2015 Global Survey of Accounting Assumptions for Defined Benefit Plans. Executive Summary

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1 2015 Global Survey of Accounting Assumptions for Defined Benefit Plans Executive Summary

2 Executive Summary In broad terms, accounting standards aim to enable employers to approximate the cost of an employee s pension or other postretirement benefit over that employee s service period. Any benefit accounting method that recognizes the cost of benefits before their payment becomes due must be based on estimates or assumptions about future events that will determine the amount and timing of benefit payments. Two of the key economic assumptions in the determination of benefit costs under an accounting standard are the discount rate and inflation. Under ASC 715, there is a further key economic assumption, the expected long-term rate of return on plan assets (for funded plans). In many countries, three additional economic assumptions, which are more or less linked to inflation, can play a key role: rate of salary increase; rate of increase in pensions, both in deferment and in payment; and rate of increase in social security parameters reflected in the pension benefit formula. We discuss these in our full report. Although this survey mainly explores economic assumptions, we have again shown data regarding mortality assumptions, which are receiving closer attention because of increasing longevity. The observations in this report reflect data at or near the end of During 2014, investment returns on plan assets (both bond and stock returns) were relatively strong in most major markets. At the same time, decreasing discount rates boosted the growth in plan obligations and, in most cases, at a rate higher than the growth of plan assets. Key Findings Our full report, which represents 1,122 companies with data from 48 countries, includes the following key findings: Overall, we observed a significant decrease in both government and corporate bond yields from last year-end. The vast majority of long-term bond yields experienced a downward trend and discount rates followed suit. The average projected benefit security ratio decreased for the majority of countries shown. During 2014, investment returns on plan assets (both bond and stock returns) were relatively strong in most major markets. At the same time, decreasing discount rates boosted the growth in plan obligations and, in most cases, at a rate higher than the growth of plan assets. The majority of surveyed countries have implied life expectancies between 20 and 30 years. The impact of the differences in this assumption will vary depending on whether the typical payment form is lump sum or annuity. In Canada and the U.S., new mortality tables were released in 2014, showing significantly increased life expectancies, which would lead to higher pension and other postretirement benefit obligations Global Survey of Accounting Assumptions for Defined Benefit Plans Executive Summary 2

3 Discount Rates Discount rates are used to calculate the present value of benefit obligations, and the service and interest cost portion of benefit expense. While ASC 715 does not explicitly define the quality of the bond yields, most plan sponsors base their discount rate on AA-rated bonds. IAS 19 refers to high-quality corporate bond yields, which are generally interpreted to mean AA-rated or better. The primary focus for corporations has been placed on long-term, high-quality corporate bonds of appropriate duration. Where there is no deep market in corporate bonds, it is customary for ASC 715 discount rates to be based on government bonds but adjusted by some level of risk premium to approximate corporate bond yields. By contrast, IAS 19 requires the use of government bonds with no additional risk premium when determining discount rates for countries where there is no deep corporate bond market; therefore, we present IAS 19 results for discount rates separately. Figure 1 shows the average discount rates for the 2015 expense and 2014 expense, using ASC 715 and IAS 19. These tables include values for companies with December 31 measurement dates only. The similarity of ASC 715 and IAS 19 discount rates in the countries shown in Figure 1 suggests that these countries are regarded as having a sufficiently deep corporate bond market. In our complete findings, we see that in some countries where the corporate bond market is not seen as deep enough Australia, Mexico and United Arab Emirates, for instance the average discount rate is noticeably lower under IAS 19 than under ASC 715. Over the year, for countries that set discount rates using corporate bond yields, most long-term bond yields trended downward, and discount rates followed suit. Figure 1. Discount rates for plans Averages Inflation Averages ASC 715 The assumption for long-term price inflation influences other economic assumptions such as: Rate of salary increases Rate of increase in pensions, both in deferment and in payment Rate of increase in the social security parameters reflected in the pension benefit formula Figure 2 shows the average inflation assumption for the 2015 expense and 2014 expense. Since this is a long-term assumption, as expected, there is little year-to-year movement. The exception is the U.K., where the selection of the inflation assumption is more market-driven, referencing the implied inflation from comparing inflation-protected U.K. government bond yields with conventional U.K. government bond yields. In Japan, the inflation assumption has increased from last year mostly since expectations were that the Bank of Japan would continue its aggressive monetary easing in order to achieve its 2% inflation target. Figure 2. Inflation assumptions Averages Averages IAS Canada 3.81% 4.58% 3.87% 4.66% Germany 2.08% 3.34% 1.98% 3.22% Japan 0.92% 1.27% 0.93% 1.26% Netherlands 2.28% 3.55% 2.21% 3.40% Switzerland 1.23% 2.25% 1.23% 2.24% United Kingdom 3.67% 4.47% 3.66% 4.40% United States 4.01% 4.82% 3.92% 4.76% Canada 2.05% 2.12% Germany 1.88% 1.95% Japan 1.31% 1.05% Netherlands 1.93% 1.99% Switzerland 1.29% 1.42% United Kingdom* 3.08% 3.32% United States 2.49% 2.59% *Retail Price Index (RPI) 2015 Global Survey of Accounting Assumptions for Defined Benefit Plans Executive Summary 3

4 Expected Rates of Return The expected rate of return on assets is the long-term expectation of the annual earnings rate of the pension fund. Under ASC 715, the expected return on assets is a component of the benefit expense. Expected rates of return reflect the plan sponsor s outlook while considering the plan s asset allocation. Figure 3 shows the average allocations split among equities, bonds, property, cash and insurance contracts/other investments. The weighted average of the expected long-term rate of return on each class gives an indication of the appropriate expected-returnon-assets assumption. In comparing results from last year s survey, we witnessed only minor changes in asset allocations across the board. As expected, the plans in countries with higher equity allocations are those with well-established domestic stock markets for instance, companies in Canada, the U.K. and U.S., on average, hold large equity positions (more than 40%). Figure 4 shows the average expected rates of return for 2015 and As we discuss in our full report, there is a positive correlation between countries with higher expected rates of return and the amount of plan assets that is held in equity funds. For the countries in Figure 4 whose rate of return assumption has dropped, this could possibly be attributed to a combination of lower expectations for bonds and lower equity risk premiums. Figure 3. Average asset allocation by country 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Canada Germany Japan Netherlands Switzerland United Kingdom United States Equities Bonds Property Cash Insurance/Other Figure 4. Expected rates of return Averages Canada 5.57% 6.13% Germany 3.92% 4.35% Japan 2.69% 2.27% Netherlands 3.22% 3.88% Switzerland 2.73% 3.34% United Kingdom 5.74% 6.13% United States 6.99% 7.12% 2015 Global Survey of Accounting Assumptions for Defined Benefit Plans Executive Summary 4

5 Mortality Tables Figure 5 shows the assumed life expectancy at age 60 for males currently ages 60 and 40. Note that some tables are generational, while others are static. The latter do not include an allowance for improvement in life expectancy. Thus, life expectancy at age 60 is the same for males currently ages 60 and 40. The majority of surveyed countries have implied life expectancies of between 20 and 30 years. The impact of the differences in this assumption varies depending on whether the typical payment form is lump sum or annuity. In Canada and the U.S., new mortality tables were released in 2014, showing significantly increased life expectancies, which would lead to higher pension and other postretirement benefit obligations. Projected Benefit Security Ratio The projected benefit security ratio is the ratio of the current market value of plan assets to the plan s projected benefit obligation. The projected benefit obligation is the actuarial present value of all benefits attributed by the benefit formula to service before the balance sheet date, including benefits based on expected future salary increases. Under IAS 19, this is known as the defined benefit obligation. Figure 6 shows the average projected benefit security ratio for 2015 and 2014 for funded plans in each country. The ratio decreased for the majority of countries shown. During 2014, investment returns on plan assets (both bond and stock returns) were relatively strong in most major markets. At the same time, decreasing discount rates boosted the growth in plan obligations and, in most cases, at a rate higher than the growth of plan assets. Figure 5. Life expectancy of a 60-year-old male (Number of years) Canada Germany Japan Netherlands Switzerland United Kingdom United States Life expectancy at age 60 of a male currently age 40 Life expectancy at age 60 of a male currently age 60 Figure 6. Projected benefit security ratio Averages Canada Germany Japan Netherlands Switzerland United Kingdom United States Global Survey of Accounting Assumptions for Defined Benefit Plans Executive Summary 5

6 About the Survey The 2015 Global Survey of Accounting Assumptions for Defined Benefit Plans is the 26th annual Towers Watson survey of assumptions selected by major corporations for their defined benefit plans around the world. This report covers accounting assumptions under various global standards. For the full report, 55% of the survey participants report under ASC 715, and 45% under IAS 19 or other similar accounting standards. We collected retirement plan data using a survey form and various Towers Watson databases that maintain accounting assumptions. Results in this report are shown on a plan-level basis. Therefore, some results could differ from what is reported on a company level. Towers Watson believes these surveys have elicited useful information, and we would be pleased to provide you with more detail. A snapshot of findings for a few key markets is available in this executive summary. For further information, or to access the complete survey findings, please contact your Towers Watson consultant or: Americas: Tony Broomhead Europe: Manjit Basi Asia Pacific: Phil Collins The 1,122 companies included in the full report have disclosed assumptions for their defined benefit plans. The report reflects data at or near the end of While this executive summary covers only Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.K. and U.S., the following 48 countries are represented in the full report: Argentina Australia Austria Bangladesh Belgium Brazil Canada Chile China Colombia Ecuador Egypt Finland France Germany Greece Hong Kong* India Indonesia Ireland Italy Japan Korea (South) Luxembourg Malaysia Mexico Netherlands New Zealand Norway Pakistan Panama Philippines Poland Portugal Puerto Rico Saudi Arabia Singapore South Africa Spain Sweden Switzerland Taiwan Thailand Turkey United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) United Kingdom United States Venezuela *Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. About Towers Watson Towers Watson is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. With 16,000 associates around the world, we offer consulting, technology and solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management. Learn more at. Copyright 2015 Towers Watson. All rights reserved. TW-NA /towerswatson

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