By Javier Sanabria
Hybrid retirement plans are becoming more popular among employers seeking to offer the best features of both traditional defined benefit and defined contribution plans. A recent Employee Benefits Adviser article (subscription required) highlights variations of these hybrid plans and identifies some public and private sector sponsors that have shown interest in adopting them.
“I think we are going to see more hybrid arrangements and fewer defined contribution and traditional defined benefit plans [in the future],” says Mark Olleman, principal and consulting actuary at Milliman, Inc. in Seattle. “I think we really need more plans to provide people with a lifelong income, without providing employers unpredictable contributions.”
…Wisconsin’s plan looks more like a variable annuity pension plan. [Retiree benefits are based on a conservative assumption of] a 5% return. If the plan returns better than 5% over the long term, retirees get dividends. If it returns below 5%, the dividends will be taken away, Olleman says. Retirees receive a minimum amount [of their original benefit] regardless of how the market performs.
The big difference between public sector and private sector plans is that public sector plans need to get permission from the legislature to make changes, he said. Both sectors have shown an interest in hybrid options.
Kelly Coffing, a principal and consulting actuary for Milliman who works more closely with private sector employers, says that variable annuity pension plans have been around for a while but have not been popular with retirees. The reason? They don’t like it when their benefits go down, she said. In a VAPP, the monthly benefits move up and down based on the performance of the plan. If the assets go up, the benefits go up. If the assets go down, the benefits go down.
Despite the volatility, these types of plans always stay funded and have very predictable, rational employer costs, Coffing says. They also offer longevity pooling and inflation protection, which is something participants don’t get in a defined contribution plan.
…Milliman has attempted to smooth out some of that volatility for retirees in its latest version of the VAPP [that they call the stabilized VAPP].
“In years where returns are high, we don’t give the whole upside to participants. We [cap] the increases [to build] a reserve. When the market goes down, we can [use the reserve to] shore up the benefit to the high water mark,” she says. This way, participants don’t see a roller coaster of ups and downs in their retirement [benefits].
…Milliman’s experts say they hope the variable annuity pension plan will gain in popularity now that [final hybrid retirement regulations issued September 19, 2004 have confirmed that the stabilized VAPP is an acceptable plan design.]
To learn more about how VAPPs can provide lifelong retirement benefits, read Olleman and Kelly’s article entitled “Variable annuity pension plans: An emerging retirement plan design.”