Design and Implementation Issues in Swedish Individual Pension Accounts

R. Kent Weaver

WP#2005-5

Abstract

Sweden’s new multi-pillar pension system includes a system of mandatory fully-funded individual accounts. The Swedish system tries to keep administrative costs down through centralized management of the collection of contributions, switching among fund options, and record-keeping and communication with account holders.

The Swedish system offers contributors more than 600 fund options. However, in the most recent rounds of fund choice, more than 90 percent of new labor market entrants have not made an active choice of funds, and thus have ended up in a government-sponsored default fund.

The Swedish system of individual accounts offers a number of lessons for countries considering adoption of a mandatory individual account tier. First, centralized administration of record-keeping, communication and trading functions can help to keep administrative costs down. Second, the lead time needed to set up such a system is considerable. Third, if entry barriers for funds are low, a very large number of fund options are likely to be offered. Fourth, engaging new labor market entrants in fund choice is likely to be difficult, and these barriers are likely to be particularly high for some groups-notably those with limited incomes and low English language skills. Fifth, in the absence of entry barriers for funds, a significant percentage of those making an active fund choice may choose funds that are very specialized and risky. Finally, the likelihood of limited active fund choice means that special care must be devoted both to the design of a default fund and to communicating to potential participants what asset allocation and risk-return trade-offs the default fund is likely to make.