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Archive for the ‘Defined benefit’ Category

GASB 67/68: Substantively automatic plan provisions

September 25th, 2014 No comments

This PERiScope article authored by Michael Iacoboni discusses “substantively automatic” plan provisions and their inclusion in the determination of a plan’s total pension liability (TPL). For many plans, the concept of “substantively automatic” is critical to the treatment of cost of living adjustments (COLAs), which are often granted on a discretionary or ad hoc basis. In Statements 67 and 68, GASB neither objectively nor specifically defines the term “substantively automatic” and it does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all formula for determining if a plan’s COLA policies fall into this category.

To read Milliman’s PERiScope series on technical and implementation issues surrounding GASB 67 and 68, click here.

PBGC variable rate premium: Should plans make the switch?

September 17th, 2014 No comments

Moliterno-MariaMany pension plan sponsors are facing a decision on the methodology of calculating the premiums payable to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) that may result in significant savings. PBGC premiums are made up of variable rate and flat rate premiums. Variable rate premiums are based on unfunded vested benefits (UVB). In 2014, many plan sponsors are eligible to change the methodology used to calculate their plan’s UVB. The question is: should they make the switch?

The UVB is determined by the amount that the vested liability, called the premium funding target, exceeds the fair market value of plan assets. The required variable rate premium for 2014 is $14 per $1,000 of UVB and is scheduled to increase to $24 in 2015 and $29 in 2016. The PBGC allows plan sponsors to determine UVB for purposes of calculating the variable rate premium by either:

• Using the three spot segment rates for the month preceding the month in which the plan year begins (standard premium funding target)
• Using the 24-month average segment rates as of the plan’s previously elected look-back period (alternative premium funding target)

Many plan sponsors elected for 2009 to switch to using the alternative premium funding target to avoid the volatile and low spot interest rates basis for the standard premium funding target.

Plan sponsors making the switch are locked into it for five years. After five years, the plan sponsor can switch again. If the plan sponsor doesn’t make a switch, they can stay with the current method as long as they like.

Five years later, plan sponsors who elected in 2009 to switch to using the alternative premium funding target are eligible to switch back to using the standard premium funding target. For calendar year plans, plan sponsors would need to do this in time for the PBGC premium due date of October 15, 2014. With the rise in interest rates that occurred during 2013, plan sponsors are asking themselves if they should make the switch during 2014.

To answer this question, consultants can estimate the variable rate premium amounts under both options for both the 2014 and 2015 plans. Does the plan sponsor save over the course of two years by switching methods?

Let’s look at an example for a sample plan with a UVB of $14.90 million under the alternative method and $9.75 million under the standard method for 2014:

For a calendar year plan, rates used for the standard premium funding target in 2014 are generally higher than the rates used for the alternative premium funding target; therefore, in this example, the standard premium funding target results in a lower variable rate premium for the 2014 plan year by $72,000.

Although interest rates for determining the alternative and standard premium funding target for the 2015 plan year are not yet available, if we assume the rates currently in effect stay constant through the end of the year, rates used for the alternative premium funding target are generally higher than the rates used for the standard premium funding target for the 2015 plan year. Assuming these rates are still in effect for the 2015 plan year, most plans will have a smaller premium funding target under the alternative method for 2015, resulting in a lower variable rate premium. In our example, the alternative method election would produce a more favorable result in 2014 by an amount of $33,000.

Therefore switching in 2014 to the standard premium funding target would result in a projected net savings of $39,000 over the two-year period.

Just remember, the standard method uses volatile spot interest rates. If there is another dip in the market, the plans may face higher costs under the standard premium funding target method and won’t be able to switch back to the alternative premium funding target until 2019. However, they will be happy they switched if interest rates rise but that of course is anyone’s guess!

Google+ Hangout: Pension Funding Index, September 2014

September 16th, 2014 No comments

The funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined benefit pension plans deteriorated by $22 billion during August as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). The deficit increased from $259 billion to $281 billion at the end of July, due to a drop in the benchmark corporate bond interest rates used to value pension liabilities. August’s robust investment gain was not enough to improve the Milliman 100 PFI’s funded status. As of August 31, the funded ratio dropped down from 84.8% to 84.0%.

PFI co-author Zorast Wadia discusses the index’s latest results on this Milliman Google+ Hangout.

Retirement plan leakage and retirement readiness

September 10th, 2014 No comments

Tedesco-KaraThe title alone proves opposites don’t always attract. “Leakage” means outflow and outflows in retirement plans are not easily controlled. Worse yet, the impact on a participant’s retirement readiness is a big problem. Where money goes once it leaves a retirement plan is a question with many answers, some of which lead to plan sponsors feeling concerned about plan design and the choices available to participants.

In defined contribution (DC) plans such as the 401(k), participants defer money from their paychecks into the plan. The employer may make matching or other employer contributions. Most 401(k) plans are designed to allow participants to access these deferrals, as well as their other vested monies, while actively working. This access occurs through loans, hardship withdrawals, and other in-service distributions. When participants take a loan, they pay themselves back over time. In some instances, however, a participant defaults on the loan, which automatically reduces the account balance. In the case of in-service distributions, once the money is paid to the participant, it does not come back into the plan, similarly reducing the participant account balance.

Of greater concern may be the preretirement withdrawal of an account balance upon termination of employment. Participants terminate employment for a myriad of reasons, such as to start a new career path. In a defined benefit (DB) plan, it is not uncommon to see a lump-sum window option offered to participants. Plan sponsors benefit from participants choosing the lump-sum window option just as they do when terminated participants take their money from 401(k) plans. The plan sponsor’s administrative costs associated with either type of plan are reduced.

The problem? Participant account balances that are cashed out and not rolled over to an IRA or another qualified retirement plan are subject to immediate income tax and potentially burdensome tax penalties, depending upon their age. But many participants don’t know what to do with the money and will often use it right away to satisfy an immediate financial need rather than save it for retirement. An even greater, more glaring problem is that the participant’s total projected retirement savings has been compromised. Does this mean that a participant will not achieve the suggested 70% to 80% income replacement rate? Most likely, the answer is yes, especially if the participant has no other savings outside the former retirement plan.

There is no clear answer to the leakage problem in plans. A good retirement plan design can greatly influence the behavior of its participants. It has to include and encourage regular employer and employee contributions to help build retirement accounts. Withdrawal provisions and loans in plans don’t signify poor plan design, but tighter administrative controls around the plan provisions, such as allowing only one in-service withdrawal per year, helps keep money in the plan. In addition, increased participant education has to remain a focus for employers, with a special emphasis on the benefits of taking a rollover instead of a lump-sum cash distribution.

Corporate pension funded status drops by $22 billion in August

September 8th, 2014 No comments

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which consists of 100 of the nation’s largest defined benefit pension plans. In August, these plans experienced a $46 billion increase in pension liabilities and a $24 billion increase in asset value, resulting in a $22 billion increase in the pension funded status deficit.

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It was a strong month of asset improvement, but there’s no counteracting record-low interest rates. Year to date, rates have swollen pension liabilities by $165 billion.

Looking forward, if the Milliman 100 pension plans were to achieve the expected 7.4% median asset return for their pension portfolios, and if the current discount rate of 3.89% were maintained, funded status would improve, with the funded status deficit shrinking to $265 billion (84.9% funded ratio) by the end of 2014 and to $228 billion (87.1% funded ratio) by the end of 2015.

GASB 67/68: Calculation specifics on individual entry age normal and recognition of deferred inflows/outflows

September 3rd, 2014 No comments

New accounting rules for public pension plans in the United States are set to take effect beginning in 2014. This PERiScope article in the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statements No. 67 and 68 miniseries discusses the individual entry age (IEA) actuarial cost method.

The IEA cost method is specifically identified in the new standards as the only appropriate method for determining a plan’s total pension liability (TPL), which is the portion of the present value of benefits attributable to past service. This article will also discuss the calculation of the amortization period to be utilized in recognizing gains or losses that are due to demographic experience or actuarial assumption changes in the annual expense under GASB 68.

HATFA provides opportunities to reduce 2013 and/or 2014 cash contributions and 2014 PBGC premiums

August 22nd, 2014 No comments

Herman-TimThe recently enacted Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (HATFA-14) provides opportunities for plan sponsors to reduce cash contributions and PBGC premiums. For the approaches that involve contributions for the 2013 plan year, prompt action is needed to ensure the applicable funding requirements are satisfied. For calendar year plans, the final date to designate cash contributions and/or add excess contributions to the prefunding balance for the 2013 plan year is September 15, 2014.

HATFA opportunities
1. Reduce cash contributions required for the 2013 plan year.
• Plan sponsors may optionally revise the 2013 actuarial valuation (absent an election to opt out of the HATFA relief for 2013).
• With the use of the higher interest rates for the cash funding valuation, the minimum required contribution may be lower.

2. Reduce cash contributions required for the 2013 and 2014 plan years
• Plan sponsors may optionally revise the 2013 actuarial valuation (absent an election to opt out of the HATFA relief for 2013).
• Plan sponsors are required to revise the 2014 actuarial valuation.
• With the use of the higher interest rates for the cash funding valuations, the total minimum required contributions (combined 2013 and 2014 plan years) may be lower.

3. Reduce 2014 PBGC variable rate premiums
• Revise the 2013 actuarial valuation to reduce the minimum funding requirements for the 2013 plan year.
• Revise the 2014 actuarial valuation to reduce the minimum funding requirements for the 2014 plan year.
• Confirm that contributions are sufficient to satisfy both 2013 and 2014 minimum funding requirements.
• Designate some or all of the cash contributions previously used for the 2014 plan year as receivable contributions for the 2013 plan year.
• This reduces the unfunded liability for PBGC variable rate premium.

4. Manage credit balances for 2013 and 2014 plan years
• Revise the 2013 actuarial valuation to reduce the minimum funding requirements for the 2013 plan year.
• Revise the 2014 actuarial valuation to reduce the minimum funding requirements for the 2014 plan year.
• Confirm that contributions are sufficient to satisfy both 2013 and 2014 minimum funding requirements.
• Create/use credit balances to optimize the plan sponsor’s use of cash.

Some plan sponsors may decide forego the opportunities provided by HATFA. One example is a plan sponsor with planned cash contributions to reach a specified funding threshold. These plan sponsors will still need to revise the 2014 actuarial valuation to reduce the minimum funding requirements for the 2014 plan year (required). However, they may elect to opt out of the HATFA relief for 2013 and satisfy 2013 plan year minimum funding requirements by making contributions based on the 2013 actuarial valuation results prepared under the MAP-21 rates.

Cash savings opportunities under HATFA 2014 will vary by a plan’s funded status, amount of credit balances available, etc. Also, different plan sponsors will have different goals and objectives regarding cash funding to the pension plan. Your Milliman consultant can help you review the opportunities that are available and decide on a course of action that is appropriate for your situation.

Google+ Hangout: Pension Funding Index (August 2014) and the implications of HATFA

August 20th, 2014 No comments

The funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined benefit pension plans decreased by $5 billion during July as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). The deficit rose from $252 billion to $257 billion at the end of July, primarily due to declines in equity and fixed income returns during July. As of July 31, the funded ratio decreased from 85.3% to 85.0% since the end of June.

In this month’s PFI Hangout, Zorast Wadia discusses the study’s latest results and the pension smoothing provisions related to the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (HATFA).

Corporate pension funded status drops by $5 billion in July

August 14th, 2014 No comments

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which consists of 100 of the nation’s largest defined benefit pension plans. In July, these plans experienced a $3 billion decrease in pension liabilities and an $8 billion decrease in asset value, resulting in a $5 billion increase in the pension funded status deficit.

1846MEB_Fig1_600x280

For months it’s been interest rates driving up the deficit, but in July the rates cooperated and it was instead poor financial market performance negatively impacting funded status. We’ve seen the deficit increase by more than $70 billion so far in 2014.

This month’s study includes perspective on how the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (HATFA) may affect pension contributions next year.

Looking forward, if the Milliman 100 pension plans were to achieve the expected 7.4% median asset return for their pension portfolios, and if the current discount rate of 4.10% were maintained, funded status would improve, with the funded status deficit shrinking to $237 billion (86.1% funded ratio) by the end of 2014 and to $202 billion (88.2% funded ratio) by the end of 2015.

Is pension outsourcing right for you?

August 5th, 2014 No comments

Benbow-DavidThere has been much discussion about the relevance of the defined benefit (DB) pension plan. For decades, people have bemoaned the demise of DB plans, saying they are too costly to administer and too expensive to maintain. Others have suggested that there is no other type of plan that will provide a sufficient and stable source of retirement income. There has been a growing trend of top employee benefit providers shifting their DB outsourcing service models by partnering with firms such as Milliman, while others have opted to exit the DB outsourcing business completely, as recently announced by Vanguard.

Does that mean DB outsourcing is no longer relevant?

Outsourcing is more relevant than ever, but it’s become so specialized that it’s best handled by experts who do it as their core business. DB plan outsourcing was once very expensive, but technology and economies of scale have made outsourcing much more affordable. Here are a few reasons why DB plan sponsors should consider outsourcing.

The changing of the guard
Many employers have a person (call her “Betty”) who has single-handedly administered a DB plan for years, maybe decades. Betty is friendly, she is dedicated, and she knows everything about the pension plan—including when to look people up in the big red binder. Betty is 62.

Not only is Betty going to retire someday, but she hasn’t trained anyone to take her place. Betty is very dependable, but has she stayed current on all the new pension legislation, and would her work stand up to an audit by the Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Department of Labor?

Because a change is imminent, someone else should also be considered with at least as much experience as Betty, someone who is familiar with the challenges of automating the information that’s in Betty’s head (and in the big red binder), and who keeps abreast of the latest pension rules—namely, a DB outsourcing provider.

Participant convenience
We’re more than a decade into the 21st century and, thanks to our laptops, tablets, and smartphones, we’ve gotten used to having information available instantly. Participants meeting with a financial planner will want to look up their pension benefits online as well as model a few different retirement dates to see what works best for them. Some outsourcing providers have this capability, which renders the annual pension statement obsolete (participants never bothered to look at them anyway).

Providing self-service options for participants also cuts down on requests to human resources departments (and Betty is pretty overloaded with requests for estimates).

For participants who still prefer human interaction, an outsourcing provider may include a call center of friendly DB experts, who have full access to the participant’s information. They can field questions ranging from plan eligibility to the ever-popular “Where is my check?”

Plan sponsor convenience
As mentioned earlier, DB plans have become much more complicated to administer. In order to calculate benefits consistently and efficiently, a dedicated system is required for all but the simplest plans.

Plan auditors are more confident with calculations produced by a pension system instead of hand calculations or clunky spreadsheets. System results can be stored indefinitely along with evidence that calculations were reviewed. In addition, many outsourcing providers are independently audited and can provide plan auditors with a Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 16 (SSAE 16 Type 2) report for additional reassurance.

With a dedicated pension system, plan sponsors can also have a wealth of data at their fingertips. Regular reports can be generated for compensation and benefits committees and data extracts for plan actuaries. Mailing lists for summaries of material modifications (SMMs) or annual funding notices are made much simpler.

Finally, with the day-to-day pension operations off its hands, the benefits department can focus on other, more urgent matters.

It takes a village
It takes quite a few people to administer a DB plan: Actuaries to measure plan funding and forecast liabilities, administrators to calculate benefits, representatives to answer participant phone calls, and payment processors to work with the trustee. A full service outsourcing firm houses all these roles under one roof, creating a seamless team of professionals to make life easier for plan participants and plan sponsors.

If you’re wondering whether Milliman can help with the administration of your DB plan or would like to see a demo of our administration system or participant website, feel free to contact me or visit www.milliman.com.