The government has given the green  light to a new form of defined contribution pension scheme.  At least, it is new to the UK.  “Collective defined contribution” (“CDC”) schemes are common in the Netherlands and Denmark but the idea of introducing this type of scheme into the UK has only relatively recently gained traction.  The fact that the Royal Mail wants to put such a scheme in place for its 140,000-strong workforce has provided the impetus for the government to consult on how CDC schemes would operate and be regulated.

CDC schemes are likely to be good news for employers.  Like individual DC schemes, the employer pays fixed contributions and does not bear the risk of any shortfall in expected benefits.  But, all other things being equal, members are expected to get higher pensions with less risk than they would from an individual DC scheme.

A CDC scheme calculates a target level of pension for the member, which is not guaranteed, based on the value of the scheme’s assets.  In retirement, the member receives a pension directly from the scheme.  Members are not faced with the choice between buying an annuity or keeping their pot invested and taking income drawdown (although members will be able to take a transfer out of a CDC scheme if they want to do that).

Investing collectively spreads investment and longevity risk across the membership and allows the effect of market movements to be smoothed over time.  The idea is that a CDC scheme can invest more efficiently than an individual member can, in assets that can generate higher returns and have a longer time horizon.  It also means that, whereas, in an individual DC scheme, a dip in the value of a member’s pot has a direct impact the amount of the pension, a CDC scheme cushions the member from that effect.

So, you might ask, where is the catch?  For members, an important point to note is that there are no guaranteed pension increases.  Pensions for all members (whether in payment or not) are adjusted (up or down) depending on the investment performance of the scheme’s assets.  The government envisages that actuarial valuations will be carried out each year to determine those adjustments.

The possibility of a reduction, rather than an increase, is a feature that will  be unfamiliar to members and will need to be carefully communicated.  More broadly, there are a number of risk warnings the government intends to require members to be given, to make sure they are aware of how a CDC scheme operates.  These include statements to the effect that the projected benefits are not guaranteed, that the pension may be reduced (and the potential scale of variability) and the fact that the risks are borne by the members collectively, rather than the employer.

The government’s priority is to bring forward legislation to get the Royal Mail scheme up and running, after which it will then move on to facilitate CDC schemes generally, both for individual employers and groups of associated employers.