August 31, 2010

NIRS Releases Retirement Conference Report

Shares policy solutions to improve retirement security

The National Institute for Retirement Security released Monday, August 30, a conference report outlining policy solutions to improve retirement security. The conference, which was held for the first time in February 2010, addressed ways to improve Americans' retirement prospects.

Among the solutions suggested by conference speakers were to strengthen and encourage traditional pensions; improve defined-contribution plans; and build new opportuni-ties for individual retirement savings.

Defined-Benefit Plans

Speakers agreed that traditional pensions were a boon to employees, according to the report, but that a strict regulatory environment made it difficult for plan sponsors to continue offering defined-benefit plans.

One solution was to offer employers pension funding relief that wouldn't relieve them of the burden of fully-funding pension commitments, but would extend the timeframe they have to do so.

Individual Retirement Savings

David John, a senior research fellow for conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, explained incremental changes to defined-contribution plans are easier to implement than reworking the entire retirement system.

Speakers called for improved access to lifetime income streams, automatic enrollment and escalation, fee disclosure, and financial education, as well as addressing the "leakage of retirement savings." Defined-benefit plans address several of these challenges, according to the report, and as defined-contribution plans become more popular, defined-benefit-like features do, as well.

Solutions

Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA-CREF, called for a "holistic" retirement system that would share risks between defined-benefit plans, which place more risk on employers, and defined-contribution plans, which place more risk on participants. He recommended a system that would incorporate "the inclusivity and lifetime income stream characteristics of DB plans, but also the portability and employee contri-bution aspects prevalent in the DC system," according to the report.

Automatic IRAs were suggested as a simple way to increase retirement participation without placing an undue burden on employers. The Heritage Foundation's David John noted that an employment-based IRA funded with workers' payroll deductions already had bipartisan support.

Gregory Dean, minority counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, cautioned that mandatory retirement provisions should be simple for employers and participants alike. Debra Whitman, staff director for the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, warned that auto IRAs would increase coverage, but called for plan design that would ensure low fees, efficient use of markets, and security for workers' funds.

The full report is available online at www.nirsonline.org.

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