Peru's government, meanwhile, has issued one emergency decree and passed three subsequent laws since March 2020, allowing workers to withdraw $15.9 billion of their savings in the country's private pension system.
Mr. Stanko said he sees expediency, not bad intentions, driving those decisions. "It's simply they search for the options and for the options that are least politically painful," he said.
And DC systems offer a far more conducive backdrop for such decisions than the defined benefit plans they're replacing now, he said. "The clarity of defined contribution is also the weakness, in the way that you see your money — it's your money, it's visible, it's not entitlements," Mr. Stanko said. And as members accumulate ever-bigger pools of retirement savings, "it's very tempting to reach out for this money, especially if it's organized by the state," he said.
As defined contribution systems continue to grow as a percentage of their country's gross domestic product, analysts warn it could become ever more tempting for governments to pull that particular economic support lever going forward.
"Once you've been to the well, you know where the well is and you're likely to head in that direction" when the next economic or social crisis arrives, said Ashley Palmer, Hong Kong-based partner and actuary, regional head of retirement, Asia-Pacific, with Aon plc.
But forcing a country's defined contribution system to take on the role of rainy day fund will have consequences, analysts say.
"The pension system is there for retirement" while supporting people who require help during their working careers — whether because of the pandemic or some other crisis — should be the role of some other government system, said David Knox, Melbourne-based senior partner with Mercer Investments and an author of the firm's annual global pension ranking, which placed Australia at sixth out of 43 countries for the latest year; Chile was 16th, Malaysia 23rd and Peru 29th.
If retirement savings are pressed into that role, "inevitably there will be consequences," said Mr. Knox.
That has left some analysts calling for more institutional hurdles to be put in place to maintain the sole focus of retirement systems on retirement, even as they concede it's not possible to foolproof a system in an environment dominated by political considerations.