Defined-Benefit Plan: Rise, Fall, and Complexities

Plan deficits can also be impacted by asset ceilings if the plan has a minimum funding requirement. For example, if payments under a minimum funding requirement create a surplus, which exceeds an asset ceiling, an additional liability is recognized. Asset ceilings can therefore significantly affect the amount of any surplus or deficit that is recognized and should therefore be carefully assessed.

  • As investment results are not predictable, the ultimate benefit at retirement is undefined.
  • They were first introduced in the U.S. when the government made promises to provide retirement benefits to veterans who served in the Revolutionary War.
  • The accounting for pensions can be quite complex, especially in regard to defined benefit plans.
  • The ultimate cost of a defined benefit plan is uncertain and is influenced by variables such as final salaries, employee turnover and mortality, employee contributions and medical cost trends.
  • The amount of service cost recognized in earnings in each period is the incremental change in the actuarial present value of benefits related to services rendered during the current accounting period.

If the annuity contract is held by the entity, it is accounted for under the guidance for investments under the insurance contracts guidance. Notwithstanding the benefits of the DB plan structure, DC plans have gained momentum and popularity. As a result of the shift, the primary responsibility for preparing for retirement has been removed from employer plan sponsors and placed on employees. They were first introduced in the U.S. when the government made promises to provide retirement benefits to veterans who served in the Revolutionary War. Subsequently, the number of DB plans increased throughout the country as the workforce in the U.S. became more industrialized. For example, dissimilar to pension payments, the costs of healthcare services may change drastically over time and the use of these services is irregular compared to annuity payments like pensions.

4 Defined contribution plan

Insurance companies that provide fiduciary liability insurance have responded to the rise in ERISA litigation by raising rates and eligibility requirements, and by scrutinizing plan governance and investment menus before issuing policies. With over $10 trillion in assets, employer-sponsored defined-contribution retirement plans play an important role in the corporate governance ecosystem. Yet the governance of such plans has been largely overlooked in existing corporate law scholarship. A defined-contribution plan is more popular with employers than the traditional defined-benefit plan for a few reasons.

  • The total amount of the pension at retirement is unknown because as contributions are invested, the value of the pension could increase or decrease up until retirement.
  • Defined-benefit plans provide eligible employees with guaranteed income for life when they retire.
  • A 401(k) plan is a defined-contribution plan offered to employees of private sector companies and corporations.
  • All plans should include in their reports a statement of changes in net assets available for benefits, a summary of significant accounting policies and a description of the plan and the effect of any changes in the plan during the period.
  • Nonetheless, DC plans have overtaken DB plans as the retirement plan of choice offered by companies in the private sector.

This objective requires the presentation of information about the plan’s economic resources and a measure of participants’ accumulated benefits. The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act upon such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation. For plan surpluses with an asset ceiling, the asset is measured at the lower of the surplus or the asset ceiling.

Any multi-employer plans that are classified and accounted for as defined benefit plans under IAS 19 will have a different treatment under US GAAP. Under IAS 19, the discount rate is determined by reference to market yields on high-quality corporate bonds denominated in the same currency as the defined benefit obligation. If a deep market does not exist (i.e. there are not enough high-quality corporate bonds available), the yield on government bonds denominated in the currency of the defined benefit obligation is used. US GAAP does not include a requirement to use market yields from government bonds absent a deep market. Therefore, the discount rate for a defined benefit plan located in a country without a deep market for high-quality corporate bonds may differ under US GAAP. Further, US GAAP requires selection of assumed discount rates that are consistent with the manner in which benefit payments are expected to be settled (the ‘settlement approach’).

Complex actuarial projections and insurance for assurances are usually required in these projects, resulting in higher  administrative expenses.

With that in mind, let’s now look at 10 assumptions that we would have to take into account in order to estimate the PBO and how they would impact the accuracy of the pension liability estimate. To accomplish this goal, Linda’s annual retirement benefit needs to be converted into a lump-sum value at her anticipated normal retirement date. The amount of assets in defined-contribution plans in the United States in Q2 2022, according to the Investment Company Institute. The ramifications of this change are profound, and many have questioned the readiness of the general populace to handle such a complex responsibility.

Multi-employer plans are defined contribution plans under US GAAP; not always under IAS 19

As previously stated, the estimated PBO and plan assets are large in relation to the debt and equity capitalization of a company. In turn, this means that the financial condition of a company is not accurately captured on the company’s balance sheet unless these amounts are included in the financials. Using a 4% yield on a 30-year Treasury bond as a conservative discount factor, the present value of Linda’s annual pension benefit over her 30-year life expectancy at her retirement date would be $21,079. This represents what Company ABC would have to pay Linda to satisfy her company’s retirement benefit obligation on the day that she retires. In a defined contribution scheme, the contributions paid into the pension scheme by the employer are pre-determined, often as a percentage of salary.

In 2019, only 16%1 of private sector workers in the United States have access to defined benefit plans. Despite the downward trend, employers who still offer those plans grapple with the complexity of the underlying accounting requirements. A defined contribution pension plan is one in which the employer contributes an amount into each eligible employee’s account within an established plan. The employee decides on the investment contribution margin ratio: formula, definition and examples strategy for the account and the resulting investment earnings, gains, or losses are recorded in his or her account. When the employee retires, the pension or retirement benefit is based upon his or her account balance. Defined benefits plans are employee benefits (other than termination benefits and short-term employee benefits) payable to employees after the completion of employment (before or during retirement).

Accounting for Each Type of Pension Cost

Therefore, dual reporters need to understand their actuaries’ experience and background, making sure that they have adequate knowledge of these GAAP differences. The applicable defined benefit plan costs are accounted for in the table of net periodic pension costs recognized in each accounting period (see table above). The employer is required to contribute 9,993.6 to the pension plan for both employees. Edwina’s personal contribution is matched by Amarallo since they are less than 7% of her salary, but Amarallo’s contributions for Brenda are capped at 7% of her salary since her personal contributions were high than that.

John’s Defined-Contribution Plan

These key differences determine which party—the employer or employee—bears the investment risks and affect the cost of administration for each plan. Both types of retirement accounts are also known as a superannuation in some countries. If Company ABC sets aside this amount of money, the Company ABC DB plan would be fully funded from an actuarial point of view. She is the only employee, has a base salary of $25,000, and recently completed one year of service with the firm.


The amount to be amortized is derived by assigning an equal amount of expense to each future period of service for each employee who is expected to receive benefits. If most of the employees are inactive, the amortization period is instead the remaining life expectancy of the employees. The monies paid in serve to build up a fund that can be used to provide an income on retirement, usually by means of an annuity. Under US GAAP, prior service cost related to a plan amendment is recognized in OCI at the date of the amendment and amortized as a component of net periodic cost in future periods. Once the present value of the defined benefit obligation is determined, the fair value of any plan assets is deducted to determine the deficit or surplus. Taken together, these changes constrain the ability of plan fiduciaries to use retirement plan assets to extract institutional investor support for corporate management in matters put before a shareholder vote.

Deferred pensions are deferred compensation, meaning participants forego their current salary for future pension benefits. The actuarial loss on the liabilities and the experience gained on plan assets influence the statement of comprehensive income. However, under IFRS, these items do not influence the income statement or profit and loss account. The pensions promised to employees subject a company that sponsors a defined benefit pension plan to the related investment risk. When an employer issues a plan amendment, it may contain increases in benefits that are based on services rendered by employees in prior periods. If so, the cost of these additional benefits is amortized over the future periods in which those employees active on the amendment date are expected to receive benefits.

If John took the defined-benefit route, his employer would take his contributions and either hand them to an outside investing firm or manage them. John has no say in what the company invests in, and he has to trust that they will be able to make their payouts from the plan come retirement. The investments in a defined-contribution plan grow tax-deferred until funds are withdrawn in retirement. For example, the most an employee can contribute to a 401(k) in 2023 is $22,500, or $30,000 with the $7,500 catch-up contribution.

While the reasons for growing fund activism are multifaceted and may include both pressure from current investors and competition for future clients, developments on the retirement plan side likely factor into the changing behavior. Despite its prevalence in corporate law scholarship, the “retirement business” theory has relatively limited empirical support, much of which predates recent developments in retirement plan governance. Moreover, the existing empirical and legal scholarship focuses almost exclusively on the incentives of the asset managers and their ability to meet their fiduciary obligations vis-à-vis their investors. In focusing on the decisions of mutual fund managers, the existing scholarship overlooks how decisions about retirement plans are made, who makes them, and the laws and lawsuits that constrain the decisionmakers’ actions. DB plans were implemented by people who had the best intentions for helping employees experience a financially sound life during their retirement years. Removing retirement planning burdens from employees and placing them on an employer is also a significant advantage of the traditional pension plan.

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