Study Dives Into Strategies of Best-Funded Public Pensions

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Center for State and Local Government Excellence released a study last week examining the practices of the best-funded public pension plans in the United States.

The report, titled “Success Strategies for Well-Funded Pension Plans,” attempted to determine if the best-funded pension plans utilized the same strategies to achieve their success.

The report found that there were several keys to maintaining a well-funded pension system: using realistic actuarial assumptions, occasionally adjusting benefits and maintaining residence in a state that makes its full required contributions to the pension system.

BenefitsPro summarized the findings:

The study indicated that each of the systems employed various strategies for making good on the basic concept of a thorough commitment to pension funding, for example:

* The Delaware Public Employees’ Retirement System employs what the study called “a solid and consistent investment strategy that does not change when markets are volatile,” which allowed the system to weather the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

* The Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund has the political authority to enforce the collection of annual required contributions from those government bodies that participate, and can in fact sue government entities for failing to pay in, or ask the state to withhold funding until payment is rendered.

* The Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System takes what the study called “incremental actions to reduce the unfunded liability to maintain the plan’s long-term fiscal health.”

* North Carolina Retirement Systems consistently employs the use of conservative actuarial assumptions — for example, a 7.25 percent return on investments — and also requires a full actuarial analysis of any proposal that could potentially have an impact on costs or benefits.

Elizabeth K. Kellar, president and CEO of the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, said the findings of the case studies illustrated “the importance of basing a government’s pension funding policy on an actuarially determined contribution, being disciplined about making required contributions, and clearly reporting how and when pension plans will be funded.”

The funding ratios of the featured plans were as high as 99 percent.

Read the full report here.


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Longer Life Expectancy Will Lead to Spike in Liabilities In Near Future

Hundreds of pension funds across the country are struggling to rein in their liabilities, but their funding situations may soon be considered even worse. That’s because an actuarial tweak that takes into account greater life expectancy will increase the liabilities on the books of many plans. From Pensions & Investments:

The measured value of liabilities for most defined benefit plans will increase between 3% and 8% with the adoption of new mortality tables, said a report from Wilshire Consulting.

The tables, released by the Society of Actuaries in exposure draft form in February, reflect an increase in the life expectancy of Americans, resulting in increased pension plan liability values and liability durations.

For women ages 25 to 85, the liability increase ranges from 5.5% to 10.5%. For males in that age group, the increase ranges from 2.5% to 17.4%.

The tables most DB plans now use to measure pension liabilities were published by the Society of Actuaries in 2000.

Some pension plans will be affected more than others, as P&I explains:

The impact of the updated tables on a particular plan will depend on the makeup of its participants, said Jeff Leonard, managing director at Wilshire Associates Inc. and head of the actuarial services group of Wilshire Consulting, based in Pittsburgh.

Some public and corporate plans are large enough to use custom mortality table and likely will stick with them, Mr. Leonard said.

For U.S. plans that rely on the industry tables, however, the mortality assumption changes are “another nail in the coffin” and might encourage some sponsoring entities to move away from DB plans altogether, Mr. Leonard said.

These changes haven’t come out of nowhere, and they won’t go into effect right away; according to Wilshire, the new tables likely won’t affect funding ratios until 2016.


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