Multinationals eager to shed DB obligationsNews added by Benefits Pro on February 18, 2014

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By Dan Berman

The drive by corporations to end their legacy pension plans will continue as they seek ways to remove them from their books, research by PricewaterhouseCoopers found.

Just 6 percent of the 114 Fortune 500 multinational companies said they want to continue their defined benefits plans with more than eight in 10 saying new employees are not eligible for them and 71 percent having frozen contributions for current employees.

Corporations have been looking at removing their pension liabilities from their balance sheets. Rising stock prices and higher interest rates last year moved the average pension plan closer to being fully funded. That, in turn, made it more attractive for companies to consider using methods like offering retirees lump sum payments as a way to derisk them.

About half of the companies surveyed said they are looking into such options and 45 percent are considering shifting pension liabilities to insurance companies.

An overwhelming portion of the companies surveyed, 80 percent, said their global pension liabilities were equal to more than a third of their market capitalization. Almost 90 percent expressed concern about how pension obligations could affect the bottom line.

“In spite of the best efforts of sponsoring employers, defined benefit pension deficits have remained stubbornly on corporate balance sheets,” said Marc Hommel, global pensions leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a statement. “The size and volatility of these deficits is concerning shareholders and creditors, and is making multinationals more determined than ever to make difficult decisions and reduce the negative impact on their organization.”

While the survey found companies are looking to make those future pension expenses disappear, nearly all the multinationals said they want to play a key role in providing retirement benefits to employees. Reasons included maintaining their reputation (93 percent) and helping them retain and hire workers (97 percent).

Companies, says PricewaterhouseCoopers, still want to help employees in their retirement planning in what it called the “new paternalism.” While most companies want to help employees make the correct choices, less than 20 percent thought they were effective at doing so.

“Employers recognize that they need to do more to help employees in their retirement decisions, and that they are currently failing in this aim,” Hommel said. “Despite employers almost unanimously agreeing that education, empowerment and flexibility are essential ingredients in retirement benefits in the future, there is still a long way to go before this becomes common practice.”

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