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Sheila Bridgeforth
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Dawn Kelly
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24 July 2013

Corporate America anxious about providing pensions and benefits

New Prudential report with CFO Research Services finds businesses looking at costs, risks, and attractiveness of benefit offerings

NEWARK, N.J., July 24, 2013 - The rising price tag of healthcare and the risks and costs associated with funding pension plans weigh heavily on corporate finances, according to “Balancing Costs, Risks, and Rewards: The Retirement and Employee Benefits Landscape in 2013,” new research released today by Prudential Financial, Inc., in collaboration with CFO Research Services.

As corporate America struggles to manage costs and risks while maintaining the competitive retirement and benefit packages needed to recruit and retain workers, finance executives are exploring and adopting new ways to address these challenges, the survey found.

“The current economic environment, changing world of pensions, and ever increasing cost of healthcare all continue to present challenges to companies providing employer-paid benefits,” said James Gemus, senior vice president for group life and voluntary benefits, Prudential Group Insurance. “Employers are finding solutions like developing new investment strategies and offering voluntary benefits employees choose and pay for themselves.”

The survey targeted senior financial executives at companies with defined benefit retirement plans holding $250 million or more in assets. These are plans that pay out a specified benefit to retirees. The survey, conducted by CFO Research in February, complements studies done in 2009, 2010 and 2012. More than 80 percent of the 181 companies included in the survey had revenues of more than $1 billion.

If healthcare is the top concern for employers, funding pensions is not far behind. The survey found nearly sixty percent of the companies have either frozen accruals for all participants or closed their defined benefit plans to new entrants and many more are likely to do so within two years. Many are looking at transferring pension risk and enhancing defined contribution plans – like 401(k) s – to improve operating flexibility and help employees better fund their retirements.

“These financial executives are worried about management attention being diverted from running the business to dealing with pension liabilities,” said Margaret McDonald, senior vice president and actuary for pension risk transfer, Prudential Retirement. “An increasing number are looking at transferring the entire pension risk.”

While only 6 percent of those surveyed say their companies have already transferred their defined benefit plan risk to a third-party insurer, approximately 40 percent say they will consider doing so within the next two years.

McDonald said as defined benefit plans become less commonplace, defined contribution plans need to be enhanced to ensure employees have enough money to sustain a comfortable retirement. “Most executives think a significant portion of their employees will have to work longer because they don’t have enough money to retire. Adding guaranteed income options to defined contribution plans can go a long way to ease employees’ fear about the volatile investment environment,” she added.

The survey found that more than 60 percent of executives believe employees enrolled in defined contribution plans will make better investment decisions if they are invested in an option that includes a guaranteed income feature. Many of the executives say their companies are at least somewhat likely to offer guaranteed lifetime income products over the next two years.

Other survey findings included:

  • Nearly three-quarters agree the use of voluntary benefits is a cost-effective way to increase employee satisfaction with benefits. This finding represents a substantial increase over 2012, when 56 percent of the respondents agreed. Voluntary benefits include offerings such as life, disability, critical illness, and accident insurance.
  • More than a quarter say their companies have already shifted a large portion of the costs for healthcare coverage to employees, and another 34 percent say their companies are very likely to do so within the next two years.

“Clearly, the research highlights the ongoing challenges CFOs face balancing their companies’ fiscal responsibilities and serving the needs of employees who expect competitive workplace benefits,” said James Gemus. “CFOs are looking to benefits providers for solutions that are cost effective, offer employees choice and options for guaranteed retirement income.”

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit http://www.news.prudential.com/.

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