Poor fund management performance and heavy charges levied on a range of savings products can almost halve the amount eventually paid out, according to Money Marketing, a weekly financial magazine.
Among the poorest-performing life companies are many household names, including Britannia Life, Royal Insurance and Sun Alliance.
A 50-year-old man investing pounds 30 a month into a Britannia Life personal pension until 65 would see his funds grow to just pounds 13,753. Royal Insurance would pay pounds 14,865, while Sun Alliance's payout would be pounds 15,998.
By contrast, the same amount placed with Norwich Union, Axa Equity & Law, Scottish Mutual, Royal London and General Accident would have yielded more than pounds 21,000.
Beating them all was the Royal National Pension Fund for Nurses, which achieved returns of pounds 24,669 over the same period.
The average performance among the 28 companies included in the survey was pounds 19,000, with most bunched within pounds 1,000 on each side of that amount.
The annual Money Marketing report is one of the most detailed surveys of companies that sell with-profits policies, covering pensions, mortgage- endowments, endowments and savings schemes.
It shows that company charges, including the commissions paid to advisers who sell their products, also take large chunks out of policyholders' savings.
A 30-year-old male, saving pounds 100 a month with the life and pensions arm of Guardian Royal Exchange would receive pounds 196,279 at retirement age, one of the worst returns.
Assuming exactly the same inflation rates, investment returns and increases in contributions, the same saver would get pounds 247,000 from Medical Sickness or pounds 241,076 from Equitable Life when retiring at 65.
The difference in payouts between top and bottom-ranked charging companies could mean a drop in a saver's pension of around pounds 90 per week.Reuse content