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Global pension assets on the up

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Global institutional pension fund assets in the 22 largest major markets (the P22) bounced back in 2019, soaring by 15 per cent to USD46.7 trillion at year end, according to the latest figures in the Thinking Ahead Institute’s Global Pension Assets Study.The growth recovery was driven, in part, by strong gains in equity markets during the year with Mexico (22.2 per cent), Canada (18.9 per cent) and the US (17.8 per cent) leading the way. This represents a significant swing in fortunes from 2018, which saw an overall 3.3 per cent decline in global pension assets.

The seven largest markets for pension assets (the P7) – Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and the US – account for 92 per cent of the P22, marginally higher than the previous year. The US also remains the largest pension market, representing 62 per cent of worldwide pension assets, followed by the UK and Japan with 7.4 per cent and 7.2 per cent respectively.

The research also shows the shift to alternative assets continues apace and marks two decades of considerable change in pension fund asset allocation globally. In 1999, just 6 per cent of P7 pension fund assets were allocated to private markets and other alternatives, compared to nearly a quarter of assets (23 per cent) in 2019. This shift comes largely at the expense of equities and bonds, down 16 per cent and 1 per cent respectively, in the period. The average P7 asset allocation is now equities 45 per cent, bonds 29 per cent, alternatives 23 per cent and cash 3 per cent.

Marisa Hall, Co-Head of the Thinking Ahead Institute, says: “Besides strong growth in assets last year, there was a noticeable pick-up in the decade-long trend of funds developing stronger strategies around their people. Larger funds, particularly those above US$25 billion, continued to build larger and more sophisticated internal teams, with stronger leadership through CEO and CIO roles and greater role specialisation in certain asset classes, such as private markets. Smaller funds are continuing to outsource all or part of their CIO-type decisions and we expect this to continue.”

According to the research, total DC assets continue to grow, representing slightly over 50 per cent of total P7 pension assets. Last year DC exceeded defined benefit (DB) assets for the first time, a culmination of ten years of faster DC assets growth than DB (8.4 per cent vs 4.8 per cent pa), reflecting increased member coverage and, in some markets, higher contributions.

Hall says
: “The DC market has retained its newly-found position as the larger of the two, as DB assets grow at a far slower pace. But the challenge of member engagement, critical for a stronger DC system, remains an unresolved issue for many schemes. As such, we expect this to be an area of particular focus for leading DC organisations as the next generation of plans takes shape. Advances in technology are opening up new possibilities for customisation, changing the nature of member interactions and re-setting member expectations. The future of DC is likely to be hyper-customised, with increased focus on individual participants, but many schemes need to improve their governance to fully embrace this.”
 

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