Canada's Large Pensions Receive Top Scores in Global Pension Transparency Benchmark
The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is the world’s most transparent pension fund, according to the global pension transparency benchmark, a collaboration between Top1000funds.com and CEM Benchmarking Inc.
The benchmark, launched in 2021, measures the transparency of disclosures of 15 pension systems across measurements such as cost, governance, performance and responsible investing. While the rankings are in their second year, this is the first time it’s sharing the scores of 75 underlying pension funds.
The CPPIB received the best overall score as well as the top score for governance disclosures, followed by the Government Pension Fund of Norway in second place.
The top five funds also included the Public Sector Pension Investment Board and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, in third and fourth place, respectively. Canada also topped the country list for governance for the second year in a row.
Netherlands-based Stichting Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn was ranked No. 1 for costs, while the California Public Employees’ Retirement System received top marks for performance and Sweden’s Fjärde AP-fonden displayed the most transparency of disclosures related to responsible investing.
You can read more about the Global Pension Transparency Benchmark here and below:
Overall Findings for 2022
This second iteration of the Global Pension Transparency Benchmark continues to reveal the need for improvement in pension transparency across the globe. Given the slow evolutionary nature of the pension industry in general, this is not an entirely surprising result.
It was heartening to see that progress is being made in some areas, particularly in respect to responsible investing, but also in governance disclosures.
The improvements seen in disclosures around responsible investing mean that this factor is no longer the lowest scoring factor. Improvements in governance disclosures mean that factor is now the highest scoring factor overall, followed by performance (the highest scoring factor in last year’s review), with cost being the lowest scoring factor.
For responsible investing, the improvements were most common among funds who were disclosing some, but not a lot of information last year. While some top scoring funds did improve on the margins, it was those funds in the middle of the rankings that showed the biggest improvement. Lamentably there was no improvement among the lowest scoring funds, 21 of which still received a score of 20 or below.
Governance scores reflected an increase in funds disclosing information about their operations as a whole, disclosing important corporate information beyond their core mission of managing assets. There was more discussion of enterprise-wide initiatives and goals, as well as increased discussion on internal compensation philosophies and diversity programs.
These two areas of improvement were often related. It seems that as pension organisations disclose more on how they steward portfolio companies, they are becoming aware that information of importance to them in this regard could similarly be of importance to their own stakeholders in relation to the fund itself.
Why Transparency Matters
The Global Pension Transparency Benchmark is a world first global standard for pension disclosure, bringing a focus to transparency in a bid to improve pension outcomes for members.
The GPTB ranks 15 countries on public disclosures of key value generation elements for the five largest pension fund organisations within each country. The GPTB focuses on the transparency and quality of public disclosures with quality relating to the completeness, clarity, information value and comparability of disclosures.
The overall country benchmark scores look at four factors: governance and organisation; performance; costs; and responsible investing, which are measured by assessing hundreds of underlying components.
There is plenty of evidence that a lack of transparency has negative consequences for relationships and organisations of all types, whether they be individuals, governments, corporations, or pension funds. Transparency is the right thing to do, but there are many benefits beyond this simple moral imperative:
- Transparency and accountability go hand in hand and lead to improved decision making
- Improved relationships and interactions across a broad spectrum of stakeholders including beneficiaries, plan sponsors, regulators, suppliers and concerned citizens
- Ultimately, better outcomes through clarity of purpose, sound goals and accountability for progress
This new benchmark reframes the transparency narrative from a narrow and negative focus on costs to a more holistic and positive concept of transparency and includes governance and strategy, value generation and sustainability.
Top1000funds.com and CEM Benchmarking have long had aligned goals – to highlight industry best practice and drive better pension outcomes globally. The development of this benchmark is in line with those goals.
Below, you can see which were the top funds in the world:
Not surprisingly, CPP Investments, Canada's largest pension fund, scored highly on this index, coming in number 1 globally.
I say not surprisingly because CPP Investments has long set the gold standard in terms of transparency in all its activities and it deserves the top spot.
Transparency is part of their guiding principles and the organization discloses its performance through annual and quarterly reports, holds public meetings and discloses a lot of information publicly on the Fund.
I'm also not surprised Norway's Government Pension Fund Global came in number 2 as it has long been touted as the model of transparency. Transparency is also a central principle in the management of the Government Pension Fund and Norges Bank Investment Management provides a lot of detailed information on its website.
PSP Investments and OTPP came in number 3 and 4 respectively. BCI and CDPQ also made the top spots coming in at number 8 and 11 respectively.
This too doesn't surprise me as Canada's large pensions are widely regarded as being some of the best in the world and their independent governance model is internationally recognized.
This is why Canada ranked 1st globally on the Global Transparency Benchmark with an average total score of 75:
Canada’s pension system is characterized by a mixture of public and private pension schemes. Approximately half of all Canadians rely on the public pension system which consists of two tiers: 1. Old age security – set amounts paid to all Canadians of retirement age, based solely on residency 2. Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – a mandatory earnings related pension covering all workers. The third tier of Canada’s pension system is made up of voluntary pension savings. Defined benefit plans remain the most common type of scheme in Canada, particularly for public sector employees. Like many other countries, defined contribution plans are now the plan of choice for private sector employers. We reviewed the public disclosures of the CPP and four organisations that manage mainly DB plan assets for provincial public sector employers.
Canadian funds continued to have impressive public disclosures. They ranked 1st globally with an average total score of 74. By factor they ranked 1st in governance; 2nd in performance; 3rd in cost and 3rd in responsible investing.
Most of what was scored focused on ‘what’ was disclosed. Canadian funds also excelled on communication dimensions that were not scored. Their annual reports were well organised, cohesive and packed with important information for stakeholders. The narratives typically went beyond just ‘what we do’ to add insights about ‘how we do things’ and ‘why we do it this way’. They also realise that less can be more, making good use of infographics, summaries, pictures, charts and less text to add impact and keep readers engaged.
The average score for cost disclosure was 64 and scores for funds ranged from a low of 49 to a high of 81. Disclosures were consistently good for total fund level and for external manager fees. Asset class and transaction cost disclosures were inconsistent across the funds and scored low on average. Disclosures for external manager fees increased from last year from an already impressive base, unfortunately already spotty disclosures on transaction costs became even less prevalent.
The biggest Canadian public funds collectively have a global reputation for superior performance and governance excellence is often cited as a key driver (the Maple Model). The CEM benchmarking database provides empirical evidence that the Maple Model funds do indeed outperform over the long term. Building on last year’s first place performance, four of the five funds reviewed increased their governance disclosure year over year. Given the overall high scores last year, these improvements are best described as “completing the picture” and occurred across all areas of review.
The average score of 81 for Canadian funds marked a slight improvement in disclosures from last year. Funds continued to score consistently well across the various components with no areas seeing a reduction in score. Risk, asset mix and portfolio composition, as well as total fund return and value add disclosure were especially good. Canadian funds also typically provided clear and detailed disclosures of the basis for their return and valued added reporting. Returns were explicitly stated as time-weighted for the total fund and most asset classes and occasionally as IRR for private market asset classes. Total fund returns were consistently and explicitly stated as net of all investment costs and the cost basis for asset class returns was clear. Surprisingly, this level of detail for returns and value added was not universal. Return basis disclosures were often cryptic or non-existent. This makes understanding and comparing results across funds very difficult.
In last year’s review Canadian funds received their lowest relative score among the four factors in RI. A somewhat surprising result given that RI is most certainly a focus of many large Canadian funds. The Canadian funds partially addressed this in 2020 and improved their score from 58 to 70, the largest improvement in any factor. This improvement was apparent in all funds, but particularly among the couple that achieved lower scores last year and in areas that were lower scoring. Disclosures on RI governance as well as exclusion principles continued to be relative weak spots, but to a lesser extent. Four of the five Canadian funds achieved a score of 70 or higher this year as compared to only one last year.
I'm a bit surprised that Canada's large pensions didn't score a lot better on Responsible Investing. I still consider CDPQ to be a leader in this area but others are doing outstanding work too.
In any case, Canada's large pensions are scoring highly on the Global Pension Transparency Benchmark and I invite you read more about this here.
Below, on June 23rd John Graham, President and CEO, appeared in front of the Canadian Club of Toronto audience to update Canadians on CPP Investments and its solid performance amid uncertain market conditions. John addressed how the Fund is navigating geopolitical events, inflation, rising rates, and volatility.
Take the time to watch this clip and see why CPP Investments sets the standard on transparency.
I also invite you to read the latest news from CPP Investments here including how it increased its ownership stake in Bullring Shopping Centre, Birmingham to 50% and committed an additional US$225m to Octopus Energy Group's efforts to accelerate and
enhance the integration of renewables in the power system including
through leveraging Octopus’ leading Kraken Flex platform.
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