Two weeks ago, the Society of Actuaries, a professional association of 24,000 actuaries, updated the mortality tables it released last fall.
The latest tables show an “ever so slightly lower” rate of improved mortality than what was calculated in 2014, according to Dale Hall, managing director of research at SOA.
The longevity projections the SOA released in 2014 — the tables were last updated in 2000 — showed the average 65-year old male would live to be 86.6, and the average 65-year old woman could expect to live to 88.8.
Lifespan was increasing, the tables showed: 2.4 more years for women and 2.0 more years for men, relative to the projections made in 2000.
Though however slight to the naked eye, those estimates had massive implications for sponsors of defined benefit plans.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the 2014 new longevity projections created a new $2.2 billion shortfall in General Motor’s pension funding status.
Other large sponsors, like Verizon and AT&T, also noted substantial write-downs resulting from the new longevity tables in their earnings reports. Towers Watson estimated the largest 400 pension plans in the U.S. would take a collective $72 billion dollar hit.
When the SOA released their findings last October, it did so against the strains of sponsor advocates.
In a letter to Treasury officials after the SOA released a draft of proposed new tables in the Spring of 2014, Lynn Dudley, senior vice president at American Benefits Council, a trade group that represents sponsors of the 100 largest pension plans, argued that the SOA was overstating just how much longer people were living in its new tables.
“The overstatement of life expectancy in the SOA tables, if reflected in regulations issued by Treasury and the Service, would cause defined benefit pension plan liabilities (and lump sums and other optional forms of payments) to be overvalued by tens of billions of dollars nationally, triggering several adverse effects,” wrote Dudley.
“Many plan sponsors would be forced to overfund their plans and to cut or freeze benefits, and would put additional pressure on sponsors to de-risk more quickly to avoid inappropriate liability increases. And, of course, the overfunding required would divert scarce assets to inflated pension liabilities and away from business investment and jobs,” added Dudley.
Basically, sponsors were arguing that the SOA used incomplete data in estimating the new tables.
That led to an excessive estimation of just how long retirees will be expected to live, and effectively rendered the SOA’s mortality improvement scale “speculative,” according to the ABC.
Sponsors were not alone. A growing chorus of actuaries also voiced complaints with the SOA’s process.
Amid last year’s draft proposal and comment period, the American Academy of Actuaries, another professional association with 18,000 actuary members, wrote the SOA, voicing similar concerns raised by sponsors and the ABC.