Peru: Pension funds undergo reforms
New measures to Peru’s private pension fund system aimed at promoting greater competition and attracting clients currently outside of the system are beginning to be implemented, but private pension fund operators (known locally as AFPs) argue that some elements of the new law may be unconstitutional.
At present, up to two-thirds of all workers do not participate in the pension fund system. Lawmakers associate this shortfall with a lack of competition in the sector, which is dominated by only four AFPs, though it is also partly due to the large population of Peruvians that work outside of the formal economy. The AFPs charge commission rates that critics deem to be exorbitant, pointing out that high rates discourage workers from using the funds to plan for retirement.
Under the new law, which was approved in July, contributing to a pension fund will no longer be optional for many workers. All independent or self-employed workers earning 1.5 times the monthly minimum wage – currently at PEN750 ($290) – are required to contribute to either the public pension fund or an AFP. If they do not choose voluntarily, they will automatically be enrolled in an AFP.
In September, the government held the first auction among AFPs, awarding the right to accept all new private system clients until the end of the year. In December, another auction will be held, granting the winner similar rights for the following two years.
Prima AFP, which is controlled by Credicorp – a local financial holding firm – was the winner of the first round. The firm cut its commission from 1.75% to 1.6%, which brings the average commission rate for the system as a whole down to 1.83% from 1.91%.
Prima’s market share typically hovers around 30%, as does the share of Integra AFP, which is controlled by Colombia-based Grupo de Inversiones Suramericana. Prima officials estimate that by winning the auction, the firm will be able to increase its market share by at least 4%, making it the official market leader.
The Superintendent of Banks, Insurance and Private Pension Funds (SBS) believes that the auction mechanism will force pension funds to lower their commissions, while at the same time encouraging new entrants to the sector by providing auction winners with an client base that would otherwise take decades to form. AFPs complain, however, that the process fails to acknowledge fund profits, focusing exclusively on commission rates.
Another source of concern among AFPs is a part of the reforms that calls for a transformation of the system from charging commission based on contributions to a commission based on assets under management. AFPs argue that it is unconstitutional to utilise funds held in pension fund accounts to pay commissions. They also believe that making this switch could confuse existing clients and work against efforts to lower commission rates in the near term. While Peru’s courts have agreed to hear the complaints of the AFPs, at least for the moment the reforms will continue as planned.
There is no doubt that the SBS faces a difficult challenge in attempting to open up the market, while also working to cooperate with the current players, whose investments essentially form the backbone of the Peruvian capital market. Collectively, AFPs hold some $34bn in funds, or 19% of GDP. At present, approximately 71.9% of these funds are invested locally.
Despite the concerns of the AFPs, there are already some signs that the reforms appear to be producing the desired effect: an increase in the number of clients in the private pension fund system and potential new AFPs that may participate in future auctions.
According to data published by the SBS, some 13,699 new clients entered the private pension fund system in the week of September 24-28. Of this total, 24% identified themselves as self-employed workers – a segment of the population that officials previously struggled to encourage to invest in pension funds.
Interbank Group, one of the country’s largest companies and the holder of Peru’s fourth-largest bank, may be considering reviving plans to develop a pension fund. Interbank obtained permission from the SBS to start a fund in 2009, but has yet to take concrete actions towards doing so. The auction mechanism, which ensures an affiliate base to winners, may ultimately encourage Interbank to consider this option.
While AFPs and lawmakers alike struggle to comprehend how reforms will impact the sector in the long run, actions that increase the number of affiliates in the system should ultimately prove beneficial for all parties involved.