Bigger Might Not Be Better for Pensions, Dutch Regulator Claims

Research by staff from the Netherlands’ financial regulator has shown that larger pensions may not always benefit from their size and scale.

Performance fees wipe out larger pension funds’ scale advantage in private equity and hedge funds, research from the Dutch financial regulator has shown.

“Size is an important driver for economies of scale in fixed income, equity and commodity portfolios, but not for real estate, private equity and hedge funds.” —Broeders, van Oord, and RijsbergenThree staff from De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) co-authored a paper—“Scale Economies in Pension Fund Investments: A Dissection of Investment Costs Across Asset Classes”—analysing 2013 performance, asset allocation, size, and cost data from 225 pension funds based in the Netherlands.

Authors Dirk Broeders, Arco van Oord, and David Rijsbergen found that larger pensions typically received better deals in fixed income and equity, but private equity, hedge funds, and real estate investments did not become cheaper as investors scaled up.

The research contrasts with the wave of consolidation that has shrunk the number of pension funds in the Netherlands dramatically in the past few years. The DNB has supported consolidation within the country’s pension system in a bid to increase efficiency, particularly among smaller funds.

The report noted “diseconomies of scale” for pension funds allocating more than €400 million ($450 million) to private equity “primarily driven by performance fees”. A ten-fold increase in assets under management corresponded with a 41.49 basis points increase in performance fees paid out.

“A possible explanation for this finding could be that larger funds are better able to select the best-performing private equity funds and therefore pay significantly higher performance fees,” the authors said.

For hedge funds, a ten-fold increase in a pension’s assets corresponded with a 33.36 basis points rise in performance fees.

In real estate, Broeders, van Oord, and Rijsbergen also found evidence of diseconomies of scale. “A tenfold increase in real estate investments raises total investment costs [by] 14.55 basis points,” they wrote.

The writers put this increase in costs down to different reporting requirements for listed and unlisted property assets.

Overall, the report said a ten-fold increase in assets under management corresponded with a 7.67 basis point decrease in investment costs, including performance fees.

Pensions achieved the greatest economies of scale with commodities investments, the authors found, although this advantage disappeared for allocations above €300 million.

With mainstream equity and fixed income allocations, the authors reported that “size appears to be an important driver for economies of scale”. A ten-fold increase in assets corresponded with a 4.76 basis point decrease in fixed income costs and a 7.75 basis point decrease in equity costs.

Download the “Scale Economies in Pension Fund Investments” paper.

Related Content: Does Scale Really Make Investing Cheaper? & Dutch Pension Funds in 2014: A Lament