BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–NEPC, LLC, one of the industry’s largest independent, research-driven investment consulting firms, today announced the key trends from its benchmark Defined Benefit Plan Trends Survey, which examines historical trends and health of corporate and healthcare pensions. 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of this survey.

The results, to be released in January 2022, highlight three significant trends over the past decade:

  • Pension funded status has improved dramatically. In the inaugural 2011 survey, only 13% of plans had a funded status above 100%. In 2021, that number rose to 31%
  • Plan sponsors have increased their LDI allocations. Only 9% of pensions had an LDI allocation above 51% in 2011. In 2021, 42% of pensions had an LDI allocation above 51%.
  • Shifting asset allocations coupled with the strong market environment materially reduced expected return on assets (EROA). In 2011, 100% of respondents had an EROA assumption above 7%. By 2021, only 29% of respondents reported an EROA expectation above 7%.

In terms of results, 2021 was a record year for glide path triggers as 61% of respondents hit a glide path trigger – compared to 18% in 2019, 34% in 2017, and 16% in 2016. This increase was driven by higher Pension Discount Rates (PDR) in Q1 and strong equity returns – 89% of respondents said their trigger was caused by market movements.

With regards to other topics, ESG adoption continued to grow (albeit slowly) but interest appears to have waned. Respondents in this year’s survey who have not adopted ESG say they are less likely to consider ESG in the future.

56% of the 2021 respondents expect PDR to increase in the next year, driven by concerns around inflation and the current low rate environment. Despite this outlook, 56% expect strong equity returns over the next year while 75% indicate a less than 50% probability of a market correction in the next six months.

2021 saw an uptick in plan termination considerations compared to 2019. 20% of sponsors with a closed or frozen plan indicated they were planning a plan termination, compared to 17% in 2019. Additionally, more plan sponsors (33%) considered a termination in 2021 but eventually rejected, compared to 23% in 2019.

“If funded status continues to increase and discount rates rise, we may see more plan sponsors revisit the merits of annuitization,” said Brad Smith, Partner at NEPC and member of the firm’s Corporate Defined Benefit Team. “Half of plan sponsors in NEPC’s 2021 survey looking to terminate don’t plan to for the next two to seven years, so it’s crucial to have an immunization strategy that can protect current funded status gains. As an independent, research-driven team, we’re able to take a long-term view to preserve and grow pensions for financially-secure retirements.”

The full 2021 survey results will be unveiled during an NEPC webinar in January 2022.

For more information on NEPC’s Corporate Defined Benefit Team, click here.

About the Survey

49% of respondents have an asset size greater than $1 billion. 58% of respondents are corporate plans while 27% are healthcare plans. 15% identified as ‘other.’


NEPC is an independent investment consultant and private wealth advisor, serving over 400 retainer clients and $1.4 trillion in total assets. Combining a proprietary research team dedicated to the long-term challenges facing investors with our unique client-centric model, NEPC builds forward-looking investment portfolios for institutional investors and ultra-high-net-worth individuals. To learn more about NEPC, visit