In the good old days when people hosted what used to be known as dinner parties there was one topic of conversation guaranteed to bring silence to the room – pensions! Regarded as a subject that only actuaries can get excited about, most people still perceive the pensions industry as trundling along year after year, doing what it does i.e. paying pensions to old, retired people, without ever experiencing much in the way of change.
But those of us who have spent a large part of our lifetime in the pensions industry understand how wrong this perception is. As if the normal uncertainties presented by the likes of fluctuating asset values, longevity and shifting regulatory sands aren’t enough to keep us excited, there is COVID and now a huge industry merger to contend with. The latter is especially relevant for pension funds who are clients of either Aon or Willis Towers Watson, the subjects of this merger, a topic we shall discuss with a cross section of them at an upcoming roundtable.
So, how should these clients be viewing this merger?
Scenario planning can help
The answer is that the consequences are best viewed through a non-binary lens where scenario planning can help. This merger will either prove to be a non-event, have some future relatively minor impact, or dramatically change the environment in which these funds operate. For some, the outcome is unlikely to look like the first of these, especially if as many in the industry expect, the merged entity decides to exit the pension administration business.
One of my favourite quotations is particularly relevant here. Usually attributed to the great economist John Maynard Keynes, it goes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do Sir?”
For pension funds, we suggest that it makes sense to revisit any operating plan for the exciting rollercoaster ride to the endgame: one of the key assumptions upon which it was based may be altered fundamentally.
More on the aon / wtw merger: