Indian retirement system ranks last in the global pension index

Indian retirement system ranks last in the global pension index
Denmark and Netherlands are the only countries to achieve an ‘A’ grade in the history of the index
A new Mercer report rated Denmark as the country with the best retirement system for the fourth consecutive year in 2015, with an overall score of 81.7. The primary reasons for Denmark’s top spot is its well-funded pension system with its good coverage, high level of assets and contributions, the provision of adequate benefits and a private pension system with developed regulations.
Denmark and Netherlands are the only countries to achieve an ‘A’ grade in the history of the index. Singapore has been ranked the highest among Asian countries for a retirement system. The Indian retirement system continues to rank last, as per 2015 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index (MMGPI).

All of the 11 countries that have been part of the MMGPI since it began in 2009 have experienced an increase in the expected length of retirement from 2009 to 2015, with the average length rising from 16.6 years to 18.4 years.For the 16 countries that have been part of the MMGPI since the 2011 report, the average labour force participation rate for 55-64 year olds has increased from 57.9 per cent to 62.2 per cent between 2011 and 2015, or just over 1 per cent per year. 

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This study of retirement income systems in 25 countries has confirmed that there is great diversity between the systems around the world with scores ranging from 40.3 for India to 81.7 for Denmark.

The following table summarises the results.

Grade Index Value Countries Description
A >80 Denmark
A first class and robust retirement income system
that delivers good benefits, is sustainable and has a high level of
B+ 75–80 Australia A system that has a sound structure,
with many good features, but has some areas for improvement that
differentiates it from an A-grade system.
B 65–75 Sweden
C+ 60–65 Singapore
A system that has some good features,
but also has major risks and/or shortcomings that should be addressed.
Without these improvements, its efficacy and/or long-term sustainability
can be questioned.
C 50–60 France
South Africa
D 35–50 Indonesia
Korea (South)
A system that has some desirable features, but also
has major weaknesses and/or omissions that need to be addressed. Without
these improvements, its efficacy and sustainability are in doubt.
E <35 Nil A poor system that may be in the early stages of
development or non-existent.

none of the countries in this study has an E-grade system, which would be represented by an index value below 35. A score between 35 and 50, representing a D-grade system, indicates a system that has some sound features but there exist major omissions or weaknesses. A D-grade classification may also occur in the relatively early stages of the development of a  particular country’s retirement income system, such as in China, India, Indonesia and Korea. 

For this year’s Index a number of countries have changed grade, with the Netherlands joining Denmark with an A-grade. Mexico and Italy improved to a C-grade. 

The following table shows the overall index value for each country, together with the index value for each of the three sub-indices: adequacy, sustainability and integrity. Each index value represents a score between zero and 100. 
Country Overall Index Value Sub-Index Values
Adequacy Sustainability Integrity
Australia 79.6 81.2 72.1 87.6
Austria 52.2 67.6 17.2 76.8
Brazil 53.2 64.6 24.5 75.1
Canada 70.0 79.4 56.2 74.3
Chile 69.1 62.8 65.0 84.8
China 48.0 62.7 29.8 50.0
Denmark 81.7 77.2 84.7 84.5
Finland 73.0 70.7 61.8 92.4
France 57.4 77.2 36.6 54.9
Germany 62.0 76.0 36.8 75.0
India 40.3 30.0 39.9 57.6
Indonesia 48.2 41.3 40.1 70.8
Ireland 63.1 77.0 36.2 78.5
Italy 50.9 68.4 12.1 77.4
Japan 44.1 48.8 26.5 61.2
Korea(South) 43.8 43.9 41.6 46.8
Mexico 52.1 56.4 53.5 43.4
Netherlands 80.5 80.5 74.3 89.3
Poland 56.2 61.8 40.6 69.0
Singapore 64.7 55.7 65.9 77.2
South Africa 53.4 47.3 43.0 77.7
Sweden 74.2 71.1 72.6 81.5
Switzerland 74.2 73.9 68.4 82.9
UK 65.0 64.2 51.3 85.5
USA 56.3 55.1 54.4 61.1
Average 60.5 63.8 48.2 72.6
As noted earlier, each country’s index value takes into account more than 40 indicators, some of which are based on data measurements which can be difficult to compare between countries. For this reason, one should not be too definite that one country’s system is better than another when the difference in the overall index value is less than two. On the other hand, when the difference is five or more it can be fairly concluded that the higher index value indicates a country with a better retirement income system. 
The following table shows the grade for each country’s sub-index values as well as the overall grade. This approach highlights the fact that some countries may have a weakness in one area (eg sustainability) whilst being much stronger in the other two areas. Such a weakness highlights areas for future reforms. 
Country Overall Index Grade Sub-Index Grades
Adequacy Sustainability Integrity
Australia B+ A B A
Austria C B E B+
Brazil C C+ E B+
Canada B B+ C B
Chile B C+ B A
China D C+ E C
Denmark A B+ A A
Finland B B C+ A
France C B+ D C
Germany C+ B+ D B+
India D E D C
Indonesia D D D B
Ireland C+ B+ D B+
Italy C B E B+
Japan D D E C+
Korea(South) D D D D
Mexico C C C D
Netherlands A A B A
Poland C C+ D B
Singapore C+ C B B+
South Africa C D D B+
Sweden B B B A
Switzerland B B B A
There have been two significant changes in the data provided by international agencies which have had a material impact on certain scores for a few countries.
First, the Economist Intelligence Unit conducted a major review of their Personal Disposable Income data for a number of countries to make estimates in a more robust manner and thereby improve the quality of this data.
This data is used to estimate the net household saving rate (Question A3).For Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, the Netherlands and Sweden, this change resulted in a significant increase in the household saving rate whereas for India there was a material reduction. For the Netherlands and Sweden, the increased rates are now consistent with those produced by the OECD.
Second, the United Nations updated life expectancies in the World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision. Current life expectancies at birth increased in most, but not all, countries by an average of 1.1 years, with the largest increases for Chile and India. Projected life expectancies in 20 years also increased. These changes adversely affected the scores for most countries as the expected period of retirement increased (Question S3).

A comparison from 2014 to 2015

The following table compares the results for the 25 countries from 2014 to 2015. Comments in respect of each country are made in Chapter 5.
Country Total Adequacy Sustainability Integrity
2014 2015 2014 2015 2014 2015 2014 2015
Australia 79.9 79.6 81.2 81.2 73.0 72.1 87.8 87.6
Austria 52.8 52.2 67.5 67.6 18.9 17.2 76.6 76.8
Brazil 52.4 53.2 61.8 64.6 26.2 24.5 74.2 75.1
Canada 69.1 70.0 75.0 79.4 58.6 56.2 74.3 74.3
Chile 68.2 69.1 57.3 62.8 68.7 65.0 85.0 84.8
China 49.0 48.0 62.5 62.7 33.0 29.8 49.9 50.0
Denmark 82.4 81.7 77.5 77.2 86.5 84.7 84.5 84.5
Finland 74.3 73.0 72.2 70.7 64.7 61.8 91.1 92.4
France 57.5 57.4 76.4 77.2 37.7 36.6 54.9 54.9
Germany 62.2 62.0 75.8 76.0 37.6 36.8 75.0 75.0
India 43.5 40.3 37.1 30.0 40.6 39.9 57.7 57.6
Indonesia 45.3 48.2 37.5 41.3 37.8 40.1 68.3 70.8
Ireland 62.2 63.1 77.6 77.0 36.0 36.2 74.1 78.5
Italy 49.6 50.9 68.1 68.4 13.4 12.1 70.7 77.4
Japan 44.4 44.1 48.0 48.8 28.5 26.5 60.9 61.2
Korea(South) 43.6 43.8 42.6 43.9 42.5 41.6 46.7 46.8
Mexico 49.4 52.1 49.9 56.4 53.1 53.5 43.5 43.4
Netherlands 79.2 80.5 75.3 80.5 76.3 74.3 89.4 89.3
Poland 56.4 56.2 61.7 61.8 41.4 40.6 68.9 69.0
Singapore 65.9 64.7 56.4 55.7 68.5 65.9 77.4 77.2
SouthAfrica 54.0 53.4 48.3 47.3 44.6 43.0 76.3 77.7
Sweden 73.4 74.2 67.2 71.1 74.7 72.6 81.6 81.5
Switzerland 73.9 74.2 71.9 73.9 69.7 68.4 83.1 82.9
UK 67.6 65.0 69.8 64.2 52.4 51.3 85.4 85.5
USA 57.9 56.3 55.2 55.1 58.5 54.4 61.2 61.1
Average 60.6 60.5 63.0 63.8 49.7 48.2 71.9 72.6

The results show that the average for the overall index has hardly changed although this stability hides a number of countries where the score changed by more than one point for a variety of reasons as outlined below: 

  • The decline in Finland’s score was caused by a combination of factors including a fall in the saving rate, increasing life expectancy and the change to the scoring methodology relating to pension assets. 
  • The decline in India’s score was primarily caused by the revision in the household saving rate. 
  • The improved Indonesian score was primarily caused by the higher household saving rate and a decline in life expectancy. 
  • The improved Italian score was primarily caused by an improvement in the integrity sub-index due to the availability of additional information.  
  • The improved Mexican score was primarily caused by the higher household saving rate. 
  • The improved Dutch (Netherlands) score was primarily caused by the higher household saving rate.  This improvement shifted the Dutch ranking from third to second and from B+ to A-grade. 
  • The decline in Singapore’s score was primarily caused by an increase in life expectancy and the projected old-age dependency ratio. 
  • The decline in the British (UK) score was primarily caused by the removal of any requirement for retirees to purchase an annuity. The expected increased coverage from auto enrolment to occupational pension plans has not yet come through in the international data. 
  • The decline in the American (USA) score was primarily caused by increasing life expectancy and a lower estimate of funding from social security contributions. 

Pension fund assets 

The first indicator measures the level of assets held in private pension arrangements, public pension reserve funds, protected book reserves and pension insurance contracts in each country expressed as a percentage of the country’s GDP. It shows the level of funds set aside today to pay future retirement benefits so that the expected pensions are not a financial strain on the next generation. 
Before considering the trends over recent years, it needs to be recognised that there is a lag in obtaining the relevant data. The latest data available from the OECD for this year’s report relates to the assets held at the end of 2013. Notwithstanding this lag, the available data over several years provides some valuable insights into the different approaches adopted around the world. 
There is an enormous variety in the level of pension assets held ranging from 1.8% of GDP in Indonesia and 6.0% of GDP in Austria to 160.6% of GDP in the Netherlands and 168.9% of GDP in Denmark. This diversity recognises that some countries have very limited funded pension arrangements whereas others have well-developed and mature pension systems with significant assets. 
An interesting angle is the different asset allocation adopted for the investments of pension fund assets. Whilst recognising there is no perfect or ideal asset allocation for every pension system as a whole, it is worth noting that the exposure to growth assets (including equities and property) varies and ranges from less than 10 per cent in India, Korea and Singapore to about 70 percent in Australia and South Africa. 
Figure 1 shows that for countries with a relatively high exposure to growth assets, there was significant declines in the value of assets in 2010 and 2011 reflecting the consequences of the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. However, since that time there has been a steady recovery in the level of pension assets in each country as equity markets recovered. Furthermore, following the strong investment returns in most markets since December 2013, we would expect the current position to be above 120% of GDP for most of these countries. Despite this recovery, there is no doubt that this volatility can have a direct impact (both positive and negative) on the adequacy of assets accumulated for the provision of retirement benefits. 

Labour force participation rate at older ages 

As noted in Chapter 1, the extension of working years represents one of the most positive ways of developing sustainable retirement systems, as life expectancies increase around the world. Therefore, a sustainability indicator used in the Index since its inception has been the labour force participation rate for those aged 55-64, as measured by the International Labour Organization. 
The evidence is encouraging. For example, if one considers the 16 countries that comprised the Index in 2011 and compares their labour force participation rates for 55-64 year olds in 2011 and 2015, the average has increased from 57.9% to 62.2% or just over 1% per year. However, averages can be misleading and do not tell the full story. 
There are countries that have lower participation rates and therefore are expected to have more scope for such increases. Figure 6 shows the labour force participation rates from 2011 to 2015 for the five countries that have participation rates below 60% in 2015. 
Three of these countries (Brazil, China and India) showed increases of less than 4% during the period even though the current rate remains below 60%. However, the data may not reflect the actual experience as these economies have significant informal labour markets and may also have some cultural impediments restricting the growth. In contrast, France and Poland have both increased their labour force participation rates of 55-64 year olds by more than 6% during the period. 


Overall Index India
India’s retirement income system comprises an earnings-related employee pension scheme, a defined contribution employee provident fund and voluntary employer managed funds. The National Pension System is gradually gaining popularity. 
  • The overall index value for the Indian system could be increased by: 
  • introducing a minimum level of support for the poorest aged individuals 
  • increasing coverage of pension arrangements for the unorganised working class 
  • introducing a minimum access age so that it is clear that benefits are preserved for retirement purposes 
  • improving the regulatory requirements for the private pension system 
  • continuing to improve the required level of communication to members from pension arrangements 
  • increasing the pension age as life expectancy continues to increase 
  • increasing the level of contributions in statutory pension schemes 

The Indian index value fell from 43.5 in 2014 to 40.3 in 2015 primarily due to the revision in the household saving rate. 

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