Insurance Deal Bails Out MF Global’s U.K. Pension Plan

An insurer focusing on pension buyouts has agreed to take over the failed broker-dealer’s British pension liabilities.

MF Global Files Bankruptcy As Broker-Dealer Unit Liquidates

MF Global Holdings Ltd. signage is displayed at 60 East 53rd Street in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. MF Global Holdings Ltd., the holding company for the broker-dealer run by ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. co-chairman Jon Corzine, filed for bankruptcy protection as it seeks to reorganize after making bets on European sovereign debt. Its broker-dealer unit, MF Global Inc., faces liquidation. Photographer: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

MF Global Holdings, the failed U.S. securities brokerage, is on its way to extinction under a court-supervised liquidation, but members of the firm’s U.K. pension fund will be made largely whole, thanks to a recent buyout agreement with a specialist insurer.

The trustees of the MF Global U.K. Pension Fund have struck an annuity-type deal with London-based Pension Insurance Corp. (PIC) to guarantee benefits to the fund’s 35 members.

The pension fund had £25 million ($40.4 million) in assets and £60 million in liabilities when the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011. Under the deal, settled on October 15, KPMG, the court-appointed administrator of MF Global U.K., is contributing funds that will enable PIC to guarantee £52 million in liabilities. The parties said the value of the insurance would be broadly equivalent to the benefits MF Global had promised before it collapsed.

The deal is unusual but not unprecedented. The Pension Protection Fund, established by the U.K.’s 2004 Pensions Act, guarantees 90 percent of pension benefits of failed companies but caps annual benefits at £31,380 per person. For financial companies with high salaries and pension benefits, arranging an annuity with an insurer can offer a more generous benefit to plan participants.

The MF Global arrangement follows a precedent set in 2009 by another victim of the credit crisis, the Dunfermline Building Society. Pension fund trustees of the Dunfermline, Scotland–based mortgage lender secured pension protection through a buyout with an insurer. KPMG and Richard Heis, who is a partner at the firm and joint special administrator for MF Global U.K., also worked on the Dunfermline deal.

The benefits of the buyout deal are “partly a question of cost,” said Wayne Segers, pensions director at KPMG, who worked on the deal. “The longer a settlement takes to reach for the pension scheme of a company in administration, the greater the fees, leaving less money available for meeting the pension liabilities.”

Moreover, the administrator’s ability to meet the liabilities through the bankrupt business’s remaining assets was reduced by a July 2013 U.K. Supreme Court ruling that downgraded pension liabilities of failed companies, saying they could not be ranked above claims of other unsecured creditors.

Linton Bloomberg, of counsel in the London office of New York–headquartered law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, who worked on the case, said the agreement’s success “may encourage other estates to try to reach a settlement using the same mechanism.”

New York–based MF Global, run by Jon Corzine, a former U.S. senator and former CEO of Goldman Sachs, collapsed because of a liquidity crisis when investors deserted the firm because of its large holdings in European sovereign debt.

PIC, a private London–based company with £9 billion in assets, specializes in pension buyouts. PIC bought out the £1.5 billion pension fund of EMI, the music publisher, in July, the largest such deal in the U.K. to date.

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