ITALY – According to new data from pension association Mefop, the take-up rate of workers eligible to access the Italian second pillar is just under nine percent – with the largest fund worth 1.65 billion euros.

Eighteen funds are currently in operation, while five funds have concluded the process of selecting asset managers: Eurofer, Famiglia, Fondartigiani, Fonte and Telemaco.

Six are currently in the process of selecting managers: Byblos, Filcoop, Fondav, Gommaplastica, Previmoda, Previvolo.

The study also reported that the second pillar’s asset volume rose 30% from 3.5 billion euros at the end of 2002 to 4.5 billion euros a year later.

Commenting on the 8.66% take-up, a Mefop official said the ratio was lower than the European average but put it down to the fact that pension funds were still a relatively new concept in Italy.

“The idea of joining a pension fund itself is 10 years old. In big companies, where the unions are very much present, the take-up rate is also high. There are big-company’s pension funds that boast a very high take-up rate,” the officer said.

Quadri e Capi Fiat, with 12,775 members, had the highest take-up - 71.6%.

Cometa, the pension fund for mechanical and engineering employees, was the largest fund with assets worth 1.65 billion euros. It also has the highest membership, 334,000, and a take-up rate of 33.4%.

It also emerges that banks manage 12% of the second pillar and insurance companies, 24%.

But the biggest players are investment and savings companies, SGR and SIM, authorised by Consob and Banca d’Italia. SGR, Societa’ di gestione del risparmio, account for 37%, while SIM, Societa’ di Intermediazione Mobiliare, 27%.

Ten pension funds have been authorised to start their activities by pension regulator Covip: Edilpre, Fondapi, Fondoposte, Fonser, Fopadiva, Mercurio, Prevaer, Prevedi, Previdoc and Priamo. Artifond, the pension fund for handicraft employees, has applied.

Last month, Covip president Lucio Francario said that Italy’s industry-wide pension funds rose five percent in 2003.