The number of members in Belgian second-pillar pension funds has exceeded that of the third pillar for the first time, highlighting the growing significance of occupational schemes.

The figures, released by the Belgian Association of Pension Institutions (BAPI), showed second-pillar funds now covered 2.8m people, compared to 2.7m in the third pillar.

The representative body’s research on the second-pillar market showed there was now 43 industry pension schemes set up for workers, alongside other corporate schemes and insurance companies.

Since 2004, after the Belgian government legislated for the formation of industry schemes that created compulsory membership for those workers, second-pillar pensions membership has doubled, covering 75% of employees.

Assets in the second pillar reached €70bn by the end of 2012, compared with €24bn in the third pillar.

Over 2013, however, Belgian second-pillar pension funds saw a return of 6.7%, a drop on 2012’s 12% growth.

The asset allocation in the schemes drew comparisons with the rest of Europe, with 47% in bonds and 36% in equities.

Funds allocated around 7% to real estate and 4% to cash, and kept 5% in alternatives such as infrastructure and private equity.

Despite overall growth in second-pillar assets and the number of pension funds, assets held in insurance companies still outshone those in funds, according to the assocation.

Insurance companies account for more than three-quarters of second-pillar assets, while pension funds account for 54% of the membership.

Male pensions coverage took a significant jump in 2008 with the launch of pension funds for the construction and metal industries.

However, until 2012, female membership remained relatively low, until the launch of schemes for the non-profit of federal sectors.

The association hailed the results as success, highlighting the importance of the second-pillar pensions regime in the country.

According to the BAPI, second-pillar growth was essential, since changes to the state pension, in the 1990s, eroded the replacement income Belgians were likely to recieve.

It said the growing coverage was a truly democratic approach, reaching all levels of the Belgian working population.