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Dead reckoning

Rentokil has extermin- ated its final-salary scheme and other schemes are lining up on the taxiway to avoid interference from our newest regulator.

Pensions regulator David Norgrove has signalled that he really means business.

One company which wanted to buy back some of its shares found that the price had suddenly gone up. Having to pay nearly 8m into its pension scheme prior to the share buyback must have come as a shock but then what we are seeing is years of inaction coming home to roost.

I recall that while we were winding one final-salary scheme in the car industry, I attended a meeting with the scheme actuary and his assistant. It was March and we wanted their advice on limiting the inflation risk on part of the pension by paying a significant premium to the Department for Work and Pensions (or Department of Social Security, as it was then). The actuaries asked if we could wait a month or two while they considered their position. Our opportunity to cap the risk had to be taken before April 5 but it had not occurred to them that time was not available.

This deferment of the inevitable has done the actuarial profession no credit and we must surely question whether they deserve the benefit of their trade being designated as a profession.

Allowing final-salary schemes to be closed to new members but allowing existing scheme members to continue to accumulate additional pension on a final-salary basis makes no sense – unless, of course, you consider the business model of the benefit consultants, which relies on high-cost benefit provision.

I believe that providing benefit consultancy services has some validity but only if the client is put first. This plainly has not happened in far too many circumstances.

I have come across some real horror stories where the ignorance of the trustees has been utilised to cover up the cost of putting right earlier errors.

I read the commentary on fees with some amusement and a fair degree of exasperation. Firms will pay fees but only if they see the connection between cost and value derived. They are now waking up to final-salary schemes where the costs outstrip their value to the firm and in some cases the employees.

Brendan Barber of the TUC forgets that you can keep a final-salary scheme going but it may cost more in jobs than in cash. Certainty is a wonderful thing but it comes at a price. To deny its cost is to admit that you are more interested in profile than in pragmatic solutions.

Local government workers and civil servants remain in their parallel universe. The private sector is making decisions and moving forward while the public sector is burying its head and will find that this generally leads to a reduction in choice.

I am reminded of that bleach which used to boast in its adverts that it “kills all known germs dead”. Just what the alternative to killing them dead was, I was never sure, but it sounded pretty final to me.

In any event, the days of the final-salary scheme are all but over. This provides professional planners with our greatest challenge. Let us not be shy. Clients need financial plans and our challenge is to provide them to the market in a format that engages as wide a population as possible.


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