Managing the investment portfolio of a pension plan requires a sometimes not-so-delicate balance between several, often competing factors, objectives and goals. Staff, committee and consultants must consider assumed rate of return (aka actuarial rate), liability stream (constituents' monthly benefits), risk tolerance, governance, cash flow needs, investment policy statements and the pension plan's funding ratio (which, by itself, can have a dramatic impact) as inputs in decision-making.
Diligence, debate and research are distilled to create the asset allocation model, the primary driver of portfolio construct. Deploying the pension plan's money into capital markets via multiple asset classes, vehicles and strategies to implement the asset allocation within the framework of the investment policy statement, is how the plan seeks to meet its stated objectives. And, in an ideal world, the asset allocation will lead to a portfolio construct that will deliver the returns needed to meet the assumed rate of return, thereby helping to protect and preserve the pension plan's funding ratio.
For perspective, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, of 131 pension plans that announced an assumed rate of return as of January 2022, more than seven out of every 10 expect to earn 7% to 7.5%.