Nest saw average inflows of £400m in new contributions per month over the course of 2019/20, leading to a 67% increase in assets under management (AUM).
The defined contribution (DC) master trust's latest annual report and accounts reported AUM reached £9.5bn by 31 March this year, compared to £5.7bn at the same point in 2019.
The number of members increased by 1.2 million to 9.1 million, while 83,000 further employers signed up to the scheme, taking the total to 803,000.
However, as measured by the 2040 Retirement Date Fund - a growth phase fund - investments underperformed their benchmarks. In the year to 31 March 2019 - a period which saw the early market impact of Covid-19 - returns amounted to -5.8%, compared to a benchmark of 4.5% based on the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) plus three percentage points. Over a five-year period, annualised returns were 4.6% compared to benchmark returns of 4.8%.
Similarly, those in the foundation phase 2062 Retirement Date Fund saw one-year performance of -3.4% compared to a CPI benchmark of 1.5%. The Higher Risk Fund saw -8.6% returns over the year, but 5% annualised performance over five years.
The falls came despite Nest's relatively low equity weighting at just 55% in the growth phase, compared to 70-100% among other DC scheme default funds. Nest said this created "an opportunity to seek value by increasing its equity allocation while markets are down".
In the annual report, Nest said "significant short-term events" were "clearly concerning" for scheme members, but the trustees' focus remained on the long-term. It said it would "continue to diversify the scheme's portfolio to help members achieve good long-term performance and help reduce the level of volatility within their investments".
Nevertheless, some funds remained in positive territory despite the market turbulence. The Ethical Fund, in the growth phase, recorded 1.3% one-year performance compared to a 4.5% benchmark (CPI plus three percentage points), and 7.2% over five years compared to the benchmark 4.8%.
The Sharia fund also recorded 8.1% one-year returns, compared to a 6.5% benchmark measured against the Dow Jones Islamic Titans 100 Index, and 11% over five years, compared to an 11.6% benchmark.
Chief executive Helen Dean said: "From our first member contribution of £19 in 2011 through to managing the pension savings of more than nine million members, I have seen Nest transform from a start-up into one of the largest DC master trust pension schemes in the UK.
"Our strong foundations and sense of purpose were vital in our response to the emerging Covid-19 crisis. I have never been more proud of my entire team at Nest, and our service partners, who mobilised quickly to ensure all our operations functioned well throughout lockdown, allowing us to support our customers through these uncertain times."
She added: "With forecasts showing one-third of the working population is expected to have a Nest pension pot by the late 2020s, our focus it to build upon the success of auto-enrolment and help our members, both through the Covid-19 crisis and the long term, prepare for a better retirement."
The master trust also highlighted that it had seen 9,000 new employers join Nest on average each month during the year, while an additional £700m had been invested in its Climate Aware Fund between September 2018 and March 2020.
Throughout the year, a total of £1.9bn of contributions were made by employers and £2.3bn by employees, while £187m was transferred into the scheme.
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