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Guarantees ‘strangling’ Germany’s Pensionskassen – Towers Watson

first_imgThe average discount rate applied by many Pensionskassen in Germany is still above 3.5% despite the yield from bonds having fallen in recent years, Udo Mangold, senior consultant at Towers Watson Germany, told delegates at the consultancy’s Pensionskassen Day in Frankfurt.This means pension funds have had to issue guarantees on reaching this return level – and this is “strangling Pensionskassen” and decreasing benefits, he said.“Too high guarantees are endangering the future survival of a Pensionskasse,” he added.According to Mangold, lowering the discount rate to 0% or 1% would allow Pensionskassen more freedom in their investments, as well as higher returns, which over the long term would benefit members. Earlier this year, Rainer Jakubowski, managing director at Germany’s largest Pensionskasse, the €25bn BVV, argued that limits on investment options were leading to “wrong” asset allocations.At the Towers Watson conference, Marco Herrmann, head of strategy, law and communications at the BVV, confirmed that his fund was already in the process of lowering discount rates – including in existing contracts.According to Mangold, the average discount rate in Pensionskassen will remain high over a long period if a new discount rate is only applied to new contracts.“Transitions where the Rechnungszins is lowered in existing contracts have already been made, and they have been okayed by the German supervisor BaFin,” he said.The consultant also pointed out that guarantees were based on the assumption new entrants would be paying into the Pensionskasse continuously over the next 45 years, which was not always the case.He warned Pensionskassen against promising a life-long pension payout when the contract was signed, as opposed to offering a one-off payout of accrued assets on retirement.“Providers can always offer a pension payout option later,” he added.Herrmann suggested a way to increase assets in Pensionskassen would be to allow a higher percentage of the salary to be transferred.The German government argues that many members have not even reached the 4% threshold currently allowed.But the BVV representative pointed out this was different for members in his fund, which all are working in the financial sector.“In fact, we would need an 8-10% threshold to ensure they can keep up their standard of living on retirement,” he said.The BVV is now trying to encourage more people to contribute to the Pensionskasse themselves.last_img read more

Cannabis: scientists call for action amid mental health concerns

first_imgThe Guardian 15 April 2016Family First Comment: A UK government spokesperson said its position on cannabis was clear. “We must prevent drug use in our communities and help people who are dependent to recover, while ensuring our drugs laws are enforced. There is clear scientific and medical evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health, and harms communities.”   Nicely summed up.The risks of heavy cannabis for mental health are serious enough to warrant global public health campaigns, according to international drugs experts who said young people were particularly vulnerable.The warning from scientists in the UK, US, Europe and Australia reflects a growing consensus that frequent use of the drug can increase the risk of psychosis in vulnerable people, and comes as the UN prepares to convene a special session on the global drugs problem for the first time since 1998. The meeting in New York next week aims to unify countries in their efforts to tackle issues around illicit drug use.While the vast majority of people who smoke cannabis will not develop psychotic disorders, those who do can have their lives ruined. Psychosis is defined by hallucinations, delusions and irrational behaviour, and while most patients recover from the episodes, some go on to develop schizophrenia. The risk is higher among patients who continue with heavy cannabis use.Public health warnings over cannabis have been extremely limited because the drug is illegal in most countries, and there are uncertainties over whether it really contributes to mental illness. But many researchers now believe the evidence for harm is strong enough to issue clear warnings.“It’s not sensible to wait for absolute proof that cannabis is a component cause of psychosis,” said Sir Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research at King’s College London. “There’s already ample evidence to warrant public education around the risks of heavy use of cannabis, particularly the high-potency varieties. For many reasons, we should have public warnings.”The researchers are keen not to exaggerate the risks. In the language of the business, cannabis alone is neither necessary nor sufficient to cause psychosis. But the drug inflicts a clear burden on the vulnerable. Estimates suggest that deterring heavy use of cannabis could prevent 8-24% of psychosis cases handled by treatment centres, depending on the area. In London alone, where the most common form of cannabis is high-potency skunk, avoiding heavy use could avert many hundreds of cases of psychosis every year.In the US, cannabis is becoming stronger and more popular. Over the past 20 years, the strength of cannabis seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration has increased from 4%-12% THC. Meanwhile, the number of users rose from 14.5 million to 22.2 million in the seven years to 2014.Coinciding with the upwards trend, young people’s perceptions of the risks of cannabis have fallen, a consequence perhaps of the public discussion over legalisation and fewer restrictions for medicinal uses, according to the US government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (Nida).“It is important to educate the public about this now,” said Nora Volkow, director of Nida. “Kids who start using drugs in their teen years may never know their full potential. This is also true in relation to the risk for psychosis. The risk is significantly higher for people who begin using marijuana during adolescence. And unfortunately at this point, most people don’t know their genetic risk for psychosis or addiction.”….In Australia, a 2013 study found nearly half of the cannabis confiscated on the streets contained more than 15% THC. Prof Wayne Hall, director of the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland, said that while most people can use cannabis without putting themselves at risk of psychosis, there is still a need for public education.….In the 1960s, cannabis in the Netherlands had less than 3% THC, but today high potency strains average 20%. Jim van Os, professor of psychiatry at Maastricht University medical centre, said public health messages are now justified. He believes people should be deterred from using cannabis before the age of 18, warned off the stronger forms, and urged not to use cannabis alone or to cope with life’s problems.… A government spokesperson said its position on cannabis was clear. “We must prevent drug use in our communities and help people who are dependent to recover, while ensuring our drugs laws are enforced. There is clear scientific and medical evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health, and harms communities.”READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/apr/15/cannabis-scientists-call-for-action-amid-mental-health-concerns?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Otherlast_img read more