Things looked bleak last year for plan funding when a U.S. District Court in Massachusetts said private equity firms didn't operate as trades or businesses, but passive investors in the companies they own. If the ruling was left intact, it would have created a major loophole in this kind of liability for private equity funds connected to pension plans.
At the time, the court considered whether two funds managed by private equity firm Sun Capital were responsible for $4.5 million in withdrawal liability after their company, Scott Brass, a Rhode Island-based metal fabricator, left the New England Teamsters multiemployer plan.
Such distinctions are important because entities engaged in a trade or businesses may be responsible for pension shortfalls in single employer plans and for withdrawal liability in multiemployer plans.
Earlier this year, the Teamsters asked the First Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit the issue and PBGC filed a friend of the court brief supporting their cause.
With recent news of the Detroit bankruptcy, more people are asking about PBGC's role in public pensions. However, by law, PBGC doesn't insure state, county, or city plans.
While we insure most private-sector (non-governmental) pension plans, Congress has also defined exceptions that PBGC does not insure. But for more information about public pensions, please contact the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems.
When retirees and workers wish to contact PBGC, they first turn to the Customer Contact Center, which does its best to answer every call.
The center is nestled in Kingstowne, Va., outside of the hustle and bustle of Washington. Its representatives are the agency's first responders, making sure no call goes unanswered.
The team of 70 comprised of two federal managers, 13 contact center leadership team members, and 55 customer service representatives, regularly communicate with the Corporation's Field Benefit Administrators (FBA), transferring participants' calls to the FBAs to ensure questions on benefit entitlement are answered. The center also transfers calls to the Corporation's lawyers when participants have inquiries regarding legal matters.
The number of calls received fluctuates each month. From 2010 to 2012, the center received an average of 521,000 calls yearly or about 2,000 every business day.
The Wall Street Journal CFO Network Annual Meeting 2013 wrapped up last month. PBGC Director Josh Gotbaum participated in an interview session titled "The Great American Pension Crisis: Funding Past Promises and Future Retirement."
In his interview with Gabriella Stern, Deputy Managing Editor, WSJ Digital Network, Director Gotbaum focused on how U.S. companies will tackle mounting pension obligations in the coming years.
Dallas Salisbury, President and CEO, Employee Benefit Research Institute, also offered perspectives.
Take a look at the Dow Jones video recording of the interview. NOTE: The video may take a minute or two to fully load.
PBGC will pay benefits for nearly 470 current and future retirees of Butzel Long, a law firm based in Detroit, Mich.
The agency stepped in because the firm would be unable to maintain its pension plan and remain in business.
PBGC will pay all pension benefits earned by the law firm's retirees up to the legal limit of almost $57,500 a year for a 65-year-old.
Retirees will continue to get benefits without interruption, and future retirees can apply for benefits as soon as they are eligible.
Recent media reports have suggested that Butzel Long's plan was short by at least $10 million, but that estimate assumed the plan was ongoing. At PBGC, we measure funding on a termination basis, which often reveals a much higher shortfall.
According to our estimates, as of March 20, 2013 (the plan termination date), the pension plan was 47 percent funded with $34 million in assets to pay $73 million in benefits. The agency expects to cover most of the $39 million shortfall.
PBGC can provide general information now and will be able to answer more detailed questions once we receive the pension plan's records. Participants in Butzel Long's plan will be notified by letter after the transfer occurs.