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Margaret Franklin, CFA Institute
Margaret Franklin, CFA Institute

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Mercer CFA Institute publishes Global Pension Index 2023 

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Mercer and CFA Institute have released the 15th annual Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index (MCGPI), which finds that The Netherlands’ retirement income system has regained the top spot on the list, with Iceland and Denmark taking second and third places respectively.

“The average age of populations around the world continues to rise in many markets, mainly more mature markets,” says Margaret Franklin, CFA, President and CEO, CFA Institute. “Inflation and rising interest rates have created a new market dynamic that poses significant challenges to pension plans. We also see continued fracturing as it relates to globalisation. These are just a few of the increasingly complex challenges that pension funds face that impact retirees in significant ways.

“More and more often, individuals will have an increasingly important role to play as it relates to their own retirement. As investment professionals, we need to help them prepare for that. Each year, this index serves as a critical reminder that there is a long way to go in many jurisdictions to make pension plans function at their best and for the long-term financial security of beneficiaries.”

The growing impact of AI and its benefits to members

In addition to identifying the world’s top pension systems, the report examines the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve pension and social security systems and provide people a better quality of life in retirement.

“The ongoing expansion of AI within the operations and decisions of investment managers could lead to more efficient and better-informed decision-making processes, which could potentially lead to higher real investment returns to pension plan members,” says Senior Partner at Mercer and lead author of the study, Dr. David Knox. “AI also has the potential to improve member-engagement and help individuals make long-term decisions about their financial decisions. Both advances should improve retirement outcomes.”

The report, however, makes clear that AI is not without risks, including modelling challenges and ethical concerns as well as the need for optimal data privacy and cybersecurity. In developing these systems, it is essential that AI models have strong governance and clear accountability to reduce biases and unjustified responses, the authors say. Safeguards are critical for pension plans to retain their members’ long-term trust.

“AI by itself is not the complete answer. There will always be a need for human oversight. Despite these risks, AI has the opportunity to deliver a higher standard of living in retirement — a worthwhile objective for all pension systems,” Knox says.

By the numbers

The Netherlands had the highest overall index value (85.0), closely followed by Iceland (83.5) and Denmark (81.3). Argentina had the lowest index value (42.3). Although the Netherlands is currently undertaking significant pension reform, the system is well-positioned to provide excellent benefits amid the move from a collective benefit structure to a more individual defined contribution approach.

The Index uses the weighted average of the sub-indices of adequacy, sustainability, and integrity. For each sub-index, the systems with the highest values were Portugal for adequacy (86.7), Iceland for sustainability (83.8), and Finland for integrity (90.9). The systems with the lowest values across the sub-indices were South Korea for adequacy (39.0), Austria for sustainability (22.6), and the Philippines for integrity (25.7).

Falling birth rates have placed pressure on several economies and pension systems over the longer term, the authors note, negatively affecting the sustainability scores for countries like Italy and Spain. Several Asian systems, however, including mainland China, Korea, Singapore, and Japan, have undertaken reform to improve their scores in the last five years.

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