2019 Plan Sponsor of the Year
Public Defined Benefit (DB)

Missouri Local Government Employees Retirement System

FINALIST

Total Plan Assets: $7.7 billion
Number of Participants: 34,433
Funding Status: 95.6%
Number of Employers in the Plan: 730

The Missouri Local Government Employees Retirement System (LAGERS) is a multiple-employer defined benefit (DB) plan available to all local government agencies in Missouri, excluding school districts. The plan currently serves 738 employers and welcomes an average of 15 new ones each year.

For the fiscal year ended last June 30, LAGERS earned 13.7%, net of fees, beating its policy benchmark by 5.76 percentage points and its 7.25% assumed rate of return (ROR) by 6.45 percentage points, says Robert Wilson, LAGERS executive director. The returns also exceeded benchmarks for each of the three-, five- and 10-year periods ended last June 30, posting returns of 8.3%, 8.1% and 7.8%, respectively.

This is particularly impressive when one notes that the new plans LAGERS welcomes each year enter its plan 0% pre-funded. “In 2018, we welcomed 19 new employers, and, even after adding them in, we were still 95.6% funded on an actuarial basis and 99.5% on a market basis,” Wilson says.

In recent years, the organization has either proposed or supported legislation to expand access to its plan. In 2016, it proposed and passed legislation that allows local government agencies with frozen pension plans to select LAGERS as the administrator and trustee of their plan, which then receives all of the organization’s actuarial, legal, compliance and investment services.

Then, last August, new legislation that LAGERS supported was passed allowing Missouri’s 114 soil and water conservation districts to join the plan. Eighty-six have indicated interest in doing so.

Because LAGERS serves a diverse membership, ranging from librarians to firefighters, the plan permits each participating employer to choose the benefit levels it would like to provide its employees. They may change those levels every two years. The participating employers may also choose a three- or five-year final average salary calculation and require 0% or 4% contribution from employees. Vesting is five years for all members; normal retirement age is 60 for civilian members and 55 for police officers and firefighters. Additionally, because disability rates for public safety officers, especially firefighters, has skyrocketed in the past five years, LAGERS requires police and fire departments to pay more for these benefits, with the fire departments charged the most.

Reaching members is a struggle, as Missouri is to a large extent rural, and many plan participants have no internet access. Thus, LAGERS has made it a point in the past 18 months to update and maintain the mailing addresses for all members and is gathering information on best practices for collecting and maintaining email addresses.

In addition, LAGERS is ramping up education for human resources (HR) and finance officials so they can effectively communicate the value of the pension to their employees.

Finally, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from the workforce, the organization has begun holding LAGERS Lunch Break meetings to educate younger employees about the benefits of the pension plan. Paired with this, LAGERS has become active on social media. Last year, it conducted two live Facebook events. The year before, it implemented an inbound marketing tool, HubSpot, which serves as the hub for all of its social media, email, blog and web content.

“Our workforce is changing,” Wilson says. “We have really tried to retool our communications to reach our younger members, to help them focus on the benefit of our pension. We are trying to show them that we’re investing in their future. That’s one of the great things about the DB plan; they are growing their benefit every day. We are seeing some good results with that. Members are becoming more engaged.” —Lee Barney

 

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