New Mortality Tables Released – What it Means for Plan Sponsors

by and | Nov 7, 2019 | Defined Benefit, Industry Updates

Quick overview – what’s new

The Society of Actuaries (SOA) published new mortality base tables and a new mortality improvement scale in late October. These new releases are likely to result in relatively small changes to plan sponsor income statements and balance sheets, and will most likely start to impact minimum contribution requirements in 2021; in most cases, these small changes will be favorable to plan sponsors.

New mortality improvement scales have been published each October for the last five years, and many plan sponsors have become accustomed to incorporating this annual update into their pension plan’s financial reporting assumptions.  The new Scale MP-2019 has slightly lower mortality improvement rates compared to Scale MP-2018 and thus, for most pension plans, will result in lower pension liabilities by approximately 0.3%- 1.0%, all else equal.

The new mortality base table, called Pri-2012, is the result of a larger study also by the SOA focusing on recent mortality experience of private sector retirement plans in the United States.  Plan sponsors who adopt this new table will see varying effects depending on their participant population (e.g. mix of male/female, participant age, white/blue collar, etc.).  For most plans, the liabilities under the new base table will be very comparable (+/- 1%) to the liability measured using RP-2006, which was the last base table update by the SOA.  Plans having younger, blue collar, male participants are more likely to experience liability increases; most other plans will experience liability reductions by switching from RP-2006 to Pri-2012.

Mortality table updates most immediately affect financial reporting and expense assumptions.  They will eventually affect minimum contribution, lump sum, and PBGC variable rate premium calculations, as the IRS typically adopts these underlying tables as well.  The IRS already issued mortality tables for 2020 before the new SOA tables were released, so these additional measures will not be impacted until the 2021 plan year at the earliest.

Additional Detail:

Mortality Improvement Scale MP-2019

The mortality assumption for most pension plans consists of two components: the base table and the improvement scale.  See our 2018 article to better understand how this works along with some history.

The new mortality improvement Scale MP-2019 follows scales that have been published each October for the past five years.  Over this time period, US mortality rates have been higher than originally projected when the revamped base table (RP-2006) and corresponding improvement scale (MP-2014) were released.  Higher mortality rates lead to lower pension liabilities.  Again this year, sponsors will generally see small decreases to their liability by reflecting the latest mortality improvement scale which once again backs off the rate of mortality improvement initially implied in MP-2014.

Mortality Base Table Pri-2012

The Pri-2012 tables are the first new private sector tables from the SOA since the RP-2006 tables, released in 2014.  The results upheld longstanding mortality concepts, such as females generally living longer than males and participants in white collar jobs generally living longer than those in blue collar jobs.

The Pri-2012 tables are based on significantly more data from multiemployer plans, which cover union employees typically.  While this did not lead to overall large swings in mortality rates, it did provide a significant portion of the blue collar dataset.  The new tables indicate that job classification, summarized in the study as white collar versus blue collar, leads to even larger differences in life expectancy than the previous tables indicated.  Plans using collar specific tables for accounting purposes may see larger changes in liabilities as a result of incorporating Pri-2012.

Additionally, the new study shows that contingent survivors (such as the surviving spouse on a joint and survivor annuity election) have meaningfully lower life expectancies than in-payment participants on average.  Therefore, Pri-2012 created a separate mortality table for contingent survivors.

Conclusion

The Pri-2012 table is a robust confirmation of the trends we’ve seen more informally through the annual projection scale updates and should provide sponsors with confidence that the current assumptions reflect the best, most up-to-date information available.  The SOA’s continuing practice of updating mortality improvement scales annually should avoid the sudden increases in liability many plans experienced in the earlier part of this decade – but sponsors will want to continue to keep a close eye on trends in this space, as changes in life expectancy can cause majors swings in a pension plan’s effect on cash flow, net income, and balance sheets.

 

Joe Anzalone is a Director and Consulting Actuary in R&M’s New York City Office. Lauren Meyer is an Associate Director in R&M’s Denver Office. Joe and Lauren are members of R&M’s Actuarial Resource Group that provides technical guidance to all of R&M’s actuarial staff.

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