What do German Pensionskassen tell us about the state of pensions?

Pardon the Interruption

This article is just an example of the content available to mallowstreet members.

On average over 150 pieces of new content are published from across the industry per month on mallowstreet. Members get access to the latest developments, industry views and a range of in-depth research.

All the content on mallowstreet is accredited for CPD by the PMI and is available to trustees for free.

Pensioners in the German pension fund for charity workers and the catholic church, Pensionskasse Caritas, are seeing cuts to existing pensions according to the German press, as the fund is struggling to meet its obligations. 
 
German Pensionskassen are currently having a tough time, with a number of these conservative investors, covering 3.7m people, currently under special observation by BaFin. 

In technical terms, regulated Pensionskassen are mutual life insurers, which as such are not allowed to run a deficit, and whose articles of association stipulate that benefit reductions are permitted. 
 
German websites report that this is precisely what is happening to the retired priests and charity workers insured with PK Caritas from 2020, as past service benefits are cut alongside future accrual to make good a €146m (£125m) deficit. 
 
The fund said it had misjudged the impact of long-term low interest rates and rising longevity and made mistakes in calculating premiums, promising benefits that proved to be more generous than it could afford.
 
The situation is even worse for the Pensionskasse for tax advisers. It has been told by the regulator that it can’t take on new clients from October this year. 
 
Given the issues among the country’s Pensionskassen, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is planning to propose that the remit of the German lifeboat fund should be expanded to include Pensionskassen, according to Sueddeutsche Zeitung. 

This, it is believed, will - to put it mildly - annoy existing members in Pensions-Sicherungs-Verein, as underfunded Pensionskassen could take up a disproportionate amount of reserves, and because many had been founded in the form of a Pensionskasse to avoid having to pay the PSV levy; even so, they might now be saved thanks to existing PSV members’ past levies. 
 
What can we take away from this? Perhaps that longevity and low interest rates will continue to push pension funds up the political agenda in most Western economies. If UK election manifestos are currently sparse on details about private pensions, this might just be because the message would not be what voters want to hear, which does not mean that it won't come up anyway. 

If the UK economy goes into a downward movement, the pension funding position of insolvent employers will certainly come into focus.

As for the UK lifeboat fund, levies could rise as the pending CJEU case of Mr Bauer could force the Pension Protection Fund to provide full compensation to members, although much seems to depend on the timing of the judgment and of Brexit.