Many of my readers are pretty familiar with pension plans. Those of you who have been around for a while may remember a time on the TV show 60 Minutes before the closing segment was occupied by Andy Rooney. Back in the late 70s, it was Shana Alexander on the left versus James J. Kilpatrick on the right on the Point-Counterpoint segment. In the early days of Saturday Night Live, this also led to the Jane Curtin-Dan Aykroyd segments famous among other things for their tag lines, "Jane, you ignorant slut," and "Dan, you pompous ass."
What does all this have to do with pensions? Not a thing, but today I'm going to tie them together anyway.
In any event, late last week, I read an article highlighting a Prudential study on the uptick in pension risk transfer (PRT). I thought that bringing back Shana and Jim (or Jane and Dan if you prefer) might be a good way to discuss it.
Point: 31% of respondents to the survey said that desire to reduce their pension plan's asset volatility was a key reason to engage in PRT.
Counterpoint: Jane, you ignorant slut, that means that 69% of plan sponsors didn't think that reducing asset volatility was a big deal. And, as I'll explain to you later, asset volatility can be dealt with.
Point: Dan, you pompous ass, another 25% said they wanted to focus on their core business rather than deal with a pension plan.
Counterpoint: But, Jane, you ignorant slut, a pension plan is part of their core business and 25% isn't very many anyway.
Point: Dan, you pompous ass, 25% said that they were tired of having to deal with small benefit amounts.
Counterpoint: Jane, you ignorant slut, if they didn't freeze their pensions, those companies wouldn't have to deal with small benefit amounts. Everyone would have wonderful pensions benefits.
We'll return to Point-Counterpoint after a short commercial break, but while that's airing, let's consider what each of our erudite commentators is pointing toward. Shana/Jane (actually likely taking the more conservative Jim/Dan role) are taking the position that managing pensions has just gotten out of hand in the US. With rising PBGC premiums and wild asset fluctuations, they want out of the pension business, at least to the extent possible.
At the same time, the other side is espousing that pensions can help with workforce engagement and management and that asset fluctuations need not cause angst for plan sponsors.
After hearing "Plop plop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is" and "Mr. Whipple, please don't squeeze the Charmin," we return to our regular programming.
Switching to our more traditional commentators ...
Point: Jim, so you are trying to tell me that companies should still maintain these blasted pensions and that the problems that a group of CFOs are worried about just don't matter?
Counterpoint: No, Shana, they matter. But, they are solvable. You've never had a creative mind, Shana.
Point: Jim, you're getting curmudgeony now. If you don't watch it, they'll replace you with that Rooney guy with the bushy eyebrows.
Counterpoint: Shana, I've heard you talk about LDI (liability driven investments), but how come you never talk about IDL.
Point: Jim, now you've lost it. Are you telling me that Interactive Data Language should be part of a pension discussion. Or, are you telling me that I should die laughing at your ignorance of real financial issues.
Counterpoint: Shana, IDL is investment driven liabilities. Since you clearly know nothing about this concept, you could choose to learn. Perhaps it doesn't resonate with you that if liabilities track to assets in a defined benefit plan, then all of these CFO issues would go away and companies would be able to keep their workers while keeping costs stable.
And, returning to our other cast of characters ...
Point: Dan, you pompous ass, that makes no sense at all. Everyone knows that assets don't drive liabilities.
Counterpoint: Jane, you ignorant slut, suppose they did.