Current developments in occupational pensions in Europe

Artikel aus dem Handelsblatt Journal „Betriebliche Altersversorge und Kapitalanlage“ vom 25.05.2022

Although the European pensions landscape, including systems and participation rates, varies considerably per Member State, the challenges are broadly the same. These include ageing populations, pensions gaps, rises to the cost of living and cost of care for the elderly. Member States also have a number of trends in common and, in the area of occupational pensions, first and foremost among these is the move from defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution (DC) schemes. For example, in 2021, in terms of members, DC schemes increased by more than 4% at aggregate level. This transition places more risk on pension scheme members, who now need to be better informed as they make decisions that could have far-reaching consequences later in life. Some of the risks that the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) has identified as part of its consumer trends work include inappropriate risk exposure close to retirement; under-saving; and the lack of adequate advice.

We need transparency and clear information
These issues need to be addressed and here the provision of clear information is important. The work of EIOPA on pensions benefit statements and pensions tracking systems is an example of steps that can be taken to empower pension scheme members in their decision-making. Besides that EIOPA also aims at supporting Member States in making informed choices, for example with its advice on a pension dashboard and by developing a blueprint for occupational DC pensions that would provide principles and proposals on good occupational DC pensions that Member States could tailor to their situation and national specificities.

Looking specifically at the IORP II Directive – a minimum harmonisation framework- EIOPA is expecting a request from the European Commission later this year to review the current framework. In particular, in the area of cross-border, there is more to be done, as the Directive has not yet achieved its goal to remove obstacles faced by IORPs operating cross-border. Rather, cross-border activities remain clustered in a small group of Member States of the EEA, operating from eight member states in 16 host countries. Further, there are still 14 countries in the EEA which do not benefit from the cross-border market at all. Cross-border activity will therefore be one area of focus in the upcoming review.

Focus on sustainable finance
The review will also look at sustainable finance and pensions solvency. On this last point, however, it is worth stressing that EIOPA is not considering the introduction of a one size fits all framework with harmonised capital or funding requirements, such as Solvency II.

In the area of sustainable finance, pension funds invest large sums of money for the long term and can play an important role in moving society to a green economy, by choosing to invest in responsible industries, also leveraging on the growing public interest in how and where their pension savings are invested.

Indeed, the revised IORP II Directive was ground-breaking in that it was the first European supervisory framework for financial institutions to include provisions on ESG. For example, pension funds should include ESG factors and risks in general governance, risk management, investment policy and the provision of information to future participants.

EIOPA has also been stress testing climate change aspects of the occupational pensions sector, starting in 2019 with an exploratory analysis of the exposure of pension fund assets to CO2-intensive sectors. Building on this, the 2022 exercise is entirely devoted to climate risk with participating pension funds expected to calculate the consequences of a scenario with an abrupt, late transition to a climate neutral society.

PEPP – The pan-European personal pension product
Moving beyond the area of occupational pensions, it is also worth mentioning developments with the pan-European personal pension product, or PEPP. This type of product, launched earlier this year, may be appealing to those who fall outside of traditional occupational pension schemes, for example, those people who are in more casual types of employment or who change jobs, or even countries, frequently. Even though the market for this product still needs to develop, EIOPA is convinced that in the future, simple and accessible products like PEPP will be crucial in helping people to save for their retirement. At the end of the day, it is in everyone’s interest that systems, schemes and products are in place to ensure that people are able to save for an adequate income in retirement. There will never be one single solution to the pensions challenges facing governments, societies and savers. Nonetheless, at EIOPA, we will continue to work with a range to stakeholders to foster sustainable adequate pensions for citizens across Europe. ■

At the end of the day, it is in everyone’s interest that systems, schemes and products are in place to ensure that people are able to save for an adequate income in retirement.

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