There 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.
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.