The MetLife U.S. Pension Risk Behavior Index (PRBI) came in with an index value of 87 for the year, the highest value recorded since the study was introduced in 2009.
The index — conducted in conjunction with Bdellium Inc. and Greenwich Associates — seeks to take the temperature of corporate plan sponsors’ attitudes about the current pension environment.
The survey consists of interviews with senior financial professionals whose primary focus is pension investments, risk management and employee benefits. Large plan sponsors — 126 in total — were interviewed for the current study.
The index value represents the consistency between the importance plan sponsors place on the risks facing their defined benefit (DB) plans and how successful they are at controlling those risks. While MetLife feels it is unrealistic to arrive at value of 100, they have stated that a target of 87 is reasonable. This year, the target value has been hit.
The 18 investment, liability and business risks the study examines are as follows:
- Underfunding liabilities
- Asset and liability mismatch
- Accounting impact
- Asset allocation
- Liability measurement
- Meeting return goals
- Ability to measure risk
- Plan governance
- Fiduciary risk and litigation exposure
- Investment management style
- Decision process quality
- Investment valuation
- Longevity risk
- Quality of participant data
- Mortality risk
- Inappropriate trading
- Early retirement risk
For 2013, plan sponsors reported that underfunded liabilities and asset and liability mismatch respectively ranked as the first and second most important risk factors. The liability focus held steady as a constant concern as it has the last three years.
The survey also found that large plan sponsors are actively and collectively de-risking and 38 percent of smaller sponsors are following suit. Plan sponsors of all sizes are doing so in order to reduce liabilities, funded status volatility, contributions, pension expenses and cost of plan administration as a way to shift their focus back to core operations.
“De-risking — whether it’s through a partial risk transfer, pension buyout or some other risk mitigation strategy — can go a long way in achieving these objectives,” said Ed Root, vice president, U.S. Pensions, Corporate Funding, MetLife.
Plan obligations are increasingly becoming a considerable issue for senior management as the impact of plan liabilities on their balance sheets is requiring progressively greater attention. Over 50 percent of survey respondents indicated that key senior leadership pays close attention to plan obligations.