New Jersey Lawmaker Puts New Pension Proposal On Table

New Jersey seal

Chris Christie’s pension commission members aren’t the only ones brainstorming pension reforms in New Jersey lately. A Democratic assemblyman has proposed a plan that would shift new hires into a hybrid plan with some attributes of defined-contribution plans and some attributes of defined-benefit. Reported by The Star-Ledger:

Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) last week sent some public union leaders a draft of a bill he’s considering introducing that would keep the current pension system in place for those already enrolled in it, but shift new public workers to a “collective defined contribution retirement program” – a sort of mix between a traditional pension plan and a 401(k).

“It may be something we don’t introduce, but it may be something we do in a different form. But I’d like to start some dialogue in where our pension system goes in the next step for our pension system,” Singleton said in a phone interview “The only thing I would tell you is it’s still a work in progress.”

The idea did not get a warm reception from the public worker labor unions, even though Singleton himself comes from the private side of organized labor, as an official in the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters.

And Singleton acknowledged that the plan would not do anything to solve the pension’s unfunded liability of about $40 billion, which he said must be dealt with through increased state payments.

Singleton provided the Star-Ledger with an outline of how the plan would function. The gist:

Workers would establish accounts that both they and their employers would pay into, though the workers would pay three times as much as the employer. The money would be managed by a “professional money management provider” that could charge fees of no more than 0.25 percent of the total, while the plan’s appointed board and the State Investment Council would determine where the money would be invested.

The investment returns would be annually credited to the retirement accounts. But if the return is greater than 8 percent, the excess would go into a reserve fund, which would later be used if the investments lost money. The plan would allow for “bonus” payments to the retirement accounts if the reserve fund is healthy enough.

It’s far from the current pension system, in which workers’ final retirement payments stay the same, no matter how good or bad the funds’ investments are doing.

Christie appointed a commission last month to examine the state’s pension system and propose reform ideas. The commission’s final report will come in the next few months.

Illinois Workers Opt Into 401(k)-Style Plans In Record Numbers

SURS members chart
CREDIT: Illinois Policy

All around the country, employers are funneling new hires into 401(k)-type retirement plans instead of traditional pension schemes.

But the members of one Illinois fund are given the choice of participating in a defined-benefit or defined-contribution plan–and more than ever, they’re choosing 401(k)s. From Illinois Policy:

Today, more than 13 percent of all active employees in the State Universities Retirement System, or SURS, participate in a 401(k)-style plan instead of a traditional pension plan run by the state. These state-university workers control their own retirement accounts and aren’t part of Illinois’ increasingly insolvent pension system.

And recent data from SURS obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows the popularity of 401(k)-style plans is growing.

Nearly 20 percent of all SURS employees eligible for a retirement plan in 2014 have chosen a self-managed plan over the traditional pension scheme. Just a few years after the Great Recession, the number of SURS members choosing self-managed plans has reached an all-time high.

In 1998, SURS began allowing its new workers to opt into self-managed retirement plans. In these plans, an employee contributes 8 percent of his or her salary toward retirement savings and the employer puts in a matching 7 percent. That means the employee has the equivalent of 15 percent of each paycheck put into an account that’s entirely theirs.

As for why employees are opting into 401(k)s over traditional pensions? The growing concern over the health of Illinois’ pension funds probably plays a big role. Strong stock market gains over the last few years likely play a part, as well.

Defined-Benefit Plans Continue To Dwindle Among US Firms


States and municipalities are steadily shifting away from defined-benefit plans and moving workers into 401(k)-style or hybrid plans. But the trend isn’t exclusive to the public sector; as a recent survey reveals, the shift is just as pronounced among the country’s largest private sector firms. Reported by Business Insurance:

Just 118, or about 24%, of Fortune 500 companies offered a defined benefit plan to new salaried employees in 2013, down from 123 in 2012 and a steep decline compared with the 277, or 55%, that offered the plans in 2003, according to a Towers Watson & Co. survey released Thursday.

Frequently cited reasons for the decline in employer sponsorship of defined benefit plans include longer employee lifespans, which increases benefit costs; decreased corporate tolerance of fluctuating contribution requirements, which can jump up and down due to investment results; and escalating Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. insurance rates.

The switch from defined-benefit to defined-contribution shifts more risk onto workers. But 401(k)s carry risk for employers, too, according to Towers Watson.

Such a move “carries risks for employers, such as having workers delay retirement when market performance is poor, which in turn can result in higher benefit costs and less mobility within their organizations,” said Alan Glickstein, a senior retirement consultant at Towers Watson in Dallas, in a statement regarding the survey.


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Retirement Confidence Climbing (For Most) As Workers Become More Engaged With Their Plan

Graph With Stacks Of Coins

A recent survey reveals that more workers are confident in their retirement income in 2013 than in 2009, but most are still worried about their long-term prospects–especially those 50 and older. From Pension Benefits:

Retirement confidence climbed between 2009 and 2013, and nearly one-quarter of employees are now Very confident’ of having enough income for the first 15 years of retirement. This reflects improving financial conditions over the past four years as employees have rebuilt their savings. When asked to assess their prospects 25 years after retiring, however, only 8% remain confident of a financially comfortable retirement.

Since the start of the financial crisis, confidence levels for workers age 50 and older have declined by 10 percentage points. In 2007, 34% were very confident of their ability to afford the first 15 years of retirement, compared with only 24% in 2013.

Workers with defined-benefit plans are more confident than those with defined-contribution plans. On the flip side, the prospect of benefit cuts worry workers in DB plans. From Pension Benefits:

Participants in defined benefit plans (DB) are 35% more likely to be satisfied with their finances than those with only a defined contribution (DC) plan.


Roughly half of DB plan participants (45%) are afraid their retirement plan might be cut and about one-third (36%) fear having to bear more investment risk in the future. And for DB plan participants who have recently undergone a cut to their retirement program, 70% fear more curtailments are on the horizon.

Another interesting trend: Workers are becoming more engaged with their retirement plans. From Pension Benefits:

Since 2010, employees have become more involved and interested in retirement planning. Slightly more than half of all employees review their retirement plans frequently. Sixty-three percent of DB plan participants track their savings carefully compared with 48% of DC-plan-only participants. Older and midcareer workers report greater engagement with retirement than younger workers and saving for retirement is their number one financial priority.

You can read the full survey results by clicking here (subscribers only).

The article is published in Pension Benefits.

Photo by www.SeniorLiving.Org

Private Equity Coming to Your 401(k)?


Private equity has become a staple in defined-benefit plans around the world. But it’s becoming increasingly common for employers to phase out defined-benefit plans and shift new hires into defined-contribution systems.

Accordingly, private equity funds are now setting their sights on 401(k) plans. Daisy Maxey writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Some big names of the private-equity world are working to make private-equity funds an option in defined-contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, as soon as next year.

Pantheon Ventures LLP, a private-equity fund investor overseeing $30.5 billion, is shopping its plan to offer a private-equity product to defined-contribution plans. The firm is in talks with plan sponsors, and anticipates striking a deal to bring the product to defined-contribution plans next year, says Michael Riak, head of the firm’s U.S. defined-contribution business.

…Private-equity investments are already offered within some defined-contribution plans, though that is rare and the products don’t offer daily pricing and liquidity, says David O’Meara, a senior investment consultant at Towers Watson Investment Services.

Private equity isn’t being welcomed into defined-contribution plans with open arms—plan sponsors maintain skepticism that those investments are the right fit for 401(k) plans.

But those in the private equity field think some plan sponsors will soon change their tune, especially if they’ve dealt with private equity in the course of administering defined-benefit plans. From the WSJ:

Though some asset managers, such as Pantheon, have the products ready to go, and are now looking for plan sponsors to participate, there remains some healthy skepticism within the 401(k) marketplace, he said.

“I would presume that the early adopters of private equity in defined-contribution plans would be large plan sponsors that have used private equity within their defined-benefit plans historically, and understand the asset class and how to evaluate its risks and returns,” he said.

The Double DB Plan: An Experiment in Plan Design

Several retirement plan consultants have put their heads together and come up with an interesting new idea for designing defined benefit plans. Why is it interesting? Because it’s a defined benefit plan, but it is fixed-cost; on top of it, the creators claim that both employees and employers will benefit.

It’s called the “Double DB”. Will the plan work? We won’t know until its put into action. For now, it’s certainly serves as an interesting though experiment.

You can hear an in-depth conversation on the topic in the video above. Or, you can read an explanation below, from Kamp Consulting:

Here is an example for illustrative purposes only and does not imply any future results as outcomes are based on specific plan and market data.

Suppose that a plan sponsor of an existing traditional DB plan wants to soon transition their employees to a DC structure. Let’s also assume that the plan sponsor’s existing DB has current annual cost of 30% of salary, with 20% paid by the employer and 10% by the employees. Instead of shuttering the DB plan and adopting the DC plan, the plan sponsor can adopt Double DB, a hybrid DB structure whose assets can be commingled with the existing trust assets.

For accounting purposes, there are two component pieces in the Double DB design. Once the plan is established, each of the two DB components receives 15% of payroll in the initial year (or, half of the hypothetical current annual cost). The first component (DB one) is a regular DB plan with features similar to a traditional DB plan, but with more modest fixed benefits. The second DB component is referred to as a partner plan, and its benefits are not fixed.

Based on our selected funding method, actuarial assumptions and plan design, assume that the traditional DB plan is calculated to provide a multiplier of 1.5% of FAS (final average salary). However, if investment experience in the first year is poor and the first DB plan now requires 16% of the contribution instead of the 15% paid in year one to support the 1.5% multiplier, DB one (regular DB) gets 16% and DB two (partner DB) gets 14%.

If instead, the plan’s experience in year one was favorable and the regular DB plan requires only 13.5% of pay to support the 1.5% multiplier, regular DB gets 13.5% and the partner DB gets 16.5%.

This process continues year after year. The actuarially determined percentage of payroll cost of continuing the 1.5% multiplier in the regular DB is always provided and the partner DB always gets the residual amount. Annual benefits to the pensioner from the regular DB are always 1.5% of one’s FAS times the number of years of service. Partner DB assets contributed to one’s final benefit will be determined year-by-year and by experience.

Upon retirement, the beneficiary will receive one check with the benefit from the first DB component being added to the variable benefit from second DB accounting to provide a monthly payment. With this plan design, the assets of both the traditional DB and residual DB can be commingled, whereas a traditional DB and its new DC assets can’t be combined. The same investment management team can be used, as well as all service providers, granting the plan sponsors greater economies of scale, less complication, and potentially happier employees who don’t have to manage their retirement program.


Photo by American Advisors Group via Flickr CC License