Pension plans and the finances associated with them are among the most confusing and misunderstood elements of a deal like this.The rules are unnecessarily complex and are often misunderstood even by people that you might be inclined to engage as experts. Cash flow requirements do not align well with financial accounting charges and not knowing the right questions to ask could seriously impede your ability to get the answers that you need.
So, how can I help?
Among the really nice things about pension plans is the amount of information that is publicly available on each of them. You see, in its infinite wisdom, Congress and the agencies that Congress has entrusted to regulate pensions have deemed that a myriad of such information has to be disclosed every year for each plan. In unknowing hands, that information is just that -- information. In the right hands, however, it's a veritable goldmine.
As a senior finance person, what do you need to do?
- Identify all of the plans that you might be (will be) acquiring.
- Identify what measures are important to you (e.g., cash flow, financial accounting expense, government disclosures, volatility, loan covenants).
- Identify your constraints (e.g., available cash to use for pensions, funded status triggers to loan covenants).
- Identify your goals with regard to the plans.
Notice that I didn't mention plan documents, participant census data, plan asset statements, or anything else that you thought you needed to provide. This is where that goldmine comes in.
I call your attention to a recent situation where we had just the information in 1. through 4. above. The goals were fairly simple and included roughly these:
- Help us to understand the amount of cash necessary to pay for the plan(s),
- Tell us what is not being done optimally, and
- Help us to find ways to optimize these plans on a path to termination.
Our client now has a 10-year forecast of cash flow requirements under multiple scenarios. They understand what has not been done optimally over the last 10 years or so. And, they now have a strategy all set to go so that when they do pull the trigger and finish their deal, they'll be putting their pension dollars to optimal use.
This is a place where off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter solutions don't work. Every plan is different. Every plan has different thresholds. Every company is different. Every company has different resources.