No interest in social security mutuals

There is a complete lack of investor interest in social security funds. Nobody, including administrative and political heads, is concerned with the funds’ reserves, estimated at 5 trillion drachmas, and how best to manage them. The recent announcement by the Labor and Social Security Ministry of plans to institutionalize regular meetings with the governors of the social security funds not only highlighted the State’s obligations but it also shifted talks on the funds back at least five years. While there have been legislative measures on the issue in the last decade, the result has not been encouraging. Instead of a more flexible and effective management of their reserves, the funds have been stuck with a conservative and unproductive approach. Indeed, fearful of judicial intervention and critical questions in Parliament, managers of the social security funds have, for some time, implicitly refused to take any investment decision which could be misconstrued as supportive of the floundering stock market. The only positive move over the last three years for social security funds was the conversion of treasury bills into long-term bonds. This measure was made possible after the Finance Ministry exerted strong pressure. The setting up of a supervisory committee two years ago, with members drawn from the Bank of Greece, the Capital Market Commission and the funds themselves, did nothing for the funds’ investment policy. It also failed to live up to its mission, which was to form a code of investment behavior. In this atmosphere of apathy, very few of the social security funds showed interest in hiring financial advisers and even fewer implemented the relevant legislation, though they are empowered by the board of directors to employ a bank to advise them on managing their assets. The same and even worse could be said of the real estate owned by social security funds. The institution of the real-estate company has been inactive since 1990. An example of the sad state of affairs was the decision by property management company Alpha Astika Akinita not to renew its contract with the Social Security Foundation (IKA) following the expiry of the agreement as the Labor Ministry had disregarded its suggestion on managing IKA’s property portfolio. IKA does not have any surplus capital and furthermore is owed 1.3 trillion drachmas by the State. OGA, in contrast, has a surplus of billions of drachmas and thus is in urgent need of an effective fund management policy. Under these circumstances, last week’s decision by Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis to allow social security funds to invest 23 percent of their reserves in equities and real estate, up from 20 percent, is nothing more than a gesture. Besides, according to law 2676, the Labor Ministry can permit social security funds to gradually increase the size of their investments. Unfortunately, this legal underpinning has never been used nor exploited by the funds themselves.