In the spring, de-risking “took a new turn” with General Motors’ lump sum offering and annuity purchase involving more than 100,000 participants, according to the white paper titled “Halftime Highlights: Corporate Pension Plans Face Ongoing Stresses.” It was not the first time a plan sponsor had offered a lump or entered into an annuity buy-out, but the size of the action was unparalleled.
General Motors’ move underscored that there are many different de-risking strategies. Some plans may prefer lump sum and annuity strategies as they reduce their gross pension obligation. For other plans, the potential accounting costs and cash flow requirements may outweigh the benefits, the white paper said.
“There are different tools in the toolbox,” Michael Moran, pension strategist at Goldman Sachs Asset Management and author of the white paper, told PLANSPONSOR. “These discussions are really going on within every DB plan right now in the United States.”
Moran explained several de-risking strategies and the pros and cons of each:
Lump sums can lower the gross pension obligation, but also potentially lower the funded percentage. There is also a risk of adverse selection, meaning participants who are in poor health may be more likely to take the lump sum, but those who are healthy may take the annuity, Moran said. The lump sum strategy could also trigger the income statement recognition of a portion of unrecognized losses that are related to plan liabilities being settled. Typically these losses are amortized over a period of time, but settlement of the liabilities through a lump sum may result in immediate recognition of the losses. This option could also be disruptive to asset allocation, given that the payment of lumps sums may require the plan sponsor to liquidate certain existing plan asset holdings.