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Press Release

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

September 5, 2022


MELBOURNE, September 5, 2022 – Assets under management (AUM) at the world’s top 300 pension funds increased by 8.9% to reach a new record, now totalling US$23.6 trillion in 2021, according to the annual research conducted by the Thinking Ahead Institute, in conjunction with Pensions & Investments, a leading U.S. investment newspaper. 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 2016-2021.

Australia has 15 funds in the survey, one fewer than the previous year. The United States (US) now accounts for 39.6% of top 300 pension fund AUM and has almost half the funds in the ranking, with 148. After the US, the countries with the largest number of pension funds in the ranking are the United Kingdom (UK) (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 US accounting for the highest net gain (14 funds) and Japan the highest net loss (5 funds). During the same period, the UK had a net loss of three funds, while Switzerland had a net gain of three funds.

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 politicisation of ESG 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.”

Jonathan Grigg, Director Investments for WTW in Australia commented: “In general, we’ve seen the prominence of Australian funds within the survey wane modestly, with most Australian funds included falling in the rankings relative to last year, partly due to a weakening Australian dollar over the course of 2021. We have also seen the number of Australian funds in the survey fall from 16 funds to 15. However, AustralianSuper has bucked this trend, rising two places to now be in the top 20 funds globally. This growth is, in part, due to consolidation within the Australian superannuation industry, with AustralianSuper a beneficiary of this in terms of increased fund size.

“This trend of consolidation has intensified as result of the Australian Government’s Your Future, Your Super reforms, and we expect to see an increasing presence of Australian funds at the higher ends of the survey in future years as more fund mergers occur. In 2022 we have already seen Australian Super complete a merger with LUCRF Super, further increasing its scale. The flipside to this is that it could also lead to a lower number of Australian funds included in the survey due to mergers. An example being that two of this year’s top 100 funds, QSuper and Sunsuper, which have recently merged to form the significantly larger Australian Retirement Trust.”

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% and Asia-Pacific 25.5%, with the remaining 4% from Latin America and Africa.

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

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 to 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 last 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.

Marisa Hall concludes: “We’re seeing asset allocation continue to respond to long-term structural shifts. While allocations to private markets declined compared to 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.”

The Government Pension Investment Fund of Japan (GPIF) remains the very largest pension fund, leading the table with AUM of over US$ 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 31 March 2022

2 Estimate

3 As of 1 Jan 2022

4 As of 30 June 2021

Australian funds (US $ millions)

Australian funds in the top 300 pension funds (US$ million)
2021 Rank 2020 Rank Fund Total Assets
20 22 AustralianSuper $169.055
26 25 Future Fund $147.862^
46 39 Aware Super $107.511
54 63 QSuper* $96.534
77 70 UniSuper $72.058
87 81 Sunsuper* $65.997
121 110 REST $47.125
123 116 HESTA $46.673
125 112 Cbus $46.158
127 132 HOSTPLUS $45.024
140 135 CSC $41.589
181 151 State Super $33.185
219 214 GESB $27.449
232 209 ESSSuper $26.147^
238 212 Super SA $25.572

Figures as at 30 June, 2021

^ Figures as at 31 December, 2021

* Figures prior to merger of QSuper/Sunsuper

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 mobilising capital for a sustainable future. It has over 55 members around the world, with combined responsibility for over US$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 US$4.7 trillion and US$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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