The overwhelming majority of people who have been fortunate enough to be a member of a defined benefit (also known as ‘final salary’) occupational pension scheme should stay in it. There is certainly much to be said for a guaranteed, inflation-linked income for life.
However, for some individuals leaving the scheme might be the right option. One example of this is wealthier clients, who may be more concerned about passing on an inheritance and the amount of income tax they pay on an income they may not need, rather than the prospect of running out of money. For such people the high level of transfer values currently available will be good news and Carpenter Rees have been advising several clients on this matter.
There are many factors that are driving up transfer values but the first, falling interest rates from UK government bonds – gilts – is having the greatest impact.
Falling gilt yields – The economic uncertainty produced by the vote to leave the EU has seen investors moving into safe havens; gilts have been a major beneficiary of this trend. The increased demand has pushed prices high and as a result reduced gilt yields to historic lows. With the lower expected future returns from gilts, pension schemes have had to assume higher current values to provide the guaranteed future benefits – which in turn have resulted in higher pension transfer values.
Lower expected investment returns – We currently live in an economy with low inflation and low interest rates meaning we should expect lower investment returns. In addition, defined benefit final salary based pension schemes are paying out more of their funds in retirement benefits to pensioners as many schemes are closed to new younger members. As a result, Trustees, are expected to take less investment risk by reducing the proportion of their funds in equities and switching to gilts and fixed interest stocks to match the liabilities of the pensions they are paying out.
Improved life expectancy – Life expectancy at older ages in England has risen to its highest ever level. This is a generally welcome development, but it can be a headache for pension schemes that must now expect to pay pensions for longer and this is again reflected in higher transfer values.
It does not however follow that higher transfer values mean that more people should transfer. Many will be comfortable with the guarantees in place and the fact they do not have to take on the investment risk. But for those with enough wealth to be confident about their own future financial security and would like to be in control of the level of income and therefore the tax they pay, a transfer of benefits from a final salary would be worth considering.
The decision to transfer will be based around numerous factors including the level of risk a client would wish to take, the income levels required and whether they would view their pension fund as a valuable asset to pass on to future generations outside of the estate. I know that I have mentioned our financial modelling software many times, however, this tool is invaluable in helping our clients understand whether a transfer would be of benefit to them; this is crucial as once the transfer is complete, the decision is irreversible.
If you would like to talk to us about your defined benefit pension plan, or in deed any other pension plan, please do get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you hear.