Pension funds are financial intermediaries which offer social insurance by providing income to the insured persons following their retirement. Often they also provide death and disability benefits. Pension schemes are important cornerstones of European households’ income during retirement. Pension funds also play a role in financial markets as institutional investors. For these reasons, the ECB collects statistical data on the balance sheets of pension funds for its analyses of the financial system and household wealth.
While pension schemes vary greatly across countries, there are two main types: defined benefit and defined contribution. In a defined benefit policy the future payment to the policyholder is pre-determined, or has at least a guaranteed minimum amount. In a defined contribution scheme, on the other hand, the regular contribution (or “premium”) paid to the scheme is fixed and the value of the policyholder’s pension wealth depends on the performance of the pension funds’ investments.
Pension fund statistics
Our pension fund statistics combine data on the different pension schemes in euro area countries in one harmonised set of statistics. All pension funds which fit the definition of social insurance are included unless they are included in other statistics, such as those for insurance corporations or investment funds. Pension schemes that are provided through governments are also excluded.
The pension fund statistics present data on the assets and liabilities of pension funds.
The liabilities mainly consist of the reserves that pension funds have put aside to fulfil their future payment obligations towards policyholders. Liabilities also include pension funds’ equity, loans received and other financial obligations.
The assets show the investments of the paid premiums and other liabilities. They also show the claims that pension funds might have against other parties such as reinsurance firms. Such claims arise when a pension fund pays part of the premium payments associated with the pension policies it holds to a reinsurance company in order to transfer part of the risks of these policies. Similarly, pension funds’ claims against other parties like employers are recorded as an asset.
The balance sheet data on pension funds are divided into two sections: assets and liabilities.
The asset section provides information on the holdings of pension funds, i.e. information on the funds’ investments, loans provided and other claims. This includes information about the country and sector of the counterparty (in the case of assets the counterparty is usually either the issuer of the financial instruments or the recipient of the loan). The data also provide information about the financial instrument itself, broken down by type of instruments and by maturity.
The liabilities section provides information on claims against euro area pension funds. These liabilities consist of pension fund reserves held as cover for claims by policyholders, as well as of pension funds’ equity, loans received and other financial obligations. The data collected provide information about the instrument as well as about the country and sector of the counterparty (in the case of liabilities the counterparty is usually the policyholder or the lender).
Pension fund statistics include information on both outstanding amounts (“stock data”) and transactions (“flow data”).
Stocks refer to the value of the asset or liability at the end of the reference quarter or year. Flows refer to the sum of all acquisitions and sales of a given type of asset during the period, or the sum of all inflows and outflows of money from and to the pension funds, recorded as liabilities.
The ECB calculates growth rates on the basis of flow data rather than by simply comparing end-of-period outstanding amounts. Growth rates are calculated from an index that is obtained by dividing transactions by the outstanding amounts at the beginning of the period to which they refer.
Statistical Data Warehouse
Balance sheet of euro area pension funds
Pension fund statistics are available through the ECB’s Statistical Data Warehouse (SDW).
Discontinued pension fund balance sheet information
As of Q1 2020, the harmonised euro area pension fund statistics replace the discontinued non-harmonised insurance corporation and pension fund statistical dataset (collected from Q1 2008 to Q2 2016) and the discontinued non-harmonised pension fund statistics (collected from Q1 2016 until Q4 2019).
Prior to the introduction of the harmonised statistics, data were collected on a best effort basis by national central banks, which used sources other than direct collection to compute these data.
The report below shows the aggregate balance sheet data of euro area pension funds for the six most recent quarters, with data as of the end of Q3 2019. From Q1 2020 onwards it also shows financial transactions, and as of Q1 2021 it shows annual growth rates.
The legal requirements for pension fund statistics are laid down in Regulation ECB/2018/02, which defines the statistical standards to be met by pension funds when reporting information on their assets and liabilities. This Regulation is complemented by Guideline ECB/2019/18, which sets out the procedures national central banks must follow when reporting pension fund statistics to the ECB.
National central banks have the option to implement a single reporting flow for statistical and supervisory data. They may use national supervisory data as collected by the national supervisory authorities. In order to minimise the reporting burden for pension funds, the ECB Regulation allows the national central banks to derive the necessary statistical information from data reported for supervisory purposes.
In some countries data are collected using national templates, while in other countries data are collected through a taxonomy as provided by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA). For this purpose the ECB has worked closely with EIOPA to integrate statistical requirements into supervisory data requirements.
The taxonomy covers templates with information for statistical purposes in addition to the supervisory requirements (“unofficial reporting templates including ECB add-ons”). Accompanying files contain instructions on the ECB add-ons.
More information on the derivation of pension fund statistics from supervisory reporting is provided in a specific compilation guide.