How does my pension fund invest my money? More and more people around the world are asking this question. As the global population ages, it has becoming increasingly important to ensure that pension funds are efficiently and effectively managed so they can deliver a secure income in retirement.
At the same time, countries require more investment in productive areas such as infrastructure, housing and new businesses to continue to grow.
Globally, pension funds have some US$38 trillion in assets under management; the world’s 300 largest pension funds manage around $16 trillion. This ranges from the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) in Japan -- the largest pension fund in the world with $1.3 trillion in assets -- to funds such as the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) in Namibia which, though smaller in absolute terms (owning $7 billion), constitutes almost 70% of domestic Namibian GDP.
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.
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.
Regardless of a country’s stage of economic development, their governments make payments to, and collect payments from individuals and businesses. Financial resources are also transferred between government agencies. These flows cover a wide range of economic sectors and activities, and in most cases, the overall amount of such flows is significant – normally ranging between 15% to about 45% of the GDP.
However, only 25% of low-income countries worldwide process cash transfers and social benefits electronically and this percentage is only slightly higher for public sector salaries and pensions—and this has considerable cost implications. By going electronic, governments can save up to 75% on costs, a significant amount in an era of stretched resources.