Thursday, September 19, 2013
A time bomb is ticking over the retirement years of India’s’ formal workforce—if a recent article in The Economic Times of 02/09/2013 is to be believed. The news article was titled as follows:-
EPS (Employee Pension Scheme) ---Will you get your pension??
Employee Pension Scheme 1995 is in dire straits. There are unconfirmed reports of actuarial valuation showing a deficit of whopping Rs. 54000 crores-- 10 times bigger than the financial black hole that had emerged at the erstwhile Unit Trust of India.
Administered by the Employees' Provident Fund Organization, the EPS is unlike any other pension scheme in the world. Typically, a pension scheme spells out the contributions to be made into a worker's account through his or her career or the pension to be paid out at retirement. If the pension income is fixed, contributions are kept flexible over time to achieve the target income.
The EPS spells out both the contributions as well as benefits, which actuaries consider untenable over time
Ironically, at its inception, the scheme had inherited Rs 9,000 crore as surplus from the Family Pension Scheme of 1971. But design flaws and generous grant of additional relief in its initial years had pushed it into a Rs 22,000 crore deficit by 2004.
The government pumps in around Rs 1100 crore annually as a subsidy towards the scheme. The moot point is how long will the government continue to pump in money into the black hole.
This is how the EPS works:-
The employer contributes 8.33% of the employee’s salary to EPF on behalf of the employee subject to an annual limit of Rs. 6500/-.The monthly amount of Rs. 542/- flowing in to the EPS Is too small to be noticed.
Apart from the abysmally low monthly contribution, what ails the scheme is that all such contributions accumulates in a pension pool from where the employee starts getting lifelong pension upon completion of 10 years of service and 58 years of age.
One primary reason for the swelling deficit in Employee Pensions Scheme is increasing life expectancy as compared to that prevailing in early 90s.
The average Indian male now lives up to 67.3 years and females up to 69.6 years. In 10 years, this would rise to 69.8 and 72.3 years respectively. This is the national average, and life expectancy is higher by around 5 years in metros and other urban centres. By 2030, the average urban Indian would be living till the age of 80, putting more pressure on the pension payments. So, not only will there be more pensioners but they will be drawing the pension for a longer period.
Ticking Time Bomb
The low return is a minor problem compared to the crisis looming in the horizon. The defined benefit model on which the scheme is based is patently unsustainable. Things are not looking too bad right now because there are more contributors than beneficiaries. In 2011-12, for instance, the EPS received contributions worth Rs 14,768 crore and paid out benefits worth Rs 7,859 crore. The scheme's corpus increased 14% to Rs 1, 83,429 crore during the year.
But this situation would change in the coming years as India's demographic dividend transforms into a geriatric nightmare. In 2012, only 8% of the Indian population was above 60 years. Studies have estimated that this figure would rise to 12.4% by 2026 and to 19.1% by 2050. With every passing year, the pool of pensioners will become larger even as the number of contributors will rise at a slower pace.
Night mare continues
The EPFO is now considering raising the contribution limit from Rs 6,500 a year to Rs 10,000 a year and giving a minimum pension of Rs 1,000 a month. Both measures have the potential to dig a deeper hole for the EPS. Raising the limit would cause the pension outgo to shoot up. Retirees who contributed the lower amount of Rs 6,500 a year would be eligible for pension based on the higher limit of Rs 10,000. The last time the limit was raised from Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,500 in 2002, the scheme notched up a deficit of Rs 10,000 crore. This time, a formula must be worked out to adjust the pension accordingly. The minimum pension limit will also put pressure on the scheme as lower income workers are cross subsidized by other members.
Already there are signs that all is not well. In the past 15 years, the scheme has slipped into the red. Experts estimate that it now has a deficit of almost Rs 54,000 crore
The Finance Ministry has repeatedly suggested that the EPS subscribers should be allowed to migrate to the New Pension Scheme which has individual accounts for every member. The new Pension scheme works on the principle of defined contribution scheme which is more sustainable.
The world over, countries and organizations which had promised defined benefits to their citizens and employees are strapped with pension bills they can't afford. A recent example of this is the state of Detroit in USA which has files for bankruptcy. The question every employee needs to ask his HR manager and management is: - IS MY PENSION SAFE?