Norway’s main provider of municipal pensions, KLP, has challenged a claim by a local authority that it saved NOK28m (€2.9m) by running its own pension fund for staff.

The municipality of Asker, near Oslo, kept its own arrangements rather than outsourcing to KLP. The authority has attributed the success to factors other than investment returns. 

However, Marianne Sevaldsen, group director for life insurance at KLP, told local media: “If Asker had been in KLP in the last two years, they would receive more than NOK45m in higher returns.” 

The comments come as Norway’s ongoing municipal reform is set to reduce the number of administrative regions in the country. The change will arguably increase the viability of independent pension funds, since in some cases several municipalities are clubbing together.

Under the municipal reform, the areas of Asker, Hurum and Røyken have agreed to merge on 1 January 2020, with the new joint administrative region to bear the name of Asker.

Hurum and Røyken staff pensions are currently managed by KLP, the ninth biggest pension scheme in Europe, according to IPE’s Top 1000 survey.

The future pension provider for the new joint Asker municipality will be decided upon in connection with the merger, Asker said on its website.

No one at Asker pension fund, Asker Kommunale Pensjonskasse, was immediately available for comment.

The pension fund had total assets of NOK2.48bn at the end of 2016.

In a commentary in Norwegian regional daily Budstikka, Sevaldsen said she was responding to a previous article in which Asker municipality said it had saved several million kroner a year by having a separate pension fund, rather than being in KLP.

She said a low level of disability benefits, a high retirement age and low average age of scheme members had contributed positively to lower pension costs for Asker municipality. However, she warned that, over time, these conditions could change.

“Two of the most important factors to be considered are the returns achieved on the pension funds and the pension provider’s administration costs,” she said. “Low administrative costs and good returns are often arguments for choosing KLP rather than having a separate pension fund.”

KLP’s returns had been better than those produced by Asker’s own pension fund in recent years, Sevaldsen added.

“The municipalities must of course choose the pension option they themselves wish,” she said.

The director said KLP had a good customer relationship with all three municipalities – Asker, Hurum and Røyken.

“We want to help decision makers in the municipalities have as good a factual basis as possible for their important choice of pension solution,” she said.

The independent Asker municipal pension fund has managed the occupational pension scheme for the local authority’s staff since 2015.

It signed a contract with Storebrand Pension Services in 2016 for insurance, accounting and actuarial services, and Storebrand Asset Management now manages the pension fund’s investments.