Friday, May 17, 2013

Seventy-year-old Brethren Pension Plan transforms in 2013.

Brethren Benefit Trust president Nevin Dulabaum shakes hands with Marie Flory
Photo by Brethren Benefit Trust
Brethren Benefit Trust president Nevin Dulabaum shakes hands with Marie Flory, a Brethren Pension Plan retiree, at a workshop he led for Bridgewater (Va.) Retirement Community in January.
An enhanced web portal, daily valuation of investments, and a variety of retirement readiness calculators are just a few elements of the Church of the Brethren Pension Plan’s dramatic upgrade, scheduled to be available to members in mid-2013.

“We think it is critical to provide our members with additional retirement planning tools, which will augment our strong lineup of investment funds, so that each member can establish informed retirement goals and easily chart their progress toward those goals,” said Nevin Dulabaum, Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) president. “Though much of the new functionality will be web- and phone-based, Brethren Pension Plan members will continue to receive support from an enhanced customer service team, which will quickly and effectively respond to the needs of our members.”

These enhancements will be made available to members through a partnership with an outside vendor, which will handle all record-keeping processes for Brethren Pension Plan beginning on June 1. During the transition, all benefit payments will continue to be sent to annuitants, and all active members’ accounts will continue to be invested.

The Brethren Pension Plan sent a Transition Bulletin to all members in April explaining important dates related to the transition. Questions related to this upgrade can be directed to Scott Douglas, Employee Benefits director, at 800-746-1505 or

New Brethren Pension Plan features:
  • A revamped website portal that streamlines account management and asset allocation processes.
  • Daily account valuation that reflects day-to-day investment changes to account balances. This will allow people to make mid-month changes to their asset allocations, although we will take steps if necessary to discourage people from becoming day traders with their Pension assets.
  • A 24/7 phone system that lets participants manage their accounts at any time.
  • Online tools to help plan for retirement--including a redesigned annuity projection calculator.
  • An online file manager that allows the storing, saving, and printing of statements.
A payment for life or until the money runs out?

What is the primary difference between the Brethren Pension Plan and a 401(k) retirement plan that many employers offer today? Just what the headline says--the Brethren Pension Plan will make annuity payments for your life, and perhaps for the life of your spouse, depending on which annuity type you select. A 401(k) plan, on the other hand, provides income for as long as your funds last. Once your 401(k) account is depleted, it’s gone for good.

This is an important distinction to understand when trying to compare retirement programs in an apples-to-apples manner. Other issues that also need to be compared carefully are fees, investment choices, portability, customer service, and whether your plan invests your assets in accordance with your values.

Over the past four years, BBT has made a number of improvements to the Brethren Pension Plan to ensure that it will provide competitive service and will be able to fulfill its obligations for years to come.

BBT has increased customer service representatives, added a number of new investment options, increased communications to members (and Plan sponsors) to help improve their knowledge regarding retirement planning and financial decision making, and staff has increased visits with Plan members, whether it be at the workplace or at denominational events where Brethren Pension Plan members are in attendance.

BBT has analyzed the mortality basis used to calculate life expectancy, to make sure calculations reflect the living experience of members. We have refined the investment allocation of the fund from which our annuities are paid--the Retirement Benefits Fund--to maximize gains and to minimize risks. And we have worked diligently to grow Plan participation. Even so, the experience of members with the Brethren Pension Plan is about to change in a profound manner. By July 1, the Brethren Pension Plan is expected to offer members some new and outstanding functionality that will enhance the retirement planning experience.

New website and telephone interfaces will provide new tools for conducting routine business, like changing asset allocations for existing and future contributions and earnings, changing beneficiaries, etc. A gap analysis of a member’s account will be available to indicate what steps a member needs to take now to help ensure they have the income they are looking for in retirement. BBT also has the longer-term goal of providing asset allocation guidance so that members can have assistance in the fund selection process.

This month, BBT staff are visiting several Brethren Pension Plan sponsor organizations for employee and employer training, to help ensure they are prepared to utilize the new functions when they go online. Pastors and other church staff members will be offered training sessions via webinar and at the Annual Conference in Charlotte, N.C.

This new functionality will come through a new partnership between the Brethren Pension Plan and Great-West, the plan’s new record keeper. Through this new alliance, Brethren Pension Plan will be able to offer its members robust retirement readiness tools backed by efficient and effective customer service.  All of this and an annuity for life--that’s the Brethren Pension Plan, which was created 70 years ago to serve you. We hope our Plan members enjoy, but most importantly, utilize this new functionality.

-- Nevin Dulabaum is president of Brethren Benefit Trust.

Source: 5/17/2013 Newsline

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