Pensions and COVID-19: The Global Experience

'Pensions and COVID-19: The Global Experience' was hosted by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) and IPRA in conjunction with the 28th Annual Colloquium of Pensions and Retirement Research, on December 14, 2020.

Recordings of the presentations are available below.

PROGRAM: Pensions and COVID-19: The Global Experience

Chair: Professor Hazel Bateman

PROGRAM: Pensions and COVID-19: The Global Experience


Session 1: 9.30am-10.30am UTC, Time Zone

Chair: John Piggott (ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), UNSW Sydney)

(London, UK: 9.30am-10.30am GMT, UTC+0), (Tilburg, Netherlands: 10.30am-11.30am CET, UTC+1), (Sydney, Australia: 8.30pm-9.30pm AEDT, UTC+11), (Santiago, Chile: 6.30am-7.30am CLST, UTC-3), (Philadelphia, USA: 4.30am-5.30am EST, UTC-5)


Portfolio Management for Insurers and Pension Funds and COVID-19: Targeting Volatility for Equity, Balanced and Target-Date Funds with Leverage Constraints

Bao Doan (RMIT, Vietnam), Jonathan Reeves (UNSW Business School) and Michael Sherris (CEPAR and UNSW Business School)

Measuring Risk and Time Preferences During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Crisis: Relation with Investment Behaviour

Jorgo Goossens (Tilburg University, Department of Econometrics and Operations Research and Netspar) and Marike Knoef (Leiden University, Department of Economics and Netspar)

Break: 10.30am – 10.45am UTC, Time Zone

Session 2: 10.45am-11.45am UTC, Time Zone 

Chair: Mike Orszag (Willis Towers Watson)

(London, UK: 10.45am-11.45am GMT, UTC+0), (Tilburg, Netherlands: 11.45am-12.45pm CET, UTC+1), (Sydney, Australia: 9.45pm-10.45pm AEDT, UTC+11), (Santiago, Chile: 7.45am-8.45am CLST, UTC-3), (Philadelphia, USA: 5.45am-6.45am EST, UTC-5)

Determinants of Early-Access to Retirement Savings: Lessons from the Australian Government Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic  

Hazel Bateman (CEPAR and UNSW Business School), Isabella Dobrescu (UNSW Business School, CEPAR), Junhao Liu (University of Sydney Business School, CEPAR), Ben R Newell (UNSW Psychology, CEPAR) and Susan Thorp (University of Sydney Business School, CEPAR) 

Retirement Funds Early Access During a Pandemic: Impact on Financial Markets

Viviana Fernández (Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez) and Felix Villatoro (Universidad Adolfo Ibanez and Netspar)

Break: 11.45am – 12.00pm UTC, Time Zone

Session 3 – Keynote: 12.00pm – 12.45pm UTC, Time Zone 

Chair: Hazel Bateman, IPRA President (CEPAR, UNSW Sydney)

(London, UK: 12.00pm-12.45pm GMT, UTC+0), (Tilburg, Netherlands: 1.00pm-1.45pm CET, UTC+1), (Sydney, Australia: 11.00pm-11.45pm AEDT, UTC+11), (Santiago, Chile: 9.00am-9.45am CLST, UTC-3), (Philadelphia, USA: 7.00am-7.45am EST, UTC-5)

Building Better Retirement Systems in the Wake of the Global Pandemic 

Olivia S. Mitchell (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

CLOSING REMARKS: 12.45pm UTC, Time Zone


Abstracts and bios

Portfolio Management for Insurers and Pension Funds and COVID-19: Targeting Volatility for Equity, Balanced and Target-Date Funds with Leverage Constraints

Bao Doan (RMIT, Vietnam), Jonathan Reeves (UNSW Business School) and Michael Sherris (CEPAR and UNSW Business School)

Abstract: Insurers and pension funds face the challenges of historically low interest rates and volatility in equity markets, that have been accentuated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent advances in equity portfolio management with a target volatility have been shown to deliver improved on average risk adjusted return, after transaction costs. This paper studies these targeted volatility portfolios in applications to equity, balanced and target-date funds with varying constraints on leverage. Conservative leverage constraints are particularly relevant to pension funds and insurance companies, with more aggressive leverage levels appropriate for alternative investments. We show substantial improvements in fund performance for differing leverage levels, with the return per unit of risk relatively constant with respect to the leverage constraints. Of most interest to insurers and pensions funds, we find that the highest return per unit of risk is in targeted volatility balanced portfolios with equity and bond allocations. Furthermore, we demonstrate the outperformance of targeted volatility portfolios during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bio: Michael Sherris is a part time Professor in the School of Risk and Actuarial Studies having retired in 2016. His part time role concentrates on research, research student supervision and mentoring of early career researchers particularly through the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research where he is a Chief Investigator and Director of Industry Engagement. He was Head of Actuarial Studies at UNSW until 2010 having been appointed to UNSW in 1998 to establish the Actuarial Studies program. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia, the Institute of Actuaries (UK) and the Society of Actuaries (North America).  His research focuses on longevity, health and functional disability risk modelling, long term care insurance and longevity risk management. His research has won a number of awards including the International Actuarial Association Bob Alting von Gesau AFIR Prize, Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) annual prize for the most valuable contribution to casualty actuarial science published in American Risk and Insurance Association (ARIA) literature, a Geneva Association/IIS Research Program Shin Research Award For Excellence, the Redington Prize of the Society of Actuaries, Best Paper prize for the North American Actuarial Journal and the H M Jackson Memorial Prize of The Institute of Actuaries of Australia. In 2007 he was awarded Australian Actuary of the Year in recognition of his contributions to actuarial research and education both internationally and within Australia.

Measuring Risk and Time Preferences During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Crisis: Relation with Investment Behaviour

Jorgo Goossens (Tilburg University, Department of Econometrics and Operations Research and Netspar) and Marike Knoef (Leiden University, Department of Economics and Netspar)

Abstract: We measure preferences and trading behavior during the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis. Firstly, we elicit and estimate present bias, patience, risk aversion and probability weighting in a large panel with high stakes and long-decision horizons. Present bias and impatience increase during the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis, and we find less risk-averse behavior. Secondly, we measure individual trading behavior and observe a strong disposition effect, which is increasing in the volatility of returns. The experimentally elicited disposition effect correlates strongly with exogenous market returns and is higher during bearish days. Finally, trust in insurers increases during the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis.

About the speaker: I am Jorgo Goossens, a PhD candidate at the department of Econometrics & OR and a researcher at APG Asset Management. I hold academic degrees in econometrics, (teaching) mathematics and finance. My research areas cover behavioral finance, asset pricing, macro and experimental finance. I teach courses in the field of quantitative finance and risk preferences (business school), and I supervise theses.
I am awarded Industrial Doctorate funding from the Dutch Research Council NWO for my pension research both at Tilburg University and APG Asset Management. My PhD research project is: "Behavioral biases and individual heterogeneity in pensions: Household Asset Liability Management." I am supervised by Prof. Dr. B. Werker (Tilburg University), Prof. Dr. M. Knoef (Leiden University), Prof. Dr. E. Ponds (Tilburg University and APG Asset Management) and Dr. R. van den Goorbergh (APG Asset Management). My expected graduation date is September 2022.

20K now or 50K later? What’s driving people’s decision to withdraw their super?
Determinants of Early-Access to Retirement Savings: Lessons from the Australian Government Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Hazel Bateman (CEPAR and UNSW Business School), Isabella Dobrescu (UNSW Business School, CEPAR), Junhao Liu (University of Sydney Business School, CEPAR), Ben R Newell (UNSW Psychology, CEPAR) and Susan Thorp (University of Sydney Business School, CEPAR)

Abstract: The relaxation of conditions for early release of superannuation savings changed a fundamental feature of the Australian retirement savings system. Responses of members to the early release scheme highlight the effectiveness of the standard superannuation preservation rules. Early withdrawals have short-term and long-term consequences for individual members who take payments under the scheme, and for society as a whole. I will discuss results of a survey of over 3,000 members of Cbus, a leading industry fund, who withdrew some or all of their superannuation savings in the first phase of the COVID-19 early release scheme between April and June 2020. Major findings include: members’ uncertainty about the impact of their withdrawal on future retirement wealth; the anchoring effect of the $10,000 limit on withdrawal amounts; and the diverse motivations behind the decision to withdraw.

About the speaker: Ben Newell is Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Deputy Head of the School of Psychology at UNSW Sydney. His research focuses on the cognitive processes underlying judgment, choice and decision-making and the application of this knowledge to environmental, medical, financial and forensic contexts. Ben has worked with industry and government partners on projects including climate change communication, and retirement wealth-planning. A key theme of much of this work is over-coming the myopic thinking that tends to cloud our judgment when we are making decisions about an uncertain future. Ben is a member of the Academic Advisory Panel of the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government.

Retirement Funds Early Access During a Pandemic: Impact on Financial Markets

Viviana Fernández (Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez) and Félix Villatoro (Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez and Netspar)

Abstract: This paper aims to study the financial markets effects related early pension fund withdrawals. The data we analyze is interesting because it is focused on Chile, a country with one of the longest- spanning Defined Contribution pension system. By the end of 2019 AUM were approximately 80% of GDP. Moreover, since the system was created, in 1981, this is the first time that funds are being withdrawn for non-pension purposes. Indeed, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Chile's legislative power promoted a special law in order to allow retirements of up to 10% of individual's pension savings accounts. This law was discussed and approved rapidly, between June 24th and July 24th. Our initial estimates show that the announcements related to the special legislation process produced significant and heterogeneous CAARs in local equity. Such returns were negatively affected by pension fund manager selling decisions. Moreover, the results show that this process has tended to appreciate the Chilean peso relative to the US dollar. We also show that the Central Bank has played a key role as a liquidity provider. While this has ensured stability in local financial markets, it poses future challenges in terms of the Central Bank’s role in possible future withdrawals and the rolling-out of the exceptional measures taken so far.

About the speaker: Félix has a PhD in Economics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica De Chile. He has served worked as a researcher for the Chilean Pension and Bank supervisors. Currently, Félix is a professor at the Business School of Adolfo Ibáñez University. His research interests include: household finance, pension systems and public policy topics applied to pension markets.

Building Better Retirement Systems in the Wake of the Global Pandemic

Olivia S. Mitchell (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

Abstract: In the wake of the global pandemic known as COVID-19, retirees, along with those hoping to retire someday, have been shocked into a new awareness of the need for better risk management tools to handle longevity and aging. This paper offers an assessment of the status quo prior to the spread of the coronavirus, evaluates how retirement systems are faring in the wake of the shock. Next we examine insurance and financial market products that may render retirement systems more resilient for the world’s aging population. Finally, potential roles for policymakers are evaluated.

About the speaker: Dr. Olivia S. Mitchell is the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Professor, as well as Professor of Insurance/Risk Management and Business Economics/Policy; Executive Director of the Pension Research Council; and Director of the Boettner Center on Pensions and Retirement Research; all at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania which she joined in 1993. Concurrently Dr. Mitchell serves as a Research Associate at the NBER; Independent Director on the Wells Fargo Fund Boards; Co-Investigator for the Health and Retirement Study at the University of Michigan; Member of the Executive Board for the Michigan Retirement Research Center; and Senior Research Scholar at the Singapore Management University. She also advises the Centre for Pensions and Superannuation UNSW and is Faculty Affiliate of the Wharton Public Policy Initiative. She received the MA and PhD degrees in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the BA in Economics from Harvard University. Dr. Mitchell has also been awarded the Doctor Rerum Publicarum Honoris Causa, Goethe University of Frankfurt; Doctor Oeconomiae Honoris Causa, University of St. Gallen; and an honorary Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Mitchell’s professional interests focus on public and private pensions, insurance and risk management, financial literacy, and public finance. Her research explores how systematic longevity risk and financial crises can shape household portfolios and work patterns over the life cycle, the economics and finance of defined contribution pensions, financial literacy and wealth accumulation, and claiming behavior for Social Security benefits. Her research has been appeared in leading academic journal including the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy, the Journal of Public Economics, and the Review of Finance, and it has been featured in outlets such as The Economist, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. She also blogs on Forbes. She has published over 250 books and articles, and she is a Senior Editor of the Journal of Pension Economics and Finance.

Dr. Mitchell received the Fidelity Pyramid Prize for research improving lifelong financial well-being; the Carolyn Shaw Bell Award of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession; and the Roger F. Murray First Prize (twice) from the Institute for Quantitative Research in Finance. She was also honored with the Premio Internazionale Dell’Istituto Nazionale Delle Assicurazioni from the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome. Her study of Social Security reform won the Paul Samuelson Award for “Outstanding Writing on Lifelong Financial Security” from TIAA-CREF. In 2011, Investment Advisor Magazine named her one of the “25 Most Influential People” and “50 Top Women in Wealth;” in 2010 she received the Retirement Income Industry Association’s Award for Achievement in Applied Retirement Research; and in 2010 Wealth Management Magazine named her one of the “50 Top Women in Wealth.” In 2015, she was named a “Top 10 Women Economist” by the World Economic Forum, and in 2016 Crain Communications named her a “Top 100 Innovator, Disruptor, and Change-Maker in Business.” In 2019, named her a “Top 16  Powerhouse Female Economist.”

Previously Professor Mitchell chaired Wharton’s Department of Insurance and Risk Management, and she also taught for 16 years at Cornell University. She served as a Commissioner on the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security; a Member of the US Department of Labor’s ERISA Advisory Council; and on the Board of Directors of Alexander and Alexander Services, Inc., the Board of the American Economic Association, the Advisory Board for the Central Provident Fund of Singapore, the National Academy of Social Insurance Board, the Board of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, and the GAO Advisory Board. She also co-chaired the Technical Panel on Trends in Retirement Income and Saving for the Social Security Advisory Council.

Professor Mitchell has visited and taught at numerous institutions including Harvard University, the NBER, Cornell University, the Goethe University of Frankfurt, the Singapore Management University, and the University of New South Wales. Professor Mitchell has consulted with many public and private groups including the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund, the Investment Company Institute, the President’s Economic Forum, the World Bank, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, the White House Conference on Social Security, the Q Group, and the Association of Flight Attendants. She has also testified before numerous committees of the US Congress, the UK Parliament, the Australian Parliament, the US Department of Labor, and the Brazilian Senate. She speaks Spanish and Portuguese, having lived and worked in Latin America, Europe, and Australasia.


Olivia S. Mitchell
Image credit: Cory Hancock (IMF)


Call for Papers

The Call for Papers has closed.

The 28th Colloquium on Pensions and Retirement Research will be held on 7-8 December 2020.*

The Colloquium, co-hosted by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) and the School of Risk & Actuarial Studies, UNSW Business School, is a unique annual event, bringing together academics, government and industry to discuss the latest research on pensions, superannuation and retirement. 

The theme for 2020 is ‘Pensions, superannuation and retirement in a post COVID-19 world’.

In the interest of highlighting the theme we specifically invite submissions on the impact of COVID-19 on:

  • Retirement savings adequacy
  • Market volatility and pensions
  • Pension and superannuation investment decisions and withdrawals
  • Sustainability of public pensions
  • Labour market participation and retirement decisions
  • Unemployment and early retirement
  • Superannuation and pension fund investment management
  • Household financial decision making
  • Health and aged care costs

Contributions are also welcome on other topics, which may include but are not limited to:

Retirement benefits, public pensions; sustainable fiscal policy; taxation of pensions; regulation and performance of pension and superannuation funds, choice architecture and defaults; housing as a retirement resource, inequality and pensions; financial product disclosure; financial literacy, financial education and financial advice; fintech solutions; cognition and financial decisions of the elderly; retirement planning; demographic trends; longevity and healthy life expectancy; gender issues in pensions and retirement. 

Early career researchers, especially PhD students, are particularly encouraged to submit. A cash prize will be awarded for the ‘Best PhD Paper Presentation’.

The Colloquium will also host a special session on ‘Pensions and COVID-19: The Global Experience’, sponsored by the International Pension Research Association (IPRA), on December 14, 2020.

Expressions of interest to be included on the program of the 28th Colloquium on Pensions and Retirement Research and the IPRA sponsored special session are now open.  

A Submission Form is available online. Please email the completed form along with a 300 word abstract and a full paper or an extended abstract (around 3 pages summarising background, method and results) to [email protected]. The deadline for submission is 14 August 2020.

Papers submitted to the Colloquium and the IPRA sponsored session on ‘Pensions and COVID-19: The Global Experience’ will be considered for inclusion in a Special Issue of the Journal of Pension Economics & Finance on Pensions and COVID-19.

* We acknowledge the ever-changing COVID-19 situation has created uncertainty in terms of future travel, both interstate and overseas. At this stage we are planning a face-to-face conference of local and international presenters. However, if circumstances restrict this we will convert to an online event or a mix of face-to-face and online participation. International presenters are particularly welcome in all formats.

If you would like to discuss a possible presentation, please contact Professor Hazel Bateman.

Direct event or media enquiries to: Silke Weiss