• Asset-liability modelling and pension schemes: the application of robust optimization to USS

      Platanakis, Emmanouil; Sutcliffe, C. (2017)
      This paper uses a novel numerical optimization technique – robust optimization – that is well suited to solving the asset–liability management (ALM) problem for pension schemes. It requires the estimation of fewer stochastic parameters, reduces estimation risk and adopts a prudent approach to asset allocation. This study is the first to apply it to a real-world pension scheme, and the first ALM model of a pension scheme to maximize the Sharpe ratio. We disaggregate pension liabilities into three components – active members, deferred members and pensioners, and transform the optimal asset allocation into the scheme’s projected contribution rate. The robust optimization model is extended to include liabilities and used to derive optimal investment policies for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), benchmarked against the Sharpe and Tint, Bayes–Stein and Black–Litterman models as well as the actual USS investment decisions. Over a 144-month out-of-sample period, robust optimization is superior to the four benchmarks across 20 performance criteria and has a remarkably stable asset allocation – essentially fix-mix. These conclusions are supported by six robustness checks.
    • Pension scheme redesign and wealth redistribution between the members and sponsor: The USS rule change in October 2011

      Platanakis, Emmanouil; Sutcliffe, C.
      The redesign of defined benefit pension schemes usually results in a substantial redistribution of wealth between age cohorts of members, pensioners, and the sponsor. This is the first study to quantify the redistributive effects of a rule change by a real world scheme (the Universities Superannuation Scheme, USS) where the sponsor underwrites the pension promise. In October 2011 USS closed its final salary scheme to new members, opened a career average revalued earnings (CARE) section, and moved to ‘cap and share’ contribution rates. We find that the pre-October 2011 scheme was not viable in the long run, while the post-October 2011 scheme is probably viable in the long run, but faces medium term problems. In October 2011 future members of USS lost 65% of their pension wealth (or roughly £100,000 per head), equivalent to a reduction of roughly 11% in their total compensation, while those aged over 57 years lost almost nothing. The riskiness of the pension wealth of future members increased by a third, while the riskiness of the present value of the sponsor’s future contributions reduced by 10%. Finally, the sponsor’s wealth increased by about £32.5 billion, equivalent to a reduction of 26% in their pension costs.