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Pensions, power & development performance

Elias Masilela's picture
Woman who works in the daycare kitchen of a local farm in Milnerton, South Africa

The investment of pension fund assets has moved from an obscure topic for actuaries, to an issue which raises political attention at the highest level.

This is for the simple reason that it directly touches the social and economic livelihoods of people.

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, developed economies have been looking for additional sources of long-term capital to fill the gaps which bank and government balance sheets can’t fill. This is a search that has engulfed the developing world for much longer if not for as long as they exist. Younger developing economies are starting to see their pension funds grow, side by side with an increasing awareness of the impact which productively invested assets can have on economic growth both today and tomorrow. If invested for the aligned intensions of social impact and financial return, pension funds can improve people’s lives today and secure their income in future. However, this isn’t a general phenomenon – applying only to larger funds which have invested in the intellectual capacity of their Trustees, and in countries which have understood and embraced the strong relationship between the macroeconomic performance and asset performance.

Redirecting pension investments from short-term assets (government paper, bank deposits) to investments with a long-term impact is key to delivering, not only improved, but sustained returns. Private equity (PE) - equity capital not quoted on a public exchange – is one such asset class. PE investment is increasingly in vogue as such capital is the foundation of all economies, and indeed leads to the development of robust stock markets. If structured with pension investors’ risk-return consideration in mind, it can deliver the diversification benefits which these investors need.  If properly targeted, such investments will be vital in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, considering that 15 of the 17 SDGs have a focus on growth, development and sustainability (the last two being on implementation and capital resource origination). Active participation in investee companies by shareholders such as pension funds will be vital for ensuring a future sustainable and shared economy. In turn, for this to work optimally, requires conscientious and capable Trustees.

3 hindrances to expanding pensions in Kenya

Rose Kwena's picture

Did you know that in Kenya less than 15% of the population is covered with old age security? This means that many Kenyans are facing a vulnerability of retiring into poverty. But this is not accidental since established factors identified in studies commissioned by Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) necessitate this situation.  

However, Kenya is starting to tackle some of these factors and to help increase pensions coverage to reach more Kenyans to help reverse the state of affairs.

1. A chief factor limiting pension growth is that the formal sector is creating fewer jobs. Despite the positive economic growth registered in the country, employment growth in the formal sector is slow. For example, only 128,000 out of the 841,600 new jobs created in 2015 were formal. This has a direct effect on the pension services since the structure of the industry is still highly biased towards the formal employment model.
Transactions that facilitate employers and employees to contribute are generally conducted from the pay slip, and formal employers adhere more to the regulations and legislation on the issue compared to those who operate informally. As a result, millions of citizens have been cut off from the pension system.   

Luckily, this gap is slowly being narrowed by Individual Pension schemes that are specifically targeting the informal sector workers. An example of this is the Mbao pension scheme. The Plan is an inventive idea that adapts a savings product to marginal population groups and contributes to their improved social and economic security.

Can developing countries increase pension coverage to prepare for old age?

Gloria M. Grandolini's picture

While many of us work hard to postpone growing old, ageing populations as a whole are inevitable, predictable and something countries can prepare for.

As developing countries prosper, their citizens will live longer and, hopefully, healthier lives. By 2050, the number of people in the world 65 and older will have doubled from 10% to 20%. By then 80% of the world’s elderly –nearly 1.3 billion people - will live in low-income countries.
Are these countries set up to care for these forthcoming senior citizens and ensure they have the resources to live in dignity in old age? Will countries be able to ensure fairness between the generations and resources?
Current pensions systems leave many pockets of society uncovered:
  • As countries become more urbanized and families have fewer children, traditional family-based care for the elderly is breaking down, without adequate formal mechanisms to replace it.   
  • Traditional employment-based pensions systems don’t cover most informal sector workers in developing economies. In some regions, these workers account for two-thirds or more of the working age population. Even for those with formal sector jobs, pension coverage has been declining for people who’ve entered the workforce since 1990 in terms of years contributed over lifetime, according to World Bank Pensions Database. This has a major impact on the amount of retirement income they will eligible to receive.

Pension investment in infrastructure debt: a new source of capital for project finance

M. Nicolas J. Firzli's picture

At the start of the decade, the World Pensions Council (WPC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) helped convene some of the first international summits focusing on the future of long-term investments in the post-Lehman era, arguing that infrastructure would soon become an asset class in its own right.
At that time, we thought that the crisis would usher an era of durably low interest rates, pushing more pension and insurance investors to pursue a “quest for yields,” increasing mechanically their allocation to non-traditional asset classes such as:

Live longer, work longer?

Harun Onder's picture

Imagine yourself on a comfy seat like the ones they give to ministers. But do not get too cozy as you are about to make a difficult decision. Population is aging in your country, and there simply is not enough resources to finance the pension benefits of the retirees. What should you do?

The conventional wisdom suggests that you should increase the retirement age. The argument goes as follows. People live six years longer in retirement now than half a century ago. Therefore, using some of those additional years for work is not completely unfair. By increasing the retirement age, you could increase the number of contributors while decreasing that of beneficiaries at the same time. This should provide an effective remedy for the imbalances in pension system accounts.

Promoting equity in education to prepare for a greying Europe

Christian Bodewig's picture
PISA measures the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science.
Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank 

Investing in people starts by ensuring that graduates leave school with strong basic/foundational skills, such as in reading and mathematics. Such skills are critical for subsequent study, for quickly finding a first job, and for adapting to continuous technological change. But are countries in the EU ready to face that challenge?

The unfinished business of pension reform in Moldova

Yuliya Smolyar's picture
Costesti village, central Moldova. Photo by Elena Prodan / World Bank

In the early to mid-1990s, the Moldovan Government often didn’t pay pensions on time – sometimes they were up to two years late. And, they were often paid in-kind. This situation was a syndrome of the trials and tribulations that the country was experiencing in its tumultuous transition to a market economy.
Reform of the pension system was initiated in the late ‘90s to try to fix some of the more pressing challenges by restoring fiscal balance and helping put payments on a sustainable track – essentially meaning that payments were now made in cash, rather than in galoshes or umbrellas.
Similar to Moldova’s protracted transition to a free market, however, the reform of the country’s pension system is largely a story of “unfinished business”. One important reason for this is that the 1998 pension reform envisaged a phased increase in the retirement age up to 65 years for both men and women, and clear linkages between salary contributions and pension payments. This aimed to motivate Moldovans to participate in the system, but after a few years of implementation, the gradual increase in retirement age was put on hold. And, because the retirement age didn’t increase, the planned increase in the value of pensions was put on hold too.

The Geography in Ageing

Mamta Murthi's picture

A view from Central Europe and the Baltics

A Romanian elderly woman selling flowers Being busy with everyday life many of us, including myself, do not spend much time thinking how our lives will look like in 20 or 30 years. However, when I travel to the countries I work on, I see the challenges faced by the elderly, especially in rural areas.  These challenges include poor access to social and health services, exclusion and simply loneliness.

The countries in Central Europe and the Baltics are ageing.  As a result, the size of the working age population is shrinking, creating labor shortages which could potentially challenge future growth.  Ageing is also putting government budgets under pressure from the rise in age-related spending on pensions and healthcare, and the shrinking base of tax contributors.
All of this is well known.  Less appreciated, however, is the fact that in many countries there is a distinct geographical pattern to ageing.  Sparsely populated rural areas are seeing an increasing share of elderly people, while urban areas still attract most of the young generation.   The greying of the rural population creates a challenge for public policy as rural municipalities often have fewer resources with which to address the needs of their elderly population.

Aging: A problem in Africa as well?

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

Recently, while reviewing a document, I came across a statistic about age dependency* in the Republic of Mauritius. Mauritius already had an age dependency ratio of 10.9 in 2010 and this is projected to rise to 25 by 2030 and 37 by 2050, which is at par with many East Asian economies. Aging issues in Europe and parts of Asia have already become an economic and fiscal policy concern over the last few years and will remain so for the foreseeable future, could it also become a problem for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) sooner than realized?

With 43 percent of the population below the age of 15 and only three percent above the age of 65, Sub-Saharan Africa is a predominantly young continent. The problems emanating from an ageing population, such as rising age dependency ratios and increasing health care costs, are far over the horizon as far as the continent is concerned. However, this may not remain so for long and definitely not for all the countries. Let me explain why.