24 July 2024

Inflation and Rates Likely to Spur Pension Risk Transfers

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Inflation, market volatility, rising interest rates, and geopolitics are potentially accelerating the pension risk transfer market, according to a report from MetLife.

MetLife’s Pension Risk Transfer Poll, which heard from 251 defined benefit plan sponsors who have de-risking goals and $100 million or more in plan assets, found that 95% say higher inflation is “very or somewhat impactful” on their decision to move forward with a pension risk transfer. And 92% of sponsors say rising rates are making it more likely they will decide to de-risk their plans.

“The economic landscape has shifted significantly since our last poll and this change has led DB plan sponsors to take a closer look at their plans and pension risk transfer options,” Elizabeth Walsh, MetLife’s head of pension solutions, said in a statement. “Not only is inflation a factor, but other considerations, such as market volatility and rising interest rates, can potentially impact the decision to move forward with PRT.”

According to the survey, macroeconomic concerns are motivating plan sponsors to maintain or even accelerate their plans for a pension risk transfer. These include the geopolitical environment (96%), market volatility (94%), rising interest rates (91%), COVID-19 (91%), and inflation (86%).

“2022 is shaping up to be another record year for the PRT market and we don’t anticipate activity will slow down for the foreseeable future,” Walsh said. “It is clear from our poll’s findings that pension de-risking is top of mind for many DB plan sponsors”

According to the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, 2021 was a record year for the pension risk transfer industry with $38 billion in sales, and plan sponsors expect this to continue in the coming years. The MetLife poll found that 64% of plan sponsors predict the volume of large de-risking transactions will increase in the next five years, while 18% believe the amount will remain the same.

“We expect that prediction to come true, considering that nearly nine in 10 plan sponsors (89%) say they are likely to consider a PRT option from an insurance company in the next five years,” said the report.

MetLife said that as concerns of an impending recession grow, executives are increasingly scrutinizing their company’s financial performance and taking a more active role in managing their defined benefit plans. The poll found that 93% of plan sponsors said their pension receives significant attention from corporate management because of the financial effects on their balance sheet. And 95% said their company routinely weighs their defined benefit plan’s value against the cost of the benefits.

As for the type of pension risk transfer activity plan sponsors will most likely use, 57% said an annuity buyout, which includes 28% who say they plan to use a combination of an annuity buyout and a lump sum. That is up from two years ago, when 34% of plan sponsors said they would use a buyout only or in combination with a lump sum. Among those seeking an annuity buyout, 62% said they will secure a buyout for a retiree lift-out, while only 21% said they will secure a buyout for a plan termination. The remaining 17% said they don’t yet know their approach.

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