Sunday, January 11, 2009

Victims (III): Prudent Person in Switzerland?

Until the beginning of this year, Swiss pension funds were obliged to follow a detailed set of investment restrictions laid down in a government regulation, or obtain a formal waiver to deviate from these restrictions. The more sophisticated institutions have made use of that opportunity, which is why what once was supposed to be an exemption now had effectively become the rule.

This has changed with the new investment guidelines of articles 49 ff. BVV 2 which have entered into force on 1 January. The number of investment restrictions has been curtailed substantively and the alternatives asset class has been made available. Yet, the government has stopped short of introducing the prudent person rule as there are still a large number of small iorps which appear to feel more comfortable following a prescribed asset allocation, despite their objective needs. That is probably the line of thought that MPs followed who criticised the changed guidelines massively.  They seem to think that parliament knows best what an appropriate asset allocation strategy should be. It is unfortunate that even the most moderate of reasonable changes come under political pressure as a consequence of the crisis.

Effectively, the new investment guidelines are a reluctant, small step in the right direction. But they clearly fall short of the EU's state-of-the-art Pensions Directive 2003/41 in fundamental ways, most evidently in the restriction on equity investments to 50% rather than 70% as per the Directive. Also, a target return in line with money and capital markets and real estate returns seems to be at odds with member interests. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that the magic triangle of Risk, Return and Liquidity is cut down to a single Risk-Return line. There is also a degree of over-diversification in the prescription that alternatives exposure can only be taken through (expensive) collective means. Finally, there seems to be an editorial error in art. 60, which appears obsolete, given art. 50.4/5 (deleted by subsequent Regulation). There is a lot left to do. Here's to hope that the crisis will not preclude the necessary changes.

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