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Press Release

Global pension assets record largest annual decline since the Global Financial Crisis

February 16, 2023

Climate Risk and Resilience

MELBOURNE, February 16, 2023 – After more than a decade of uninterrupted growth, last year global pension assets recorded their largest fall since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, according to the Thinking Ahead Institute’s latest Global Pension Assets Study. It shows that global pension assets now stand at USD 47.9 trillion, a fall of 16.7% in a year driven largely by a correction in both fixed income and equity markets.

The fallout for Australia was muted. In local currency terms, Australia experienced a 0.1% CAGR, reflecting superannuation funds’ lower allocations to bonds, and the inflows thanks to the Superannuation Guarantee. All other nations recording a positive result in their own currencies were emerging markets.

The US remains the largest pension market followed, at a significant distance, by Japan and Canada. Together, these three markets account for over 76% of pension assets in the largest 22 pensions markets (P22). The UK slid into fourth place, mainly due to losses incurred by pension funds with liability-driven investing strategies and the forced selling of gilts during a liquidity crisis.

Since 2002, overall equity allocations have shrunk from 50% to 42% and similarly the allocation to bonds has decreased from 38% to 32%. Allocation to other assets (real estate and other alternatives) has increased from 9% in 2002 to an estimated 23% at the end of 2022. Traditionally the US and Australia have had higher allocations to equities than the rest of the largest seven pensions markets (P7), while Japan, Netherlands and the UK have had higher allocations to bonds.

In many regions around the world, defined benefit (DB) pensions continued to diminish in the continuing shift to defined contribution (DC) plans. In the last 20 years, global DC assets have grown 7.2% per annum, compared to 4.4% per annum growth rate for DB assets.

Last year we experienced, to an extent, a global polycrisis where various risks combined, were amplified as a result, and manifested in significant asset falls..”

Marisa Hall | Head of the Thinking Ahead Institute

Marisa Hall, head of the Thinking Ahead Institute said: “Last year we experienced, to an extent, a global polycrisis where various risks combined, were amplified as a result, and manifested in significant asset falls. It is our view that these systemic risks will increase in future and will emanate predominantly from environmental, societal and geo-political sources”.

While many pension funds are focused on the long term, this situation presents short-term challenges which cannot be ignored. The main challenge is that accurate pricing of these risks is near impossible, as they have high uncertainty and low tractability, but their impact is likely to be broad and significant and will test organisational resilience.

Our work with investors points to transition pathways focussed on cleaner energy, fairer societies and greater accountability. As this landscape evolves, pension organisations will need to adjust their strategies and use adaptive capital to navigate these changes and build in future resilience.”

Notes to editors

  • The P22 refers to the 22 largest pension markets included in the study which are Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
  • The P7 refers to the seven largest pension markets (92% of total assets in the study): Australia, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, UK and US.
  • All figures are rounded and 2022 figures are estimates.
  • All dates refer to the calendar end of that year.

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 engaged institutional asset owners and asset managers committed to mobilising capital for a sustainable future. It has 50 members around the world and is an outgrowth of the WTW Investments’ Thinking Ahead Group which was set up in 2002. Learn more at Thinking Ahead Institute.

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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