BpfBouw, the pension fund for the Dutch construction sector, has been named most sustainable pension fund in the Netherlands for the first time in the annual ranking by VBDO, the association for responsible investing in the Netherlands.
VBDO ranks the 49 largest Dutch pension funds in assets each year on sustainability. For the past six years, €474bn civil service scheme ABP came out on top.
In 2023, however, BpfBouw came first with a score of 4.8 on a five-point scale, just 0.1 point ahead of ABP. All assets of BpfBouw apart from its non-listed real estate portfolio are managed by APG, the asset manager that is majority-owned by ABP.
VBDO scores the pension funds in four areas: governance, policy, implementation and accountability. Implementation is the most important of these, accounting for half of the final score.
BpfBouw scores best on policy compared with ABP and other funds. It is also the only fund on the list receiving five stars, the maximum score awarded by VBDO. The VBDO benchmark was first established in 2015 and is sponsored by trade union FNV.
On average, pension funds performed better this year than last year. The average score rose from 2.7 last year to 3.2. “That is a positive development,” said Sara Heinsbroek, project manager of the benchmark.
“This average is comparable to last year’s average because we didn’t ask any additional questions this year,” she added.
Every now and then, VBDO introduces new topics as sustainability investing is evolving fast. In recent years, topics such as tax transparency and biodiversity have been added.
For years, the top 10 of the list has been dominated by large sector funds. Healthcare scheme PFZW, which often occupied the first place in the first years of the VBDO list, has now fallen out of the top five and sits at 7th place.
VBDO named pension fund SNS Reaal, a bank and insurer, as the best small fund, defined as having under €5bn in assets. The fund sits in 14th place overall. Pensioenfonds Rail & OV is the biggest climber in the top 10. The fund, which is working to develop an integrated biodiversity policy rose nine spots, finishing in fourth place. Overall, pension fund Achmea made the biggest jump, rising 11 places to 19th.
GP fund Huisartsen is the biggest faller this year, dropping 13 places to 39th position. In recent years, the fund has come under fire from critical GPs who felt their fund did too little on sustainability.
49 funds instead of 50
VBDO’s sustainable ranking includes 49 pension funds for the second year in a row, instead of 50. Last year the reason was that VBDO was too late to realise that the sector scheme for furniture stores Wonen was merging with retail scheme Detailhandel.
VBDO failed again this year to come up with an additional fund, this time because the fund it intended to include could not provide the required data in time.
“The fund was busy with the implementation of the new pension law,” said VBDO project leader Sara Heinsbroek.
She expects, however, to finally be able to present a list of 50 funds again by next year. VBDO declined to name the fund in question, but according to data of pension regulator DNB, the 50th-largest pension fund in the country is the pension scheme of MSD, a pharmaceutical firm.
While sector schemes make up the bulk of the best-scoring funds, there are mostly corporate pension schemes at the bottom of the ranking. Examples are the three pension funds of airline KLM and the funds of steel plant Hoogovens and bank ABN Amro. Like last year, the fund for the meat processing industry Vlep came last.
More than half of the funds embrace biodiversity as an important theme. Last year only a third of the funds had drawn up a policy on this topic, although no fund has yet formulated concrete policy goals.
Though the number of women on boards is increasing, they are still underrepresented. The percentage of female trustees has increased from 16% in 2015 to 32% this year.
“It’s an upward trend, but our research also shows that at just over one in 10 pension funds at least half the board is female. Men are apparently still the absolute norm,” said Angélique Laskewitz, director at VBDO.
The composition of the board does, however, not count to the score in the benchmark.