As we all know from all of the hoopla, there are some 77 million Baby Boomers headed toward retirement. As a result, every facet of corporate pension plans will now be subject to deep analysis and probably change. Keep in mind that the decline in defined benefit plans and the rise in defined contribution plans, along with increased longevity of one’s life, have started to create a growing risk among employees about their retirement benefits.   The Conference Board has just issued a report, Pensions and Retirement Conference, which delved into this topic and noted that as retirement benefits are redesigned for today’s retirees, it’s become unclear whether employer programs can support long-term financial security. “The changing definition of retirement raises controversial questions, especially from a societal point of view. What is the responsibility of the corporation to provide a safe and secure retirement for its employees? The evolving social contact between employees and employers has resulted in many issues that plan sponsors, policymakers, and academics need to resolve.”   In short, the report is asking employees, who it believes should be seen as consumers, not investors, to take on significant risks that they haven’t a clue on how to manage.   For one, the report sees a pension and retirement dilemma. It notes that many experts disagree over whether the new rules for defined benefit plans (see “Pension Protection Act of 2006”) will help stabilize the system or encourage more companies to curtail their plans. Keep in mind that as more companies discontinue their defined benefit plans, they’ll need to change their overall retirement programs so that they work more effectively for employees.   You’ve then got a twofold risk here: (1) Employees could outlive their retirement income and experience a significant decline in their standard of living. Many people simply underestimate their life expectancy and overestimate how much money they can draw from savings. (2) Employees are investing more than they should in equities, due in part to the limited options for their defined contribution monies, inflation, and market volatility.   Then, you have to take a gander at redefining retirement along with mitigating risk. Remember, today’s aging Baby Boomers are the best educated, healthiest, and longest-living group to ever entire retirement. According to Anna Rappaport, senior fellow on pensions and retirement for the Board, when surveyed, seven out of 10 people in this population say that they want to continue working in retirement. Given these new parameters, she notes that new definitions and innovative employment options must be created for this phase of life. She calls it the “third age.”   Finally, she points out that policymakers, employers, and individuals need to rethink how retirement fits into the way people actually live their lives.   For further information or to request a copy of the report, e-mail courter@conference-board.org.

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