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Integrated risk management for defined benefit pensions: models and metrics*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2014

Chair of Investment, Portfolio Management and Pension Finance, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany Gruneburgplatz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (e-mail:


The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) insures private sector defined benefit (DB) pension plans, when an employer becomes insolvent and is unable to pay the pension liabilities. In principle, the insurance premiums collected by PBGC should be sufficient to cover potential losses; this would ensure that PBGC could pay the insured benefits of terminated pension plan without additional external funding (e.g., from taxpayers). Therefore, the risk exposure of the PBGC from insuring DB pension plans arises from the probability of the employer insolvencies; and the terminating plans’ funding status (the excess of the value of the insured plan liabilities over the plan assets). Here we explore only the second component, namely the impact of plan underfunding for the operation of the PBGC. When a DB plan is fully funded, the PBGC's risk exposure for an ongoing plan is low even if the plan sponsor becomes insolvent. Thus the questions most pertinent to the PBGC are: what key risk factors can produce underfunding in a DB plan, and how can these risk factors be quantified? We discuss the key risk factors that produce DB pension underfunding, namely, investment risk and liability risk. These are interrelated and must be considered simultaneously in order to quantify the risk exposure of a DB pension plan. We propose that an integrated risk management model (an Integrated Asset/Liability Model) can help better understand DB pension plan funding risk. We also examine the Pension Insurance Modeling System developed by the PBGC in terms of its own use of some of the building blocks of an integrated risk management model.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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The research reported herein was pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium (RRC); the author also acknowledges support from The Pension Research Council at The Wharton School and helpful comments from Olivia S. Mitchell. All findings and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the SSA or any agency of the federal government, the MRRC, the PRC, or The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.


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