Pension fund assets hit five-year high as member numbers also rise

Central Bank data says average Irish occupational fund is now worth just over €80,000

Assets in Irish pension funds hit a five-year high to €137.9 billion at the end of the first quarter, according to figures published by the Central Bank

Assets in Irish pension funds hit a five-year high of €137.9 billion at the end of the first quarter, according to figures published on Thursday by the Central Bank. However, liabilities are also on the rise.

The number of people signed up to a pension scheme also increased – to 1.65 million at the end of last year. This is the highest figure since the Central Bank started publishing pension fund data in the third quarter of 2019, with the number jumping 6 per cent last year.

The figure is up almost 21 per cent on the numbers enrolled in an occupational pension scheme in 2019.

On the basis of the figures, the average pension fund size is just over €80,000, although this figure hides wide variables. Some members will have just started contributing to their pension fund while others are close to, or even in, retirement. Individual salaries on which pension contributions are assessed will also vary widely.


Fewer than half of the 1.65 million pension scheme members – just under 781,000 or 47 per cent – are active members paying into their pension fund. A similar number are deferred members – people who have moved jobs and no longer contribute to a particular scheme but who have not yet retired.

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That leads to an element of double-counting as many people will be deferred members under one scheme but active members in the scheme run by their current employer.

Just under 102,000 people were actually retired and drawing down their benefits at the end of 2023, according to the data.

Pension fund liabilities were €130.7 billion at the end of March. Just over half of these were liabilities of defined contribution pension schemes – the dominant model in the modern workplace where the pension payable is determined by the amount invested in the scheme by the employee and their employer and the investment performance of that sum.

The balance is liabilities attached to older defined benefit pension schemes which paid a pension based on years of service and salary. While defined contribution schemes now account for over three-quarters of all active pension fund members, it was only last autumn that assets in such schemes overtook defined benefit funds.

The data shows some notable changes in investment strategy among pension fund managers, with a significant increase in money being put into hedge funds (up 73 per cent on the quarter to €5.9 billion) and the money invested in equity funds (down 30 per cent to €6.6 billion) and property funds both at five-year lows.

The bulk of pension fund money is invested in debt securities, largely bonds and bond funds.

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Euro zone bonds account for close to 70 per cent of debt security investment with Irish debt accounting for 12.5 per cent and the rest of the world responsible for the remaining 19 per cent.

In equities, just under 79 per cent is invested in those from countries outside the euro zone, with 6.3 per cent invested in Irish equity funds and 15 per cent in funds focusing on euro zone stocks.

Pension fund assets are now down only marginally on the figure in place in September 2019 when the Central Bank started publishing data but they are over 20 per cent in advance of the €107.8 billion in place in September 2022.

On the liability side, the figure has grown 15 per cent from the €119.8 billion that existed back in 2019. Liabilities fell as low as €112.8 billion in March 2020, according to the Central Bank figures.

Irish occupational pension funds have shown a positive aggregate balance since early 2022 and are currently €7.2 billion in the black as a group, though that figure has fallen sharply from the €9 billion-plus surplus at the end of last year.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times