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Which European country has the best pension system?


European countries are some of the best places for pensions in the world, analysis shows, and AI is having an increasing impact on how each system works.

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The Netherlands is top of the class when it comes to comparing pension systems around the world, according to a recent global pensions report from the Mercer CFA Institute.

The ranking looked at more than 50 indicators and compared 47 retirement income systems, covering 64% of the world’s population.

The most relevant measurements were the level of private and public sector pension benefits available, the sustainability of the system to last decades into the future and the quality of its governance.

Iceland came second, being knocked off last year’s top spot, and Denmark came third in the 2023 index.

The majority of the European countries included in the report came out with a good grade. Only a few improvements are needed in Finland, Norway, Sweden, the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal and Germany, according to the report.

On the other hand, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Austria and Croatia, along with the US, have major risks and/or shortcomings that should be addressed, the report said.

Coming in at the bottom of the ranking are India, the Philippines and Argentina. Along with Turkey and Thailand, they share the worst ranking, grade D, suggesting that without any improvements, there are serious doubts about the efficacy and sustainability of these countries’ pension systems.

Risks in the system

The report acknowledges that ‘retirement income systems around the world are under pressure as never before’, due to the currently persistent inflation, the rising interest rates and the geopolitical uncertainty, which inevitably affects investment returns.

“The average age of populations around the world continues to rise in many markets, mainly more mature markets,” said Margaret Franklin, president and CEO at the CFA Institute.

“Inflation and rising interest rates have created a new market dynamic that poses significant challenges to pension plans. We also see continued fracturing as it relates to globalization,” she added. “These are just a few of the increasingly complex challenges that pension funds face that impact retirees in significant ways.”

The report quotes the OECD’s latest Pensions Outlook from 2022, which recommends that policymakers across the globe go through with the necessary reforms despite the current financial and economic uncertainty, to avoid putting the well-being of current and future pensioners at risk.

The report also recommends the strengthening of asset-backed pensions (as opposed to pay-as-you-go) which could contribute to the diversification of the sources to finance retirement, making pension systems more resilient.

The impact of artificial intelligence on pension systems

Artificial intelligence should improve pensions performance by cutting costs and highlighting upcoming risks, says the report.

Additional uses for AI could include building customised portfolios and identifying market anomalies, although AI was unlikely to be able to predict market movements with accuracy, so uncertainty will remain, the report said.

“The ongoing expansion of AI within the operations and decisions of investment managers could lead to more efficient and better-informed decision-making processes, which could potentially lead to higher real investment returns to pension plan members,” said David Knox, senior partner at Mercer, according to a Reuters article.

The annual survey also pointed to risks of AI models generating fake information when used in a new context, and of cyber-attacks against pension members’ data.



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