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Slovakia's second-pillar pension system faces another exodus

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Slovakia’s beleaguered second-pillar pension system has undergone yet another sizeable shrinkage following the latest reopening, the fourth since 2008, between 15 March and 15 June.

According to labour minister Ján Richter, the number of people opting out totalled 158,310, while 19,288 opted in.

This is significantly higher than the 90,000-odd who left in the previous reopening, in 2013.

Of those leaving, 32% had not been paying in, for reasons such as unemployment, disability or working abroad.

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Nearly 145,000 had monthly pensionable earnings of less than €1,000, while some 60% were aged 41 years or more.

However, Richter expressed surprise that more than 4,000 people with no tax or assessment base had opted in, despite the government’s advising against it.

The opt-outs have reduced the number of second-pillar members to around 1.4m.

Meanwhile, the six second-pillar fund management companies will have to transfer €541.7m, out of accumulated assets of around €6.4bn at the end of the opt-out window, to the Social Insurance Agency (SIA), which runs Slovakia’s first pillar.

The monies will be used to offset the SIA’s deficit.

Miroslav Kotov, head of the investment department at Allianz-Slovenska DSS, said: “The opt-out window came as a government reaction to the levels of the first annuities offered in January 2015.

“The combined pensions from the first and second pillars were in most cases lower compared with the potential pension from only the first pillar. This was probably the main driver.”

Kotov added that the clients who left were not persuaded otherwise by issues such as the first pillar’s requiring constant subsidies from the state budget, or Slovakia’s highly unfavourable demographic prospects.

According to the European Commission’s 2015 Ageing Report, Slovakia’s economic old-age dependency ratio, the inactive population aged 65 and over as a percentage of 15 to 64-year-old employed workers, is projected to rise from 32% in 2015 to 93% by 2060.

This is the highest ratio in the EU.

Over this period, the population is projected to fall from 5.4m to 4.6m, and the working age population from 3.8m to 2.4m, while the share of over 65 year olds rises from 14.2% to 35.2%.

The SIA itself actively promoted opt-outs.

Its communications recommended that the second pillar was only beneficial for those who would accumulate at least 25 years of savings, and who earned more than 1.25 times the average wage.

It advised the less well paid, those with irregular income and those aged 45 years and over to leave.

The Association of Pension Funds Management Companies (ADSS), the trade body for the companies managing second-pillar funds, disputed some of the SIA materials, including the claim real average returns between early 2005 and 2015 were negative.

Unlike Poland, where new membership of its reformed second pillar is now restricted, until the next window in 2016, to new labour market entrants, anyone under age 35 in Slovakia can sign up at any time.

This includes former fund members, although they would have to start their savings from scratch.

According to the National Bank of Slovakia, the sector’s regulator, second-pillar membership increased by more than 17,000 in 2014.

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