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Market volatility is causing plan sponsors to identify underfunding of liabilities as the most important risk affecting their defined benefit pension plans. However, this risk is reported as only the 11th most successfully managed risk—demonstrating that the importance ascribed to certain risks does not always correlate to success at managing them, according to MetLife's 2011
Comparing Pension Risk Attitudes and Aptitude report, which compares and contrasts the results of the MetLife 2011 U.S. and UK Pension Risk Behavior Studies.
The studies surveyed plan sponsors in the U.S. and trustees in the UK regarding 18 investment, liability and business risks to which their plans were exposed.
Gap Between Importance and Success
The economic downturn and subsequent volatile economic environment are leading plan sponsors to focus more intensely on their plan’s liabilities. “This marks a fairly significant turning point away from seeing absolute asset performance as a key driver of meeting pension obligations and moving to managing assets in the context of plan liabilities,” said Cynthia Mallett, vice president for corporate benefit funding at MetLife, a financial services and employee benefits provider.
Other risks also were identified as highly important but reported to be low in successful management, even though they should garner more attention than risks that are identified as low in importance but reported to be managed successfully. For instance, a mismatch between plan assets and liabilities was ranked as the second highest risk affecting pension plans. However, it was reported to be only the 13th most successfully managed risk in the U.S.
“The good news amid a challenging economic environment is that plan sponsors are tackling the measurement of their liabilities. This is the first step in successfully managing the risks facing their plans,” said Mallett. “Moving forward, we expect plan sponsors to refine and deepen their focus on a core set of risks, and over time to implement new strategies to successfully manage them.”
2011 Risk Factor Importance and Success Rankings
Underfunding of liabilities
Asset & liability mismatch
Meeting return goals
Ability to measure risk
Fiduciary risk & litigation exposure
Decision process quality
Investment management style
Quality of participant data
Early retirement risk
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