In milestone move, China launches private pension scheme

* Employees able to contribute up to 12,000 yuan per year

* Scheme to launch in several cities before national rollout

* Intended to address challenges of ageing population

BEIJING, April 21 (Reuters) - Chinese employees will henceforth be able to invest and supplement funds in their pension accounts, authorities said on Thursday, launching the country's first private pension scheme as they tackle economic challenges linked to an ageing population.

Employees can contribute up to 12,000 yuan ($1,860) per year to their pension fund under the new scheme, which will be rolled out with one-year trials in some cities before being implemented nationwide, the government said in a policy document on its website.

Until now, both employees and employers have contributed fixed amounts under state pension plans.

The milestone marks the official launch of China's private pension sector after almost four years of pilots, and is expected to spur foreign insurers and asset managers to accelerate their expansion into the world's most populous nation.

"In the mid to long term, the new policy will benefit the retirement market by helping to accumulate more retirement income, increasing residents' retirement savings as well as investing awareness," said Leo Shen, Shanghai-based China head of fund management business at Allianz Global Investors.

In 20 years, 28% of China's population will be more than 60 years old, up from 10% today, making it one of the most rapidly-ageing populations in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

The scheme "should also benefit China's onshore capital market by providing an additional source of long-term capital," Shen told Reuters.

Part of the challenge for policymakers will be to persuade individuals to invest part of their earnings in the scheme. In 2021, average per capita disposable income nationwide stood at 35,128 yuan.

To encourage participation, the contributions - whose maximum value the government will adjust as economic conditions dictate - will be eligible for tax breaks, while the securities regulator said it would quickly formulate rules to facilitate pension investment by mutual funds.

Pension money "can provide more long-term, and stable funds to develop the real economy, via capital markets," the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) said in a statement on its website.

Funds held in the accounts can be invested in certain financial products, like banking wealth management products, deposits and public funds, and investors are to bear the corresponding risks, according to the government document.

Those who will be eligible for the scheme include urban employees who already contribute to their basic pension insurance under the state social security system.

If a private pension holder dies, the assets their account can be bequeathed.

Independent consultancies estimate China's private pension market will grow to at least $1.7 trillion by 2025, from $300 billion currently.

Last July, Allianz received approval to form the first wholly foreign-owned insurance asset management company in China. In November, it bought out its Chinese partner from a life insurance joint venture. ($1 = 6.4396 yuan)
Reporting by Liangping Gao and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Samuel Shen in Shanghai and Selena Li in Hong Kong; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and John Stonestreet

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