Press Release

Investments of the world’s largest pension funds generated positive returns in 2016

Willis Towers Watson Global 300 Research 2016

September 26, 2017
| Switzerland

ZURICH, 26 September 2017 – According to the latest issue of Global 300 Research, a joint study by Willis Towers Watson and the U.S. financial and business magazine “Pensions & Investments”, the assets of the world’s largest pension funds grew to USD 15.7 trillion in 2016. After falling by 3.4% in 2015, they rose by 6.1% in 2016 compared to the previous year. The assets of Swiss pension funds also increased, but growth remained below average at 2.1%.

The world's 300 largest pension funds is a joint study by Willis Towers Watson and the U.S. financial and business magazine “Pensions & Investments”. It records the total assets of the world’s 300 largest pension funds each year. The 2016 edition of the study reports that the top 300 accounted for 43.2% of total pension fund assets under management worldwide. However, the assets of the top 20 pension funds grew faster than the average of the top 300, recording an increase of 7.1%.

Roger Urwin, global Head of Investment Content at Willis Towers Watson, says: “With pension funds facing increasingly demanding objectives, their need to earn good returns whilst maintaining risk at an acceptable level remains a driving force. In 2016, the best results were achieved by the largest asset owners due to their ability to adapt to an ever-changing market environment and their progressive decision-making processes. These pension funds have recognised the significance of robust governance practices, and consequently they are reaping the benefits.”

Nine Swiss funds in top 300

According to the study, 134 U.S. funds make up the lion’s share of the top 300, followed by the UK with 26 funds, Canada with 18, and Japan and Australia with 16 funds each. Switzerland is in seventh place with 9 funds in the top 300, ahead of Germany (8), Denmark (8) and Sweden (7). The nine Swiss pension funds assessed in the study saw an increase in total assets during 2016, but only by 2.1%. This is well below the average recorded in the study, even after taking account of currency effects and the fact that the US dollar strengthened by 1.5% against the Swiss franc in 2016, and can be largely explained by the lower equity ratio of Swiss pension funds in a global comparison.

“If asset owners are to successfully reap long-term investment rewards, they have to expand their resources on an ongoing basis – especially in the current low-interest environment, which is likely to remain with us for some time,” observes Michael Valentine, Senior Investment Consultant at Willis Towers Watson in Zurich: “The power to innovate is a special feature of the world’s leading funds. They are not satisfied with old-fashioned solutions, focusing instead on optimising their investment strategies, using smart-beta approaches and striving for superior access to private markets. In 2016 in particular, we observed growing interest in sustainable investment,” Valentine explains.

Figure 1 Swiss pension fund assets (as at year-end in USD m)

P&I / Willis Towers Watson Global 300 Swiss pension funds Total assets 2016 Total assets 2015 Total assets 2014
PUBLICA, Swiss Federal Pension Fund 37,129 36,471 37,868
Zurich Employee Pension Fund (BVK) 29,993 28,659 28,598
UBS 24,159 23,926 24,082
Nestlé (group assets) 22,587 22,360 24,274
Migros Cooperative Fund 21,791 21,129 20,975
SBB 16,903 16,257 16,403
City of Zurich 15,726 15,455 15,687
Credit Suisse 15,697 15,473 15,762
Swiss Post Pension Fund 15,526 15,654 15,983
Total 199,511 195,384 199,632

Source: Pensions & Investments / Willis Towers Watson Global 300

Figure 2 Swiss pension fund rankings (as at year-end)

P&I / Willis Towers Watson Global 300 Swiss pension funds Ranking 2016 Ranking 2015 Ranking 2014
PUBLICA, Swiss Federal Pension Fund 99 100 98
Zurich Employee Pension Fund (BVK) 134 134 141
UBS 170 163 170
Nestlé (group assets) 181 180 169
Migros Cooperative Fund 187 188 197
SBB 235 238 249
City of Zurich 258 257 260
Credit Suisse 259 255 259
Swiss Post Pension Fund 261 251 256

Source: Pensions & Investments / Willis Towers Watson Global 300

Figure 3 Top 10 pension funds in 2016 worldwide (USD m)

Ranking Fund Market Overall assets  
1. Government Pension Investment Japan 1,237,636
2. Government Pension Fund Norway 893,088
3. Federal Retirement Thrift US 485,575
4. National Pension Fund South Korea 462,161
5. ABP Netherlands 404,310
6. National Social Security China 348,662
7. California Public Employees US 306,633
8. Canada Pension Canada 235,790 1
9. Central Provident Fund Singapore 227,102
10. PFZW Netherlands 196,461 1

1 as at 31/03/2017

Background information to the study

The world's 300 largest pension funds is a joint study by Willis Towers Watson and the U.S. financial and business magazine “Pensions & Investments” (P&I). It records the total assets of the world’s 300 largest pension funds each year.

Data for U.S. funds are based on figures from P&I 1000, while data from other countries are based on pension funds’ annual reports, websites and other direct communication channels. Unless otherwise stated, the reference date was 31 December 2016.