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Press Release

World’s largest pension funds reach new $23.6 trillion record

September 6, 2022

Investments
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ARLINGTON, VA, September 6, 2022 — Assets under management (AuM) at the world’s top 300 pension funds increased by 8.9% to reach a new record, totaling $23.6 trillion in 2021, according to the annual research conducted by WTW’s Thinking Ahead Institute. The research highlights high-level trends in the pension fund industry and provides information on the changing characteristics of these funds.

While total AuM has reached record highs, growth has slowed from 11.5% in 2020 to 8.9% in 2021. This was to be expected after a very strong performance in asset markets over 2020; however, the latest performance is enough to take five-year cumulative growth to 50.2% in the period between 2016 and 2021.

Marisa Hall, co-head of the Thinking Ahead Institute, reflects on key insights from the research: “This is a story of two halves. On the one hand, a new record for the world’s major pension funds illustrates the optimism that defied a global pandemic. Yet on the other, growth is slowing and the long-term dashboard is flashing amber.

“Looking ahead, rising inflation and subsequent central bank action are likely to cause global growth to falter, which may in turn endanger longer term the funding status of pension funds.

“Pension funds are also under immense governance pressure from all sides, with a growing politicization of ESG [environmental, social and governance] in some regions meeting calls for more substantial and urgent climate action. The addition of stark short-term economic pressures alongside these structural long-term changes will only add to the difficulty of balancing short-term financial resilience with long-term financial and climate sustainability.”

North America now accounts for 45.6% of assets of the world’s 300 largest pension funds. This is up from 41.7% at the end of 2020. European pension funds account for 25.9%; Asia Pacific funds account for 25.5%, with the remaining 4% from Latin America and Africa.

North America’s increased global share was largely powered by the fastest annualized growth in invested assets, up 9.2%, followed by Europe (+8.3%), Asia Pacific (+8.0%), and Latin America and Africa (+3.9%) during the same period.

The U.S. now accounts for 39.6% of top 300 pension fund AuM and has almost half the funds in the ranking, with 148. After the U.S., the countries with the largest number of pension funds in the ranking are the U.K. (23), Canada (18), Australia (15), the Netherlands (12) and Japan (11). Since 2016, a total of 37 new funds have entered the ranking, with the U.S. accounting for the highest net gain (14 funds) and Japan the highest net loss (five funds). During the same period, the U.K. had a net loss of three funds, while Switzerland had a net gain of three funds.

Among the top 300 funds, defined benefit (DB) fund assets continue to dominate at 63.5% of the total AuM; however, the share of DB fund assets has been declining modestly over the years, as defined contribution (DC) funds (23.8%), reserve funds (11.8%) and hybrid fund assets (0.9%) are slowly gaining traction.

DB pension funds dominate in North America and Asia Pacific where they represent 72.7% and 65.2%, respectively. In Europe, DB funds also account for the majority of assets (51%), whereas DC pension funds dominate in other regions, where only 17.9% of assets are in DB pension funds.

According to the research, the top 20 pension funds now constitute 41.0% of the total assets, slightly down from the prior year (41.8%) having grown 6.6% during the year compared with 8.9% for the top 300 funds; however, on a longer-term basis, the top 20 have a higher growth rate, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the past five years of 8.8% versus 8.5% for the top 300 funds. On average, the top 20 funds invested approximately 53.5% of their assets in equities, 27.9% in fixed-income securities, and 18.6% in alternatives and cash.

“We’re seeing asset allocation continue to respond to long-term structural shifts. While allocations to private markets declined compared with the previous year, we believe this was mostly caused by shorter-term inflationary and rate-hike fears. We expect private markets will continue to expand considerably in the investment space over the long term, reflecting a need for new primary investment to support new models of sustainable economic growth.

“Pension fund boards’ agendas have rightly become a guide to the complex strategic challenges facing global markets and economies. Reading the annual reports of the world’s very largest pension funds is also a lesson in potential solutions to these major challenges. The majority are concerned about growing market volatility and discussing further ways to boost the diversity of their investments, specifically in the context of global economic slowdown. And most are now campaigners for best practice in corporate governance, aimed at ensuring sustainable value.

“It’s clear that pensions can be a force for good to contribute to overcoming the substantial challenges in the world, but also a barometer of major questions we all face over the coming decades,” concluded Hall.

The Government Pension Investment Fund of Japan (GPIF) remains the very largest pension fund, leading the table with AuM of over $1.7 trillion. It has ranked top since 2002.

Top 20 pension funds (US$ millions)

Top 20 pension funds (US$ millions)
Rank Fund Market Total assets
1 Government Pension Investment Japan 1,730.900
2 Government Pension Fund Norway 1,437.111
3 National Pension South Korea 797.968
4 Federal Retirement Thrift U.S. 774.176
5 ABP Netherlands 630.358
6 California Public Employees U.S. 496.820
7 Canada Pension Canada 426.7461
8 National Social Security China 406.7872
9 Central Provident Fund Singapore 374.990
10 PFZW Netherlands 315.467
11 California State Teachers U.S. 313.940
12 New York State Common U.S. 267.756
13 New York City Retirement U.S. 266.702
14 Local Government Officials Japan 248.572
15 Employees Provident Fund Malaysia 242.602
16 Florida State Board U.S. 213.792
17 Texas Teachers U.S. 196.727
18 Ontario Teachers Canada 191.140
19 National Wealth Fund Russia 180.6903
20 AustralianSuper Australia 169.0554

1 As of March 31, 2022
2 Estimate
3 As of January 1, 2022
4 As of June 30, 2021

About the Thinking Ahead Institute

The Thinking Ahead Institute was established in January 2015 and is a global not-for-profit investment research and innovation member group made up of institutional asset owners and asset managers committed to mobilizing capital for a sustainable future. It has over 55 members around the world, with combined responsibility for over $16 trillion, and is an outgrowth of WTW Investments’ Thinking Ahead Group — set up in 2002.

About WTW Investments

WTW’s Investments business is focused on creating financial value for institutional investors through its expertise in risk assessment, strategic asset allocation, fiduciary management and investment manager selection. It has over 900 colleagues worldwide, more than 1,000 investment clients globally, assets under advisory of over $4.7 trillion and $187 billion of assets under management.

About WTW

At WTW (NASDAQ: WTW), we provide data-driven, insight-led solutions in the areas of people, risk and capital. Leveraging the global view and local expertise of our colleagues serving 140 countries and markets, we help organizations sharpen their strategy, enhance organizational resilience, motivate their workforce and maximize performance.

Working shoulder to shoulder with our clients, we uncover opportunities for sustainable success—and provide perspective that moves you.

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