Rubenstein to step down as chief executive of UK pensions lifeboat PPF

The boss of the UK pensions lifeboat is to step down after a near-nine year tenure in which he steered it to a more robust funding position amid a yawning chasm in defined benefit retirement schemes.

Sky News has learnt that Alan Rubenstein is to quit his role as chief executive of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF (Shenzhen: 300258.SZ – news) ) early next year.

An ‎announcement will be made about Mr Rubenstein’s departure on Monday, and officials at the Department for Work and Pensions have been briefed about his decision, a Whitehall source said.

It will come a year after the PPF was ‎thrust into the public spotlight following the collapse of BHS, which left 20,000 retirement scheme members facing an anxious wait for news about their pension pots.

The PPF played a significant role in discussions about the deal ‎- including forcing the appointment of a second administrator – which eventually saw Sir Philip Green, the former BHS owner, agreeing to pay up to £363m towards a new scheme.

Mr Rubenstein has also been at the centre of talks about a deal to secure the pensions of thousands of British workers at Tata Steel (BSE: TATASTEEL.BO – news) , owner of the vast Port Talbot steelworks in Wales.

A former investment banker at Lehman Brothers, Mr Rubenstein joined the PPF‎ in April 2009, when the agency ‎was just 80% funded in terms of its liabilities.

‎The PPF now has a funding ratio of 121%, thanks to a strong investment performance, which has enabled it to generate a surplus.

Funded by a levy on private companies, it insures millions of workers’ pensions, with the net deficit of the schemes protected by the PPF standing at £226.5bn at the end of March.

More than 230,000 people are now members of‎ PPF-backed schemes, and 128,000 are in direct receipt of compensation from the agency.

In a statement to mark the publication of its annual report earlier this month, Mr Rubenstein said it continued to make “steady progress towards our strategic objectives”.

“Members can be reassured by the protection the PPF provides,” he said.

“However, we are not complacent as we continue to face large‎ deficits in the schemes we protect.”

Mr Rubenstein’s decision to step down will leave the PPF’s ‎board and ministers seeking to identify a new chief at a time of uncertainty about the UK’s broader pension landscape.

Defined benefit schemes have been hit by the prolonged period of low interest rates, which hurt the returns achieved by gilts and other bonds, in which huge sums of pension fund money are invested.

The PPF has made a number of prominent investments in infrastructure deals, including recently in the M6 toll road.

It was also part of an unsuccessful consortium which bid for the Government’s Green Investment Bank.

One person who has dealt with the PPF said that Mr Rubenstein had done “an outstanding job” since taking over.

The PPF was established in 2005 to ‎pay compensation to the members of private sector pension schemes whose sponsors become insolvent.

Prior to it being set up, those individuals were at risk of losing their entire pension pots, while they now typically receive 90% of the originally promised benefits.

The PPF also provides help to some people who lost out on their pension ‎prior to April 2005 through the Financial Assistance Scheme, which it now administers.

Mr Rubenstein is likely to seek a number of other directorships, having joined the board of Esure, the motor insurer, earlier this year.

Neither Mr Rubenstein nor a PPF spokeswoman could be reached for comment on Sunday.

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