Rom/Berlin [ENA] In Germany the 'Pensionskasse' is the main pension intermediary for private employer-sponsored pension provision after the direct pension promise. The 'Pensionskassen' are specific insurance companies that serve one or several employers. The "Pensionskasse" must be financed according to actuarial principles, ensuring that the necessary means to fulfil pension liabilities are available at any time.
The German association of corporate pension funds (VFPK Verband Firmenpensionskassen) has rebuffed a recommendation that the government’s pension reforms be modified to consent direct insurance pension providers to offer guaranteed benefits. Many in the pensions industry are skeptical about how the new options will be perceived, and to what extent they will be used. Committees advising the Bundesrat held that direct insurance pension providers (Direktversicherungen) should be allowed to offer full or partial guarantees. The government has proposed allowing industries with collective bargaining agreements to run defined contribution pension schemes, short of any guaranteed benefits being allowed.
The committees claimed that a complete ban on guarantees was not necessary for this type of pension provision and that it would limit the collective bargaining partners’ or companies’ room for manoeuvre. However, the VFPK excluded this proposal because it would disadvantage both Pensionfonds and Pensionskassen by limiting the link between guarantees and employer liability. The recommendation is one of several that were made by committees advising the Bundesrat, which will debate the government’s second pillar pension reform proposal – the Betriebsrentenstärkungsgesetz (BRSG) – on Friday, 10 February.
VFPK said the Bundesrat committees’ recommendation would mean that life insurers and open market pension funds (typically run by life insurers) would be the only providers enabled to propose pensions with guarantees, which would mean occupational pension provision would be permitted to agents and brokers. The Bundesrat committees also argued that prohibiting direct insurance pension providers from offering guarantees would impede the provision of disability and widower benefits. The VFPK rejected this argument.
The committees also made other recommendations that go against some key elements of the government proposals, such as allowing companies that are not part of collective bargaining agreements to offer opting-out pension models. The government’s reform package at present only allows auto-enrolment for companies involved in collective bargaining agreements. The Bundesrat committees also recommended that the full chamber push for a lowering of the discount rate used to calculate pension liabilities for tax purposes (steuerlicher Rechnungszins).
In contrast to the rate companies use under the statutory accounting framework, this has remained unchanged for decades, at 6%, and is seen as disadvantaging companies running book reserve pension schemes (Direktzusage). Recently there have been claims that the disparity between the two rates is unconstitutional. The government would then have the possibility of formulating a response to the Bundesrat position. The Bundestag, the larger parliamentary chamber, would then contemplate both documents along with the government’s reform proposal.
The government, a grand coalition between the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), does not have a safe majority in the Bundesrat, but holds a large majority in the Bundestag. The Bundesrat is due to consider the committees’ recommendations on Friday. The first reading of the pensions reform proposal in the Bundestag is due to take place in the second week of March.