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New Plan Design in the Netherlands

Up until now, workers in the Netherlands have typically been covered by industry-wide defined benefit plans. These plans are administered by boards which include representatives of employers, workers, and retirees. Together with the Dutch social security benefit, these traditional plans are designed to provide a total replacement rate of 70 percent of preretirement salary.  In these plans, both employers and employees contribute, but employers bear the investment risk. If investments perform poorly, employers must contribute more, while if investments perform well, employers can contribute less and may even get refunds.

In the past couple of years, Dutch employers have started adopting a new type of pension plan. This type of plan looks a lot like a traditional defined benefit pension plan, but differs in one key respect — it shifts both investment risk and longevity risk to plan employees and retirees. This plan is called a “collective defined contribution plan”.

In a collective defined contribution plan, employees earn benefits based on their salaries each year (a “career average” benefit formula). Workers do not have individual accounts as they would in a defined contribution plan in the United States. Instead, the money is pooled for investment purposes, and employees receive benefits solely in the form of a price-indexed lifetime payments beginning at retirement. These plans are structured to provide a similar level of replacement income as traditional defined benefit plans.

Employers and employees contribute a fixed percentage of wages to these plans. The percentage is designed to assure generally that the plans are well funded, with a target cushion of 30 percent overfunding. Employers have no additional liability if the investments of the plans perform poorly, and receive no benefit if the investments perform well. The risks of unexpected investment losses and longer than anticipated life expectancies is entirely borne by the employees and retirees as a group.

If a collective DC plan suffers investment losses and becomes underfunded, the plan’s governing body, which has representatives of employers, employees, and retirees, decides what adjustments should be made. The adjustments can be an increase in contributions by employees (but not employers) or elimination of cost-of-living adjustments, and, in extreme cases, reductions in the benefits earned in future years. If the plan becomes overfunded, the workers, rather than the employer, benefit.

Collective DC plans have advantages for employers and employees. An advantage for employers is that their contributions are fixed and predictable, while under traditional defined benefit plans their contributions may vary. Also, for accounting purposes employers treat the plans as defined contribution plans, and thus do not have to reflect unfunded liabilities, with their intrinsic volatility, on their financial statements.

Advantages for employees are that they receive adequate retirement incomes for themselves and their spouses and do not have the burden of managing individual accounts. Investment fees and other costs are significantly reduced because funds are invested on a collective basis. Governmental retirement policy goals are also satisfied because the funds are available solely as replacement income during retirement and cannot be used for other purposes during the worker’s working years or as an asset to pass on to heirs.

For more information about the Netherlands new "Collective DC " plans read this TIME Magazine article.      

For information about other kinds of plans in the Netherlands read this report, Sharing Risk: The Netherlands' New Approach to Pensions.