In discussing his relationship with service providers, a plan sponsor recently told me that he feels like a juicy steak to a hungry lion. Everyone wants his business and he struggles to keep up with the many requests for meetings with consultants, actuaries and asset managers. According to "Pensions may be outsourced : Banks look to take the plans and their assets off the hands of employers" (October 31, 2007), that fiduciary may be even busier now, fending off requests to assume his company's defined benefit plan(s). As Los Angeles Times reporter Jonathan Peterson describes, Citigroup has just received an okay from the Federal Reserve to "take over" a $400 million retirement plan, sponsored by Thomson Regional Newspapers.
If a harbinger of things to come (and banks are definitely gearing up for this business), risk management acumen and internal controls should be front and center. After all, if a liability is transferred from the original plan sponsor to a large bank, it will be discomfort indeed if that bank struggles with keeping its own house in order. The stakes are too high. Lest you think that big always means better, keep in mind that we've just gone through a rollercoaster summer with a handful of financial giants reporting losses.
As regulators examine the efficacy of pension buyouts by banks in the U.S. and elsewhere, this blog's author recommends that a bank's pension-related risk control abilities be made publicly available for analysis and review. The last thing we need is a concentration of pension assets in a few shaky hands. Better that everyone is comfortable upfront with the buyers' abilities in the areas of risk management, operational processing and good pension governance.