West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (WMITA) has completed the buy-in of its pensioners with Prudential and the assistance of Mercer and Squire Saunders. This is the first such transaction for any local government pension fund. With a premium in the region of £272m, this is the largest such transaction to date in 2012.
A buy-in is an insurance wrapper which provides payment of pensions for the insured section of a pension fund’s members. The Fund continues to be managed as before but the transaction gives them certainty over their costs. This is distinct from a buyout where the liabilities are fully transferred to an insurance company.
According to Geik Drever, director of Pensions at the West Midlands Pension Fund, the transaction forms an important part of the WMITA Fund’s risk management strategy, "and has insured circa 50% of the fund’s liabilities. It has protected the fund and the sponsor against the volatility of investment markets and any unanticipated increases in life expectancy of the pensioners. Risk management is a very important part of local authority governance for both the main fund and the WMITA Fund, and as such this is a welcome outcome given the policies in place for the Funds as well as the Authority.”
According to Clifford Sims, partner at Squire Saunders, the law firm which advised the authority and its fund on the legal issues surrounding the transaction: “As in all local government contracts, the public sector procurement process, which requires great depth of transparency and objectivity, had to be followed. This transaction is the first time that these procedures have been entwined in the processes surrounding a bulk annuity transaction. Another feature was that the price was determined by an electronic auction process enabling the price to be settled in a matter of hours.”
Paul Middleman, fund actuary and head of Public Sector Consulting, adds, "Whilst we have seen this in the private sector this is breaking new ground in the sector in terms of local authority pension fund risk management for a sponsoring employer and ultimately the taxpayer. The transaction required a team with specialist knowledge and experience when determining whether it was the right option. Now one Fund has taken the plunge we could see this becoming a viable option for Funds when dealing with legacy liabilities as part of the governance around their risk management strategy."
Squire Sanders' team was headed by pensions partner Clifford Sims, assisted by senior associate Ohad Graber-Soudry on procurement issues and pensions associate Sian Williams. Global legal practice Squire Sanders, with 37 offices in 18 countries, has one of the largest pensions law teams in the UK.