A Study of Asset Allocation of Defined Benefit Pension Plans: Evidence from Korean Firms

Young Sik Kim, Woo Baik Lee, Jong Won Park

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The retirement pension system in the Korean market was introduced in 2005. The goal of the retirement pension system is to serve as a stable retirement income safety device under the multi-pillar pension system. As of the end of 2022, the accumulated pension assets is reached about 300 trillion won, but it is shallow compared to those of advanced pension countries and the OECD average. The shortcut to accumulating pension assets is improving investment performance through asset allocation and long-term investment. However, the current Korean retirement pension system is criticized for not achieving the effect of asset allocation due to excessive concentration on safe assets, which is an important cause of poor investment performance. This study analyzes the asset allocation of the pension funds of Korean firms adopting the defined benefit (DB) pension plan. For this study, data was constructed by manually collecting asset allocation data of pension funds for 526 firms listed on the KOSPI market during the sample period from 2013 to 2019. This study is the first to analyze the asset allocation behavior of retirement pensions for the Korean listed companies adopting the DB plan. The main empirical results are as follows. First, the average share of safe assets on total pension assets is about 82%. This result means that the Korean listed companies are investing most of their retirement pension assets in safe assets. In addition, this asset allocation behavior centered on safe assets continues despite the rapid increase in the size and the pension funded ratio (PFR) of pension funds during the sample period. Second, rebalancing between safe and risky assets during the sample period is hardly performed. Strategic asset allocation based on long-term target return and risk or tactical asset allocation reflecting short-term changes in market conditions is not being performed appropriately. Third, the relationship between the PFR and the share of safe assets appears in an inverted U-shape. In the group of under-funded firms with a low PFR, the higher the PFR, the higher the proportion of investment in safe assets. On the other hand, in the group with a high PFR, the higher the PFR, the higher the investment ratio of risky assets. These results mean that the asset allocation behavior of retirement pensions in the Korean listed companies adopting the DB plan supports the risk management hypothesis rather than the risk transfer hypothesis. However, as shown in the analysis of the characteristics of under-funded companies, because the change of risky asset allocation ratio is insignificant and the size of retirement pension assets is small, it has limitations in judging that it is generally supported. Additionally, this study shows that establishing and providing a national database containing information on asset allocation for retirement pensions is academically and practically urgent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-53
Number of pages53
JournalAsian Review of Financial Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Asset Allocation
  • Defined Benefit Pension Plan
  • Risk Management Hypothesis
  • Risky Assets
  • Safe assets


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