DEFINITION of 'Pension Risk Transfer'

When a defined benefit pension provider offloads some or all of the plan’s risk – e.g.: retirement payment liabilities to former employee beneficiaries. The plan sponsor can do this by offering vested plan participants a lump-sum payment to voluntarily leave the plan, or by negotiating with an insurance company to take on the responsibility for paying benefits. Companies transfer pension risk to avoid earnings volatility – they no longer have to pay for unfounded pension obligations – and to free themselves to concentrate on their core businesses.

BREAKING DOWN 'Pension Risk Transfer'

The total annual cost of a pension plan can be hard to predict due to variables in investment returns, interest rates and the longevity of participants. Large companies had been holdouts to the national trend of transferring pension planning responsibility to employees, but that began to change in 2012, when a range of Fortune 500 players sought to transfer pension risk. This included Ford Motor Co. (F) , Sears, Roebuck & Co., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (JCP) and PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) – which offered former employees an optional lump-sum payment; and General Motors Co. (GM) and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) – which purchased annuities for retirees. (See also: risk shifting and transfer of risk.)

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