Controlling Pension Funding Volatility Remains Top Priority

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Feb 22, 2012

In 2012, for the third consecutive year, U.S. sponsors of defined benefit pensions view controlling funded status volatility as the top priority for their plans, according to a poll by asset management firm SEI.

“Market swings and low interest rates have really taken a toll on the funded status of pension plans over the past few years. Many plan sponsors now face the burden of making substantial contributions to their plans in order to meet funding requirements,” said Jon Waite, SEI's Institutional Group's director of investment management advice and chief actuary. “As markets continue to be volatile, plan sponsors continue to pursue sophisticated risk management strategies designed to better control volatility of the funded status of their pension plans,” he noted.

Conducted in January 2012, the poll surveyed executives overseeing U.S. corporate defined benefit plans ranging from $25 million to $10 billion in assets. Their top 10 priorities for 2012 are as follows:

  • Controlling funded status volatility.
  • Improving the plan’s funded status.
  • Managing duration moving forward.
  • Implementing a liability-driven investing (LDI) approach using long-duration bonds.
  • Providing senior management with long-term pension strategies.
  • Stress-testing the portfolio to gauge its ability to withstand extreme macroeconomic environments.
  • Conducting an asset-liability study.
  • Implementing an asset allocation process aimed at exploiting short-term market inefficiencies to add return or mitigate risk.
  • Changing funding policies and timelines.
  • Defining fiduciary responsibilities for trustees and investment consultants.

Making a first appearance to the top 10 list in 2012 is the need to implement an asset allocation process aimed at exploiting short-term market inefficiencies. This priority replaced 2011’s priority to “make a plan design change.”

"Many organizations are viewing outsourcing as a way to effectively react to short-term markets in order to increase return and mitigate loss," said Waite.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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