92%. During the 12 months to March 2012 the deficit had increased to a whooping £9.8 billion which only represents a funding level of 77%. The funding level is reduced to 50% on a full wind up basis which is very significant indeed

The scheme has only managed to achieve an annual return of 1.1% on its investments over the last 5 years

As a result of the deficit the scheme have increased retirement age to 65 and have said that this will be increased further in line with state retirement age


A point that is overlooked is that the pension scheme is run and controlled by separate legal entity to the main company. This often results in slight disagreements over the figures between the scheme actuary and the company although under legislation the scheme Trustees (who the actuary works for) pulls rank.

In the December 2011 accounts it is noted that the last actuarial funding report was done on 31 March 2010 (these reports are only required every 3 years). At that time the Deficit was £3.5billion which represented a funding ration of only 84%. As mentioned above the company can produce different figures of what they view the deficit as and these have been as follows (all at end December):-


2007 – £232m surplus

2008 – £1,442m Deficit

2009 – £2,594m Deficit

2010 – £2,190m Deficit

2011 – £2,164m Deficit

As a result of the deficit the group has a recovery plan in place until 2018 that will pay additional annual contributions of £375m per year and from 2013 £400m per year. These figures sound good but below is the cumulative net actuarial losses on an annual basis:-


2009 – Actuarial loss of £3,856m

2010 – Actuarial loss of £3,680m

2011 – Actuarial loss of £4,031m

So the additional contributions make up about 10% of the annual losses!

Scheme is now closed and further changes will need to be made to reduce this deficit such as change of RPI to CPI or even closed to future accruals altogether. I think this scheme will probably follow Tesco’s lead and increase retirement age to 67.



 Last year BT disclosed a pension deficit of £1.8 billion and in March 2012 made the largest additional pension contribution of any UK company totalling £1.912 billion. We would therefore expect the scheme to be fully funded however, the latest report and accounts of BT show that their current pension liability is £2.4 billion which is a large increase on last year despite the huge one off contribution.

BT will be making another additional contribution of £325m in March 2013 followed by annual contribution of £295m until March 2021. Will these planned contributions do anything to help the funding status of the scheme? Highly unlikely considering the position got worse after a contribution of nearly £2billion!



 The liabilities within the scheme are now at 20% of the market capital of the company (bearing in mind how large the company it this shows the level of obligations it has taken on) and as a result the scheme is considered to represent a financial risk to the company.

In June 2010 the company froze the final salary scheme and moved members to a DC scheme although their accrued final salary pensions were not moved to DC arrangement just future benefits. This change saved the company $800m and caused a bit of negative media attention at that time.

The company haven’t committed to a long term funding strategy and have thus far committed to June 2013 and aim to contribute £715m by then. This may sound a lot but its less than half the current deficit and in addition they are assuming that their investments will generate a 5.9% annual return which is quite unlikely bearing in mind they have a 60% weighting towards bonds. SO it is likely that the investments will under perform and again this will drive the total deficit higher still.


There are lots more examples we can give. What do you think? Can DB Pension Schemes  ever recover?

Nigel Green deVere Group

Blog written on 12th of November




  1. I don’t they can recover as when these schemes were created people used to live 3/6 years after retiring , today it’s more like 20/30 and with new medicine we will be living longer . With also low bond yields , poor returns on stock market and high inflation it doesn’t look promising .

    We still running the fund as they did in 80s it hasn’t evolved .

    If they going to survive they need increase retirement age , invest in non government bonds and fix pension benefit so inflation can help . .

  2. These DB scheme figures are shocking, especially from the banks. One would expect them to have pension funds managed with surpluses and growing for benefit of the scheme members. Instead, they are sliding deeper and deeper into deficit and their members have a bleak retirement future unless these members take steps now to remedy their situation.

  3. This exactly highlights what we already know about UK pensions. This problem is huge and will not just go away. There is a massive dark cloud looming in the not too distant future for UK pensions!!

  4. More fantastic examples of the risk people face by leaving control of one of their most vauable assets to mercy of desperate company directors. With the evidence available and the current global financial situation there has never been a more vital time for people to seek unbiased, independent financial advice and have an informed view of the actual benefits and liabilities of their current schemes. A great post!!

  5. the figures are staggering, how can you pay almost £2bn to clear a £1.8bn deficit and then find out the next year that the deficit remains at a larger figure of £2.4bn … what can the scheme actuaries or administrators actually do to stem the flow? Depressing reading for those members of the schemes but how many actually are blissfully unaware of these numbers … people need financial advisors more than ever …

  6. Pension schemes are certainly facing more pressure than ever and changes will have to be made. Some of these changes will stem from changes to UK government legislation, such as an increase in retirement age and a review into how RPI is calculated, and others will be company led by closing schemes and capping pensionable saries. Whilst these changes may help reduce deficits they are only as a result of providing members with less benefits.

    The current common theme amongst pension shemes has been to “de-risk” their investments by exiting equities in favour of fixed term investments. This approach has of course reduced volatility but, as history tells us, markets go through cycles and at some point in furture I am sure that equities will once again boom. When this happens these pension schemes will not take advantage of such rises and whilst this approcah may suit a member who is about to retire does it suit the many thousands of members that are still over 20 years away from retirement?

    If I were asked my opinion on the next approach that schemes will adopt I would certainly say that I can see the majority of company schemes increasing the normal retirement date from 60 to 65. Many companies will go one step further and automatically link their retirement age to that of the UK state retirement age which are steadily being increased to 68.

    One very shocking stat is that the UK has had over 20 pensions ministers since 1997 which goes some way to show just how much pensions have been ignored by different Governments. We are in a pensions crisis and it is highly unlikely that this crisis will be resolved soon, if ever.

  7. What is not mentioned is that now, especially with low gilt yields, there has never been a better time to achieve an artificially high transfer value. Secondly, for those with high earnings and consequently a high DB entitlement the PPF only protects up to a certain level

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