Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1565827
Poland’s Pension System: An Overview
World Economy Research Institute
Warsaw School of Economics (SGH)
Al. Niepodleglosci 162
This research project gives an overview of the Polish pension system. It provides an analysis
of the development of the public and private social security system since its reform in 1999.
This paper also describes privately
managed pension funds in Poland and briefly discuss its impact on
the Polish economy.
Keywords: pension funds, social security system, reforms, Poland
JEL Classifications: G23, H55
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1565827
Poland’s Pension System: An Overview
Warsaw School of Economic
Pensions are an important part of the social security service and provide a safety net for
employees covered by the security system in Poland. They are a mechanism that is designed
to reduce the risks of old-age poverty and provide means to secure smooth lifetime income in
order to maintain living standards during retirement.
In the past, pension systems were based on the pay-as-you-go principle in many countries,
among them Poland, where they became a source of macroeconomic instability and a
constraint to economic growth. The main reason for this was a demographic change based on
the decreasing fertility and rising longevity of the population (Moffit et al., 2002). The impact
of these developments created a major burden on the pay-as-you-go system in which each
generation of workers supports the preceding generation’s retirees. As shown in Figure 1, the
percentage of the population aged 65 years or older is increasing in Poland and is expected to
continue to grow in the near future. Moreover, the percentage of professionally inactive
elderly people is increasing at a faster rate than the percentage of professionally active people
covered by the social security system. The growing number of elderly people poses a burden
on the social security system and each worker because pension liability is spread across a
smaller number of employees.
Poland’s population aged 65 and older in relation to the total population and total labor force
2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040 2045 2050
Ratio of population aged 65 and
older over the total population
Ratio of inactive
population aged 65 over to the total labor force
Ratio of population aged 65 and older over to the total population
Ratio of inactive population aged 65 and over to the total labour force
Source: Calculated from OECD Factbook 2007.
The dependency ratio on the right axis of Figure 1 shows the ratio of the economically
dependent part of the population to the productive part. In Poland, the ratio is currently close
to 30% and is projected to increase to nearly 50% by 2020. This means that for each elderly
inactive person there will be only two people in the labor force in the future. This means that,
despite its relatively young population, Poland is approaching problems with its social
security system—chiefly because of its aging population and the high benefits of those who
have already retired. As a result, pension reforms in both Poland and other developing
countries have been driven by not only demographic trends but also long-term economic
necessity (Ryan, 2003). In Poland, the government budget and the public pension system
already seem to be unable to finance various social programs. In addition, the high benefits of
retirees resulting from the mismanagement of the social security system have put a strain on
the government budget, which threatens to undermine macroeconomic stability and retirement
income security. This trend forced the government to reform the social security system, and
Poland, much as other developing countries, decided to move to a pension system based on
At the end of the 1990s, the Polish government led the efforts to implement pension reform
in Central and Eastern Europe. Encouraged by the experience of Chile’s pension reforms and
the recommendations of the World Bank, the Polish government decided to establish a
flexible pension system (World Bank, 1994) that consists of three pillars based on different
forms of income support. The first pillar is based on mandatory contributions to a public
social security program designed to alleviate poverty. It is based on the previous system, and
the managing institution is the state-run Social Insurance Institution (ZUS). The first pillar is
supplemented by a second pillar based on mandatory funding and open pension funds (OPFs)
that are managed by private pension fund societies (PFSs). The third pillar is voluntary and
consists of employer-sponsored pension plans and individual pension savings programs.
A comprehensive reform package was submitted to parliament for approval in 1998. The
new pension system was launched at the beginning of 1999, but the first transfers of
employees’ funds to ZUS accounts and individual accounts in open pension funds were not
made until April 1. The pension reform of 1999 had a great impact on the state pension
system and the country’s prosperity and economic growth. The reform also led to the
development of a financial services sector that specializes in providing pension products
based on either mandatory transfers of employee funds or voluntary contributions of the
population. As a result, the pension reform redirected a part of social tax contributions from
state management toward the private sector. One of the ideas behind the reform was that asset
management services provided by private institutions as part of the pension fund system
would be more effective than those provided by government entities. In addition, government
officials hoped that, as a result of the pension reform, a new and dynamic part of the financial
services system would develop in Poland to benefit the population.
Today, a decade after Poland’s new pension system was introduced, the results of the social
security services provided by private institutions are disappointing. While the mandatory part
of the pension system is developing quite well, it lacks competition even though it is quite
profitable. Furthermore, the voluntary part of the sector has not reached the scope projected
by the government. Therefore legislative steps will be taken to upgrade the pension system in
2. The multi-pillar pension system
Poland’s current pension system is based on a multi-pillar arrangement that comprises a
state-run social insurance system and a system of mandatory and voluntary individual
retirement accounts. Before the reform, a social insurance tax amounting to 45% of the wage
was paid by employers into the state-run pay-as-you-go system administered by the state-run
Social Insurance Institution (ZUS). In this system, benefits were determined by the law and
were based on employees’ wages.
Since 1999 the Polish pension system has been based on three pillars. In the first pillar, all
employees have individual accounts within the state social security system, but these are
rather virtual accounts. Employees’ contributions to these accounts are not invested but
increase yearly at a rate set by the state. As a consequence, the first pillar resembles the pay-
as-you go system as social benefits are based on the value of funds collected in the account
and the life expectancy of the insured person’s birth cohort. The benefit of virtual accounts is
that they made it possible to separate the pension budget from other social security funds, thus
guaranteeing greater financial transparency in the Polish social security system.
The second pillar of the pension system is based on pension fund societies that manage open
pension funds. All employees born in 1969 and later had to join an open pension fund of their
choice; a portion of their social insurance contribution has been channeled to this fund since
1999. Employees born between 1949 and 1969 were given a choice between either joining the
multi-pillar pension system or staying in the old pay-as-you-go system. All those born before
1949 stayed in the old pension system, managed by the state social security insurance agency.
At the end of 1999, more than 7 million employees—out of the roughly 13-million-strong
labor force—chose to participate in the second pillar based on open pension funds. At the end
of 2007, an unresolved problem linked with the second pillar involved the pay-out phase of
the pension system. The government has yet to decide how pensions will be paid from the
second pillar and who will manage and distribute them.
The third and last pillar of the pension system is based on voluntary pension plans that are
set up by either employers or individuals. These plans benefit from tax privileges, which
should encourage savings among workers. In contrast to the success of the second pillar, the
third pillar arrangement based on employer-sponsored programs disappointed experts as to the
number of members and the level of contributions. Therefore in 2004, the government
expanded the third pillar to include individual accounts. Both programs turned out to be a
The government’s motivation behind pension reform was to limit the government’s pension
burden and provide social security to retirees. Under the current pension system, funds for
retirement are guaranteed from two sources: the state system and the individual account
system. In addition, those who joined the third pillar will receive additional payouts from a
third source in the future: voluntary pension programs.
Additionally, the introduction of the multi-pillar system may lead to increased national
savings. It is assumed that workers will be saving more to ensure extra incomes during
retirement. However, few studies have been made on the impact of the multi-pillar system
reform on national savings. Schmidt-Hebbel (1999) argues that a pension reform in Chile
contributed between 10% and 45% to the growth of national savings, while the remaining part
of the increase was attributable to structural reforms including a tax reform. Lopez-Murphy
and Musalem (2004) used data from 50 countries to show that national savings are boosted in
countries where pension funds are the result of a mandatory pension system, but not when
they are voluntary. Conversely, Samwick (1999) analyzed a number of countries and found
that no countries except Chile experienced an increase in gross national saving rates after the
pension reform. Thus, the few studies on the impact of the multi-pillar reform on savings are
inconclusive and more research is needed to establish the causality of the relationship and its
Structure of households’ national savings in 1999-2007 in Poland
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
in bilion zloty
cash bank deposits
debt securities shares of listed companies
investment funds life insurance capital funds
open pension funds
Source: Based on ZUS, NBP, PFSA and online data
In Poland, household savings have increased almost threefold since the launch of the
pension reform in 1999, and were close to ZL700 billion (€200 billion) at the end of 2007. In
the last decade, the increase in household savings has been partially due to the growth of open
pension fund assets. They represented 20% of total household savings at the end of 2007.
However, the importance of other saving instruments, such as investment funds, domestic
shares and life insurance capital funds, have also grown during the last decade. In practice, it
is difficult to determine if the increase in household assets was caused by the pension reform
or whether it was a consequence of economic development. Research shows the relationship
between the pension reform and the savings rate is also unclear. As a result, the impact of the
pension reform on the savings rate is hard to pin down in Poland.
3. The development of open pension funds
At the beginning of the pension reform, 21 pension fund societies were set up, mainly by
foreign-owned banks and insurance companies. Those pension fund societies manage open
pension funds that provide individual pension accounts. From the beginning the market shares
of the new pension funds varied because the pension fund companies used different
distribution channels and differed in terms of market power. As a consequence, smaller
pension fund companies began to merge two years after the pension reform. The number of
these companies decreased from 21 in 1999 to 15 in 2007. These 15 companies managed
more than 13.6 million individual pension accounts through open pension funds at the end of
Open pension fund assets increased rapidly from the very beginning. Figure 3 shows that
the pension funds’ assets were worth more than ZL140 billion (€40 billion) at the end of
2007. In 2007 the pension industry for the first time surpassed the mutual fund industry in net
assets; pension fund assets were worth over ZL3 billion more than mutual fund assets. In
addition, pension fund assets have been growing by more than ZL850 million (€200 million)
per month on average as regular contributions are paid in and more workers join the program.
It is expected that the growth phase of the pension funds will stabilize after 2050. By then, all
workers should be covered by a pension system consisting of three pillars. It is also assumed
that the pension fund industry will be the biggest provider of services in the financial industry
by assets after 2050.
Value of open pension fund (OPF) net assets (in billions of zlotys) and the number of pension
fund societies (PFSs) in 1999-2007
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Net assets value in billion zloty
No of PFS
No of PFS
Source: Based on Polish Financial Supervision Authority (PFSA) data.
In Poland, open pension funds are allowed to hold a variety of securities including equities
and foreign assets. Nevertheless, pension fund portfolios are primarily invested in government
debt. Undiversified portfolios are a result of government-imposed investment guidelines
limiting investments in domestic equity and foreign shares. While greater demand for
government debt may improve market efficiency and lead to the development of longer-
duration instruments, a strategy of concentrated investment in government debt fails to yield
the expected benefits to the open pension fund holder. As long as the government’s
investment policy restriction is in place, the expected yield of open pension funds may remain
low. In addition, pensions invested primarily in government bonds are only a little different
from the pay-as-you-go system from the point of view of macroeconomic policy. This also
encourages the government to keep the restrictions as they help finance the budget deficit
through public government debt, which is primarily purchased by open pension funds.
Table 2 shows the yearly weighted average rate of return for open pension fund accounts,
which ranged from 5.4% to 17% in 2000-2007. The best open pension fund return rates varied
between 30.3% in 2000 and 10% in 2001, while the worst open pension fund rate of return
was between 0.1% in 2001 and 15.2% in 2006. The low rates of return in 2001 were due to a
slowdown in the economy and decreased share prices on the Polish capital market. On the
other hand, in the following years, as the economy recovered so did the open pension fund
rates of return. In 2000-2007 the inflation rate (CPI) ranged from 0.8% in 2003 to 10.1% in
2000. Hence Table 2 shows that in 2000-2001 and in 2007 some of the worst open pension
funds by profitability reported negative real returns on member assets.
OPF rate of return and inflation in the years 2000-2007
Weighted average OPF rate of return
Best OPF rate of return 30.3
Worst OPF rate of return 7.6
Inflation (CPI) 10.1
Source: Based on PFSA and GUS data.
In 1999-2001 pension fund companies reported net losses, which were mainly caused by the
high costs of launching operations and enlisting clients in the first year of the pension reform.
Those pension fund companies that were unable to build up a substantial client and asset base
in the first few years reported losses. Therefore, in the following years, they merged with
smaller pension funds because efforts to enlist new clients after the first year of the reform
were time-consuming and often unsuccessful. As the net assets of the pension fund companies
increased, so did their net profits. Figure 4 shows that since 2002 the net profits of pension
fund companies have increased steadily, and the same goes for their return on equity. In 2007
the combined net profit of Poland’s pension fund companies increased to ZL688 million
(€200 million), from ZL604 million (€178 million) in 2006, while the return on equity
declined from 39% to 36%.
PFS net income (in millions of zlotys) and return on equity in 1999-2007
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Net income in million zloty
Return on equity in %
PFS Net income
Source: Based on PFSA data; *2007 results based on estimations
Overall, open pension companies are an important part of the pension system and an
increasingly significant part of the Polish social security service. The importance of this
industry will grow further as more money is transferred and more workers join pension funds.
However, as long as the investment restriction is in place, open pension fund accounts are
more likely to produce low or negative real returns for their clients. Therefore deregulation is
needed in the investment policy, as proposed recently by the Polish Financial Supervision
Pension fund companies reported increasing net profits as well as a relatively high rate of
return on equity in the last few years. The high profitability of this part of the social security
system seems to benefit from high market entry barriers. No new entrants are expected to join
the system in the coming years as it is rather difficult to enlist new clients, and in order to be
profitable, a significant scope of operations is needed. Consequently, the existing pension
fund companies benefit from the first-move advantage. Even though the Polish Financial
Supervision Authority wants to change this situation, it will be difficult to open this market to
new entrants and considerable changes in market regulations will be needed.
4. Employee Pension Programs and Individual Retirement Accounts
The third pillar provides the possibility of increasing the amount of pension to a level that
meets the financial expectations of those who are afraid that their pension from the first and
second pillars may be unsatisfactory. The voluntary third pillar supplements the two
mandatory tiers of the pension system. This increases the scope of the existing pension system
and allows everyone to allocate their income according to their own preferences across time
and expected future needs. It was assumed that the third pillar would provide a substantial
part of retirement income (Góra and Rutkowski, 2000). However, at the end of 2007 the third
pillar assets were still below expectations, which may create problems in the future.
As the third pillar is based on voluntary contributions it is more flexible than the first two
pillars, with a greater choice of products, saving periods and amounts saved. Currently, the
third pillar consists of two key products, depending on who contributes to the pension
account. In an employee pension program, the employer transfers contributions to a pension
plan built for the needs of the company. On the other hand, an individual retirement account
allows anyone to save for their future retirement. Contributions to individual retirement
accounts are exempt from tax up to a specific amount. Thus they provide the possibility of
collecting extra funds without restrictions to a certain limit in order to take advantage of tax
Employee pension programs (EPP) are organized by employers with the aim of channeling
employees’ contributions to a pension program of their choice. Employee pension programs
can be arranged either as a group investment employee life insurance agreement, an
agreement combined with an investment fund, or an agreement combined with an employee
The most popular employee pension program was group investment employee life
insurance, with 754 agreements at the end of 2007. The second and third most popular
pension programs under the third pillar were investment funds, with 195 agreements, and
employee pension funds, with 26 agreements.
The contributions of employee pension program members ranged from less than 3% to 7%
of the basic salary in 2007 depending on the agreement. In almost 30% of employee pension
plans, contributions were equal to 7% of the basic salary, which is the maximum level
required by the law.
Number of EPPs and EPP participants in 1999-2007
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Number of EPPs
Number of participants in thousand
No. of EPPs
No. of participants
Source: Based on PFSA data.
Figure 6 shows the total contributions of all employees to the different types of employee
pension programs. As can been seen, investment funds had the highest contribution level
among all the types of pension program agreements. They were closely followed by employee
pension funds. Life insurance products reported the lowest contributions, which means that
the average contribution of members was relatively low, considering that it is the most
popular program in terms of the number of contracts among employee pension programs in
Poland. Conversely, contributions to pension fund and investment funds were relatively high
considering the small number of members in comparison to the total number of employee
pension program participants. At the end of 2007 the total assets of these three pension
programs were only ZL3.8 billion.
Contributions transferred to EPP by type of investment agreement in 2000-2006
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
in million zloty
life insurance investment fund pension fund
Source: Based on PFSA data.
Five years after their establishment, employee pension plans only covered 100,000 workers.
This was far below the government’s expectations. As a result, the government decided to
supplement the existing system with individual retirement accounts (IRA) in 2004. These
individual accounts were exempted from capital gains taxes, yet the annual payment was
limited to 150% of the average monthly salary. Payments above that limit were excluded from
the tax privilege. Like employee pension plans, individual retirement accounts are based on
agreements either with open-ended investment funds, unit-linked insurance investment
accounts at brokerages, or bank deposit accounts.
Again, the development of individual retirement accounts was slower than the government
expected. As can be seen in Table 3, there were under 120,000 individual retirement accounts
with a combined ZL1.85 billion in assets at the end of 2007; the average IRA account was
worth ZL2,037. In 2007, savings transfers to IRA accounts used up only 46.5% of the 2007
tax exemption limit granted by the government on average.
Number and total asset by institution’s of IRA accounts at the end of 2007
IRA accounts Average
No. in % in ZL in %
Life insurance 58 325 48.2 1 075 37.5 722 646 38.8
Investment funds 59 371 49.1 4 404 63.0 846 458 45.4
1 184 1.0 10 949 83.9 96 157 5.2
Banks 2 075 1.7 4 687 32.8 199 309 10.7
Total 120 955 100.0 2 037 46.5 1 864 570
Source: Based on PFSA.
In 2007, the life insurance industry and investment funds were the main providers of IRA
accounts on the market. Those two institutions had a combined market share of close to 97%.
The share of banks and brokerages in the market remains small. Nevertheless, banks have a
10% market share in the total assets of IRA accounts, while insurance and investment funds
accounted for 38.8% and 45.4% of total assets respectively. Thus, the market structure of
IRAs resembles that of the employee pension program market.
In conclusion, the third pillar of the social security system based on voluntary contributions,
which are managed by financial service providers, developed far below the expectations of
both the government and industry insiders. At the beginning of the pension reform, it was
expected that this social service sector would develop quite well and that the assets would
grow each year. It was also assumed that most people, in order to secure stable income during
retirement, would be willing to save in tax-exempt accounts. However, after almost a decade,
the results are disappointing and the government is planning further steps to revive the third
5. Pension funds and the real economy
The pension reform had a large impact on the economy and financial system
development in Poland. Figure 7 shows the structure of the country’s gross domestic product
in 1990-2005. In 1990 the GDP share of the financial service industry was 12.6%, while in
2005 it was already 19.6%. Thus, the share of the financial service sector in GDP increased by
more than 40% in 1990-2005. This was the fastest growing sector in Poland. In comparison,
the GDP share of transport, trade, hotel and restaurants has increased by only 6%, while the
government, health, education and personal services sector grew by only 5% in 1990-2005.
The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector declined by 40% in 1990-2005, and industry and
the construction sector each declined by 13%. The data point to a shift away from agriculture
and industry toward a service-oriented economy during the last 15 years as far as the
composition of Poland’s gross domestic product is concerned.
The structure of Polish gross value added in 1990-2005
Agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing
Industry, including energy
Transport, trade, hotels and restaurants
Banks, insurance, real estate and other business services
Government, health, education and other personal service
Source: Based on OECD Factbook 2007.
At the end of 2007, pension funds were larger by assets than the life, property and casualty
insurance industries put together and also larger than the investment fund sector. Only the
assets of deposit institutions were still larger than those of the pension funds. However, since
1995 the share of deposit institutions in the financial services industry’s total assets has been
declining, while the share of pension assets has grown. Therefore the increased importance of
the financial services industry in the country’s economy can be attributed to the growth of
pension funds in Poland.
The available data and statistical evidence suggest a close relationship between the
development of pension funds and financial markets, rendering them deeper, more liquid, and
more competitive. One could argue that the capital market needs pension funds, while pension
funds need the capital market. Moreover, in the first years of the pension reform in Poland,
the largest number of companies was privatized by the state through the capital market.
As a result, the pension reform accelerated the development of the financial market and thus
increased the efficiency of resource allocation in Poland. The prevailing view in research
reports is that financial system developments—the depth and activity of financial
intermediaries—enhance economic growth. Extensive empirical research on finance and
growth nexus includes studies by Levine (1997) and Theil (2001). In a recent study, Hu
(2005) has shown a direct positive link between pension assets and economic growth.
However, little is still known on how pension funds impact economic growth and thus more
research is needed. Nevertheless, it can be assumed the pension reform has contributed,
through indirect channels, to the development of the financial system and as a result to
economic growth in Poland.
The first pillar of Poland’s multi-pillar pension system established a close link between
contributions and social benefits granted by the government, thus reducing the labor market
distortions observed in traditional and unfunded pension programs (World Bank, 1994).
The second and third pillars have led to the appearance in the Polish financial market of
special entities to provide the new services required. Additionally, it was assumed that the
private part of the social security system would benefit from the pension reform. Almost a
decade later, it can be seen that only the second pillar, which is based on mandatory
contributions to open pension funds, is developing. Open pension funds have been established
mainly by foreign banks and insurance companies. Of the 15 pension fund companies left on
the market, only two are Polish-owned, and they have the smallest assets. The establishment
of pension fund companies by large financial institutions guarantees safe and professional
asset management. Almost all the pension fund companies reported positive financial results
two to three years after they launched their operations. Since the launch of the reform, no new
pension fund company has been established in Poland as it is difficult to attract a large
number of members. Therefore, even as the second pillar has been a major success, it lacks
competition and it will be difficult to change this trend.
Conversely, the third pillar based on voluntary contributions to a pension program has been
a failure. The failure is associated with the weak fiscal incentives offered to employers to
establish such plans and the lack of encouragement to contribute to these plans. This explains
why the government introduced individual retirement accounts in 2004. However, three years
later, the results of individual retirement accounts were also disappointing.
It is assumed that the pension reform had an impact on savings and financial system
development in Poland. Research on the impact of the reform on savings is complex and
inconclusive. Yet, it is assumed that it may have a positive influence on national savings and
capital accumulation, and hence contribute to economic growth (Holzmann, 1995). Finally,
research shows that the multi-pillar reform approach furthers and accelerates financial market
developments and thus improves the efficiency of resource allocation. Through the
development of the financial market, it enhances countries’ economic growth.
To conclude, even though some parts of the pension system are disappointing and have not
lived up to expectations, the overall result is positive. The reform has led to the development
of a successful financial services industry whose development has had a positive impact on
Poland’s economic growth.
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