- A comparative study of 49 pension funds by the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO) showed bpfBOUW to be the most sustainable fund in the Netherlands;
- Women remain underrepresented at board tables despite promises made for improvement;
- On average, the sector as a whole performs slightly better than last year on sustainability;
- VBDO calls for more and faster decisions on sustainability, despite the lack of available data.
Every year, VBDO examines the responsible investment policies and performance of Dutch pension funds, supported by FNV. The benchmark assesses the 49 largest pension funds in the Netherlands, together accounting for a total value of more than 1,338 billion in assets under management.
Piet Rietman, FNV board member indicates the importance of the research: ‘Sustainability is an increasingly important topic for pension funds. We see that young union members in particular – and thus pension members – are questioning funds critically about, for example, investments in the fossil industry.’
bpfBOUW finally takes leading position
In 2017, ABP took over from PFZW as the most sustainable pension fund in the Netherlands. They were allowed to retain that title for six years. With a score of 4.8 out of a maximum of 5, bpfBOUW takes the lead this year. Eline Lundgren, chairman of the board at the pension fund: ‘BpfBOUW has the ambition to develop further in the field of Responsible Investment every year, we are proud of the performance we achieved this year.’
bpfBOUW is closely followed by ABP (4.7) and PME (4.5). Pension fund SNS REAAL was the fastest riser and best-performing small pension fund last year and this year again leads the rankings for best-performing small pension fund (less than €5 billion in assets under management).
Haitse Hoos, Investment Officer of Pensioenfonds SNS REAAL: ‘Thanks to a well-supportive fiduciary, a dynamic investment committee and a decisive and ambitious board, we have once again been able to make great strides. While the complexity keeps increasing, we still managed to make improvements in our policy and portfolio. A lot is also possible through fund investments.’
Pensioenfonds Achmea climbs from place 30 to 19, making it the fastest climber in 2023.
Women are still underrepresented on board
In 2015, VBDO’s benchmark showed that only 16% of the board members of Dutch pension funds were women. VBDO’s research shows that by 2022, this number will have risen to 32%. Angélique Laskewitz, director at VBDO: ‘Yes, there is fortunately an upward trend visible. But taken over eight years, a relatively flat one. Consider also that only just over one in ten pension funds has half men and half women, and less than one in 20 funds has a board with more women than men. So, men are apparently still the absolute norm.’
Ger Jaarsma, chairman of the Pension Federation: ‘Although many pension funds are working on the subject, we don’t see all pension fund boards being diverse and inclusive yet. To improve the gender distribution on boards, there will therefore be a special Diversity & Inclusion Taskforce. The Taskforce is an initiative of employee and employer organisations and the Pension Federation that will be presented in early 2024.’
Sector increasingly sustainable even without data
The sector scores higher on average this year (3.2) than last year (2.7). Sara Heinsbroek, project manager of the benchmark stresses: ‘We are of course pleased with this development. There are no significant developments in the methodology, so we can say that good steps are being made by the sector.’
However, Heinsbroek does have another urgent message: ‘Sustainability challenges are becoming increasingly complex and urgent. We hear many reports that insufficient data is available. However, the situation demands that decisions must be made quickly regardless. So, as a fund, feel comfortable using alternative sources of information and making decisions based on incomplete images. Uncomfortable conversations need to be had, so engage them and work with other funds to effectively work towards the goals you want to achieve.’