WRS News Online Vol. 3, No. 1 - January 2017
Teachers: Vote in Teachers Retirement Board Election
Voting period: January 23, 2017 - February 28, 2017
Wisconsin Retirement System teachers have the opportunity to elect two members to the Teachers Retirement (TR) Board. The 13-member TR Board advises the Employee Trust Funds Board on retirement and other benefit matters involving public school, vocational, state and university teachers.
Active (currently employed) teacher members of the WRS (excluding those employed by the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin technical college system districts or the University of Wisconsin System) are eligible to vote in this election.
Three candidates are vying for two seats on the TR Board. Review the candidates' statements below, then vote online. Cast your ballot between January 23 and February 28, 2017. It's that easy!
- Get your ETF member ID and PIN at http://tiny.cc/etfregister.
- Vote! Go to http://tiny.cc/etfvote from January 23 through February 28, 2017!
Questions? Contact the election help desk via email or call toll free 1-888-492-4763. Assistance will be available 24/7 during the election period.
Meet the Candidates:
TR Board: Active Teacher Member Seat
You may vote for up to two of the three candidates.
I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with public school students throughout my entire 24-year career in small school districts such as Lomira, Poynette, and Rio as well as medium and large school districts like Portage and Janesville. Currently I am the Director of Activity Programs for the School District of Baraboo. I believe it is important to contribute to the greater good of the teaching profession, and would be honored to serve on the Teachers Retirement Board. The Wisconsin Retirement System is one of the strongest, most stable systems in the nation. I would like to do my part to help make sure it remains that way for current retirees, as well as teachers currently in any stage of their career.
I have enjoyed serving you for the last 15 years and look forward to continue protecting our money in the WRS. I have taught Spanish in Eau Claire for 22 years and have served on the Teachers Retirement Board for 15 years. I also serve on the Employee Trust Funds Board and am the vice-chair of the ETF Board's Budget and Operations Committee. I am the longest serving member on the TR Board and I will use my experience to keep our system one of the best in the world. I am an active investor and business owner and enjoy managing money. I read the Wall Street Journal and monitor the markets daily. I will continue to work for all of us to preserve the stability of the WRS and to protect our funds.
I started as a third grade teacher with the Royal School District. After my daughter was born, I accepted a kindergarten teaching position with the Tomah Area School District and am enjoying my fourth year there! I have been covered under the WRS since August 2011. I look forward to this opportunity to represent all teachers and address any needs or concerns. I have experienced learning about the WRS and how it will affect me in my future. I look forward to learning more.
Ready to vote?
Voting closes February 28!
Note: Watch for election results in the May edition of WRS News Online.
Message From Leadership
Helping Your Future Self
by Robert Conlin, ETF Secretary
When I started my service with the State nearly 25 years ago, I was fortunate to have a grizzled, experienced colleague as a sort of mentor to show me the tricks of the trade. "Dan" shared advice and insights gleaned from years of doing the job that helped this newbie avoid many a painful or embarrassing mistake and made me a better and more valuable employee. Interestingly, I think, the best advice he gave me had nothing to do with the job and everything to do with my future wellbeing.
Shortly after I started my job, as I was sifting through the piles of "new employee" information trying to decide what benefits to enroll in, Dan popped his head in my door and said, "Save early. Save often." Now, Dan had a reputation of being the consummate deal hound and I thought this was an announcement of his latest "3-for-1" sale discovery or discount tech gadget find. Instead, he was encouraging me to think about my financial future. "The WRS is a good benefit, but don't make the mistake of thinking it's all you'll need. Save something extra. You won't miss it much now and you'll really appreciate it in the future."
That was, and still is, good advice. The WRS pension, when combined with Social Security, was designed to replace 60% to 85% of a full career employee's pre-retirement gross earnings. And given that the WRS does not have a guaranteed cost-of-living adjustment and that any post-retirement adjustments can be rescinded, having some additional resources on hand in retirement makes good sense.
Whether you choose to save during your career by investing in the tax-sheltered Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program, by making additional contributions to your WRS account, or by saving in some other manner, having additional resources to draw on in retirement for life's contingencies may give you some peace of mind. And if you're already retired, finding a way to set aside some of the increases you've received since retirement may help to cushion the blow when the next financial crisis strikes.
Dan passed away not too long ago. While he is missed, his sage advice lives on.
Looking Back at 2016 and Forward to 2017
by Michael Williamson, SWIB Executive Director
The start of a new year is always exciting. The change of the calendar from December to January gives us the opportunity to look back at and celebrate our successes from the past year. It is also a time to identify opportunities for the new year that lies ahead. As investors, we are no different than many of you as we usher in the new year. We take a step back and look at the past year's performance, while looking forward to identify opportunities and potential challenges the new year may present.
The preliminary returns for the Core Fund and Variable Fund in 2016 were respectable, given the ups and downs the financial markets experienced. The Core Fund finished 2016 with a preliminary return of 8.5% and the Variable Fund finished the year with a preliminary return of 10.6%. I am proud of the fact that the Core Fund has beaten its one, three-, five-, and ten-year benchmarks. Similarly, the Variable Fund has beaten it benchmarks in all four time periods.
In 2016, we saw a continuation of the ups and downs that have defined the financial markets since 2008 and the Great Recession. We went from a point last January, where stocks hit their lowest levels since 2014, to one point last summer where all three major U.S. indexes reached record highs. The celebration was short lived, as stocks dropped again in September before bouncing back after the November election to close out the year. We watched as the Wisconsin Retirement System Trust Funds fell into negative territory before rebounding to post solid year-end results.
Because of this volatility in the financial markets, and our expectations that it will continue through 2017, we have changed the way we look at risk. Since you, our members, share in the investment risk, along with our employers, we have taken a conservative position that generates respectable returns but also adds protection. We are investing the trust funds, first and foremost, to protect the pensions of retirees from another major reduction and increased contribution rates for active employees, then to generate reasonable returns. We are able to implement a strategy that is balanced across more diverse asset classes than many of our fellow pension plans, which are concentrated in fewer asset classes. This strategy makes us more resilient to a greater number of market environments, like we saw in 2016. We are able to implement this strategy because the Wisconsin Retirement System, unlike many public pension systems across the country, is fully funded, which means we do not have to take unnecessary risk with your pension money to keep it financially strong.
As we look toward 2017, we expect the current "low return environment" will persist. But we are confident that the disciplined, prudent and innovative strategy we have put in place will continue to protect the trust funds from market declines while generating solid returns. We may sacrifice a little upside when the markets are high, but we have built in more down-side protection to insulate you from the volatility the financial markets might experience. You can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to remain the strong, steady economic pillar you have come to trust.
Projections for Effective Rates, Annuity Adjustments
The State of Wisconsin Investment Board has announced preliminary 2016 investment returns of 8.5% for the Core Trust Fund and 10.6% for the Variable Trust Fund. How will this affect your Wisconsin Retirement System account?
The projections below are based on preliminary 2016 investment returns. ETF will announce the actual effective rates and annuity adjustments after final investment returns have been determined and an actuarial analysis is completed. Watch for announcements in February (effective rates for active employees) and March (annuity adjustments for retirees).
Core Fund Projections
Preliminary 2016 Investment Return
Projected Effective Rate
7.6% to 8.0 %
Projected Annuity Adjustment
1.3% to 1.9%
By law, a Core annuity adjustment will be paid if the adjustment rate is at least 0.5%; if less than 0.5%, no adjustment is paid.
Variable Fund Projections
Preliminary 2016 Investment Return
Projected Effective Rate
9.0% to 13.0%
Projected Annuity Adjustment
4.0% to 8.0%
By law, a Variable annuity adjustment is paid if the adjustment rate is at least 2%; if less than 2%, no adjustment is paid.
Shared Investment Risk
WRS members benefit from good investment returns and share the risk of poor returns. Changes in employee and employer contribution rates, for example, are linked to Core and Variable Trust Fund investment performance. Likewise, annuity adjustments for retirees are linked to investment performance. This "shared risk" design keeps the WRS well-funded and able to pay promised benefits long into the future.
No matter your timetable for retirement, it's important that you know about and fully understand your retirement benefits. This includes the fact that the WRS does not provide a guaranteed cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in retirement.
In addition, did you know:
- Some pension systems provide COLAs in order to help retirees keep up with inflation over the long term. Under the WRS, post-retirement annuity adjustments are by law dependent on WRS trust fund investment returns.
- WRS retirees routinely receive annuity increases above the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security; for 2016 Social Security increased only 0.3%.
- When retired, your Core annuity can never go below your original payment ("floor").
- However, annuity adjustments can increase or decrease each year, based on trust fund investment performance and actuarial factors.
- When there is a market downturn, annuities can be lowered by repealing previously-granted increases.
For more information:
- See ETF Secretary Robert Conlin's column about the best advice he received as a new employee regarding saving early and saving often.
- Participate in an ETF webinar on these topics - don't delay - registration is required and space is limited!
- Check out the helpful resources on this Core/Variable Information web page.
New Year, New Challenge: Take Financial Fitness Challenge
Have you taken the Financial Fitness Challenge offered by the Department of Employee Trust Funds? Join Naveen and the thousands of other Wisconsin Retirement System employees who have jumped in and assessed what they know -- and need to do -- in order to improve their financial well-being.
Naveen shares why she took the Challenge and how she plans to use the lessons she learned going forward:
"I had been wondering about my personal financial 'fitness' over the past few months, so the offer to take ETF's Financial Fitness Challenge was very timely. I found the CHECKUP very eye-opening! It really made me think about many things, especially the need to have an emergency fund. The CHECKUP results and the online learning tutorials are very helpful, especially in creating an action plan and following through with some of the recommendations. I really appreciate this opportunity to get on the road to financial fitness. Thank you to everyone who put this together, I highly recommend it!"
Take Control - Start and Finish the Challenge in 3 Easy Steps
Step 1. Get centered: Take the free Financial Fitness CHECKUP. It's a confidential and secure online assessment of your financial well-being. Receive instant feedback: your personal Financial Fitness SCORE.
Step 2. Sharpen focus: Enroll in the free online Financial Fitness ACADEMY. Based on your Financial Fitness SCORE, you will be presented with recommendations for tailored, online learning tutorials (a $200 value). You can access the academy for 12 months after completion of the checkup. Using the tutorials can help improve your financial fitness. The tutorials cover topics such as debt management, budgeting, investments, and retirement planning.
Step 3. Zoom in on a bright future: If you need help with any of the tasks or topics you are trying to accomplish or learn, you may request to speak with a Financial Fitness ADVISOR free of charge for up to 30 days.
The Financial Fitness Challenge is also open to friends and family members!
Take the Financial Fitness Challenge today.
Visit ETF's website for more information.
New Technology Puts SWIB at Industry Forefront
The State of Wisconsin Investment Board has long been considered a public pension fund leader for its strong management of the Wisconsin Retirement System trust funds. SWIB is once again leading the way among public pension funds by implementing new technology that supports a move toward in-house investment management across multiple investment strategies.
BNY Mellon, a global leader in investment management and investment services, and its Eagle Investment Systems affiliate are supporting SWIB's investment and data management needs through the implementation of BNY Mellon's OnCore technology. The system, which is part of SWIB's larger implementation of a new portfolio management system, gives SWIB the support it needs to manage risk and performance across multiple asset classes by giving detailed analysis on how different risks interact with each other. The investment information on risk and performance generated daily will help SWIB better manage investment strategies--particularly those managed internally. In an effort to generate solid returns and keep costs low, SWIB has moved from managing 21% of our assets internally in 2007 to 65% of $104 billion in total assets today. Implementing the new technology provides critical support to SWIB's internal management efforts.
Although some parts of SWIB's new technology system are being used by other public pension funds, it is the comprehensive program integrating data and technology that puts SWIB at the industry forefront. Only a few of the largest money managers in the country have implemented a program of this magnitude.
As a result of the new technology, SWIB is moving toward managing the complete set of investment information as a strategic asset. That will allow SWIB to implement more innovative strategies that ultimately will benefit WRS members.
"New technology is essential for managing the sophisticated investment strategies we are implementing and for managing risk at a more nuanced level than it has ever been before," SWIB Executive Director Michael Williamson said. "We are moving from siloed investment technology to an asset class and risk aggregated model. Because of the unique design of Wisconsin's public pension system, which shares risk and reward with its participants, managing risk is an essential part of our strategy."
Since 1991, BNY Mellon and Eagle have provided SWIB with a wide range of investment and integrated data management services and they continue to be a strategic partner.
Managing Risk More Important Than Ever
Most people think that the key focus at the State of Wisconsin Investment Board is to "make money". However, equally important is managing risk -- and that means focusing on the aspects of investing that can be controlled. A solid understanding of risk in its different forms allows SWIB to better understand opportunities, trade-offs and costs involved with different investment approaches, and increases the chances that we will make money.
Risk can often be thought of as something to be avoided. However, every investment involves some degree of risk. Successful investors make informed, intelligent decisions to ensure they are rewarded for the risk they take. Our challenge is to limit risk exposure to an acceptable level while still capturing solid returns.
What Is Risk?
While SWIB considers many different types of risk, several are larger than others. In finance, risk can be defined as the probability that an investment return will be different than expected. Risk can be close to zero, as in the case of a U.S. Treasury security, which is backed by the U.S. government. Risk can be very high, such as owning real estate in a developing country. Generally, assets with higher risks are expected to generate higher returns.
SWIB monitors other types of risks associated with the Wisconsin Retirement System. Risk management takes into account how it all works together. The largest types of risk include the following:
- Market risk is the chance that investments can lose value because of a market decline. Diversification increases the chances of having a portion of your investments performing well at any given time. Market risk is one of the most difficult risks to manage for the WRS.
- Interest rate risk is the possibility that interest rates rise, causing bond prices to fall. Long-term bond holdings in financial, utility and telecom stocks are most sensitive to interest rate risk.
- Liquidity risk is the chance that an investor would not be able to sell an investment in an orderly fashion at the time the proceeds are needed to pay pension benefits, without the risk of loss.
- Funding risk, or the ability to meet pension liabilities, is the most fundamental risk for the WRS. Funding is the basic measure of the system's ability to pay promised benefits to members. The WRS actuary and SWIB's asset allocation consultant agree that the WRS is positioned to meet its current and future obligations.
How Do We Manage Risk?
SWIB has focused on risk management throughout its existence. However, with increased market volatility, monitoring risk has become even more important. Volatility is the amount of uncertainty about changes in an investment's value. Reducing volatility and minimizing annual fluctuations in Core Trust Fund returns helps to stabilize required contributions by employers and employees as well as adjustments paid to retirees. The significant market drop in 2008 was a catalyst for implementing new ways to manage the risk associated with SWIB's investment in public stock markets.
How does SWIB manage investment risks? The first step is to determine risk for a given level of expected return by carefully choosing the proportions of various assets, including stocks and bonds. This process is called asset allocation. SWIB's Board of Trustees sets asset allocation targets, with the help of modeling developed by a board-appointed consultant. Once the potential return and risk for various asset mixes are calculated, trustees select the mix of assets that should provide the optimum balance of risk and return over the next several market cycles. Modeling also measures risk during extreme market stress conditions.
Diversification is one tool used to manage risk. SWIB diversifies holdings not only by asset class but also within the asset classes, for example by investing in companies that differ in size, industry and location. A diversified portfolio reflects the proverb "don't put all your eggs in one basket".
SWIB also is incorporating new investment strategies that diversify risk away from stocks, including decreasing stock allocations and substituting alternative allocations that produce similar long-term returns, but with different risk characteristics than stocks. Because there is a tradeoff of less market risk (stock volatility) for increased liquidity risk, new monitoring tools have been developed by SWIB to enable the assessment of all cash needs. As always, market conditions are considered as changes are contemplated.
At SWIB we work hard to do three things: make money, control costs and, yes, manage risk. Each is important in helping to keep the WRS one of the most well-funded public pension systems in the country.
For State of Wisconsin Group Health Insurance Program Participants
Health Insurance Program Update
Self-insurance and/or regionalization
Over the course of two meetings (November 30, December 13), the Group Insurance Board (GIB) reviewed initial results and analysis from vendor proposals for health insurance program structural changes in 2018 that could include:
- changing from a fully insured program to a self-insured program; and/or
- changing to a "regionalized" structure for health plan offerings for members
The analysis included evaluation of a broad range of options/scenarios for change, projected costs and savings, provider access, and possible member disruption. In addition, discussions also covered how potential changes could affect the Wisconsin Public Employers Group Health Insurance Program (local program), the Medicare coordinated program, the currently self-insured It's Your Choice Access Plan (formerly known as the Standard Plan) and the Local Annuitant Health Program. January 2018 is the earliest any changes would take effect. Health insurance benefits and benefit plan design changes are not part of this evaluation.
At the December meeting the Board directed ETF and its consulting actuary to collect more data in order to continue deliberations. The next GIB meeting is set for February 8, 2017. Meeting materials will be posted when they become available.
Uniform Benefits changes regarding nondiscrimination on basis of gender identity
2017 Uniform Benefits coverage for procedures, services and supplies related to gender reassignment became effective January 1, in compliance with nondiscrimination requirements under the Affordable Care Act. However, the GIB held a special meeting December 30 and voted to exclude these benefits and services if all of the following were to occur:
- A court ruling or an administrative action that enjoins, rescinds or invalidates the rules set by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This contingency was met when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on December 31, 2016.
- Compliance with state law, Section 40.03 (6)(c);
- Renegotiation of contracts that maintain or reduce premium costs for the state; and
- A final opinion of the Wisconsin Department of Justice that the action taken does not constitute a breach of the Board's fiduciary duties.
The State of Wisconsin is a litigant in a federal lawsuit filed in Texas, which claims the federal DHHS rules are unlawful and an improper interpretation of federal law.
Monitor ETF's website for health insurance program news between editions of this newsletter.
To learn more about the WRS governing boards, review membership rosters, meeting schedules, agendas and past meeting minutes, visit our Governing Boards web page.
Know Your Benefits
Q. When should I request a retirement estimate and when should I apply? Do I need to come into your office when I decide to retire?
A. You should request your retirement estimates approximately six to 12 months before you retire. We can accept your retirement application up to 90 days before the date you terminate employment.
You do not need to come into our office when you decide to retire. You can request your retirement estimate packet online, by phone or in writing. You can submit your request online any time. If you prefer to request it in writing, print the Retirement Estimate Request (ET-4207) and mail or fax it to ETF.
The estimate packet will include: your application for benefits, information about options and the How to Retire brochure (ET-4133). The brochure includes directions on how to complete your application, general information on many subjects and contains links to other brochures for further details. Contact us if you have questions about your estimates or applying.
For more information:
Sign up for our webinar, 5 Basic Steps to Your Retirement - it's a quick-reference guide to starting the retirement process within the next 12 months. Topics include choosing a termination date, how to request a retirement estimate and, drum roll here - how to submit the retirement application
Members Like Virtual Appointments!
ETF is pleased to offer a convenient, new service for members who are within a year of retirement: virtual retirement appointments.
These appointments are secure, one-on-one meetings with an ETF benefits specialist, conducted online. Together, you and the specialist talk by telephone and view online your retirement estimate, annuity options and discuss the retirement process in general. Virtual appointments are convenient (no travel necessary) and easy to schedule.
Find out whether a virtual retirement appointment is right for you - contact ETF at 1-877-533-5020 or send an email inquiry. Here is what other WRS members have said about their experience with ETF's virtual retirement appointments:
"I think this service is great. This is especially for employees that would have to travel to Madison for a meeting from quite a few miles away, and is also nice in the Wisconsin winter season."
"...This venue was very helpful, due the employee's disability and remote location. [The specialist] took the time to research a couple of questions and got back to us within 30 minutes. We were very pleased with the level of service provided."
"It was a very beneficial meeting. [The ETF specialist] explained everything very well. I am glad I signed up for this meeting.
"Actually thought this went well and the sound was great. I do not see a disadvantage to doing this virtually."
ETF Earns Honors for Education on Retirement Planning and Security
Shelly Schueller and Tarna Hunter
Two ETF-connected programs have been honored for their efforts to increase awareness of retirement planning and financial security.
ETF's EMPOWER campaign, designed to encourage women of all cultures to take charge of their retirement, will receive the 2016 Lloyd D. Gladfelter Award for Government Innovation. The Gladfelter Award, administered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's LaFollette School of Public Affairs, is given to non-elected municipal, county, state, or federal employees who have helped solve a problem for Wisconsin residents and improved public service. ETF staff members Tarna Hunter, legislative liaison and Shelly Schueller, director of the Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program (WDC), will receive the award for their development of EMPOWER, which stands for Embracing and Promoting Options for Women to Enhance Retirement.
Launched in May 2015, the WDC and state agency Affirmative Action Committees, the EMPOWER campaign's statewide grassroots efforts targeted women and provided educational programming for public employees. Preliminary results show that women participating in the WDC increased their pre-tax savings by 3% and their post-tax contributions by 10%.
Last year EMPOWER received an award from the Wisconsin Governor's Council on Financial Literacy; a Wisconsin State Council on Affirmative Action Diversity Award; and an Innovator Award by Pensions & Investments Magazine.
Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program Awards
Schueller and the WDC recently received a MarCom Award for the Managed Account Free Look Campaign and two honorable mentions for the Stash Away campaign. The Managed Account Free Look Campaign offered WDC participants a 90-day free trial enrollment in the WDC's managed account service. As a result, an additional 534 participants opted into the service, an increase of 89% over 2015. Enrollments in this service jumped 529% over the 2015 monthly average as a result of the campaign. The Stash Away campaign encouraged WDC participants to increase their account contributions. Data showed that 148 participants, or 4.8%, increased their contribution amount by an average of 12%.
Learn more about the EMPOWER campaign and take action to improve personal budgeting, investing, simplifying money, saving money on a lower income, protecting against identify theft and much more.
To learn more about the WDC, visit ETF's webpage containing frequently asked questions, forms and publications, contact information and more resources.
Many Ways to Stay Informed About Your Benefits
We continually strive to ensure that you have a deep understanding of your Wisconsin Retirement System benefits in order to make fully informed decisions at every stage in your career. This includes providing quality, convenient and easily-accessible information and resources that work for you, on your timetable. For example:
- Participate in an ETF interactive online webinar at lunch time or after work. Webinars focus on a single topic of interest, ranging from contribution rates to annuity options; from how to read and understand the annual Statement of Benefits to choosing the optimal retirement date. ETF webinar schedule and topics.
- Attend an evening WRS employee benefits seminar. Seminars are scheduled in convenient locations throughout the state and thoroughly cover benefit basics, the Core and Variable Trust Funds and things to know and do to maximize your benefits as you move through your career. Those within five years or so of retirement will appreciate hearing about WRS annuity options, return-to-work rules, post-retirement annuity adjustments and much more. Use our interactive map to find a presentation near you.
- Watch an ETF online video or eLearning. Current topics include everything mentioned in the two paragraphs above and much more. ETF online videos and eLearnings.
Members who have retirement estimates and are within a year of retirement can schedule an appointment with an ETF benefits specialist. We offer three kinds of appointments, all of which provide explanations of your estimate, WRS annuity options, the application process and much more:
- Book a group retirement appointment. Use our interactive map to find a group appointment in your area of Wisconsin.
- Book an individual retirement appointment. Contact ETF to schedulea one-on-one appointment, held in our Madison office.
- Book a virtual appointment. This is a secure, one-on-one meeting conducted online. All you need is a computer, a telephone and an internet connection. Contact ETF to schedule a virtual appointment.
For additional information:
- Review FAQs for Retiring and Retired Members
- Review our How to Retire webpage
- Call ETF at 1-877-533-5020 and speak with a specialist. Phone hours are 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, CST.
Improved Well Wisconsin Program for 2017
Employees and their spouses/domestic partners enrolled in the State of Wisconsin or Wisconsin Public Employers Group Health Insurance Program now have access to an improved Well Wisconsin Program through StayWell. Use StayWell's secure wellness portal to earn your 2017 Well Wisconsin $150 incentive and access the tools and resources that will support you in achieving your health goals.
For more information on incentive eligibility and program requirements, visit StayWell or call the StayWell HelpLine at 1-800-821-6591 during these customer service hours: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Mon.-Thurs.; 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Fridays; Saturdays, 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Look at WRS 2015 Financials
The Wisconsin Retirement System paid out more than $4.8 billion in benefits during 2015. Sound funding and plan design principles keep the WRS financially strong. It's the responsibility of the Department of Employee Trust Funds to report to you, the legislature and Wisconsinites about how the WRS is doing.
Complete WRS financial statements, with notes and supplementary information, will be published in ETF's 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and available on our website at a later time.
WRS Assets and Reserves
As of the end of 2015, the WRS had net assets of more than $88.5 billion, a decrease of $3.6 billion from 2014. The decrease was related primarily to the decrease in investment earnings in 2015. These assets are invested in a balanced portfolio of stock, bonds and other investments managed by the State of Wisconsin investment Board.
$52.9 billion of reserves are set aside to pay monthly benefits to our approximately 192,000 retirees; the average annual benefit is $24,780. The annuity reserve, increased by 5% annual interest, will be sufficient to pay lifetime benefits without any additional contributions.
The employer and employee reserves include contributions made by and on behalf of non-retired participants. While the employee reserve is made up of over 420,000 individual participant accounts, the employer reserve is a single comingled account with no separation of individual employer contributions. At the time a participant retires, the present value of their annuity is transferred to the annuity reserve from the employer and employee reserves. These reserves are also used to pay separation and death benefits.
The Market Recognition Account is used to smooth the effects of investment gains and losses on the WRS. The excess or deficiency of investment returns are spread over five years. As a result, the WRS has $3.2 billion in past investment losses that will be applied against income or investment gains over the next four years.
WRS Revenues and Expenses
Investment income decreased by $5.6 billion due to less than favorable market conditions in 2015 compared to 2014. However, employee and employer contributions remained relatively stable at $1.9 billion.
Employer contributions are paid by WRS employers and are held in the employer reserve until needed for a transfer to the annuity reserve to fund new annuities. Employee contributions are primarily paid by WRS participants and are held in individual accounts for the participant until retirement or paid as a separation benefit if the employee leaves covered employment and chooses to withdraw contributions.
When you compare total WRS expenses of $4.9 billion to combined employee and employer contributions of $1.9 billion, the importance of a strong investment program to make up the difference is clear.
Villa Recognized Among Top Leaders
State of Wisconsin Investment Board Chief Investment Officer David Villa has been named to Chief Investment Officer magazine's Power 100 list.
Villa, who last year was No. 14 on the list, is No. 12 on this year's list, which ranks investment leaders from around the world based on fund size, tenure, talent development, collaboration and innovation. His name has appeared on each Power 100 list since the magazine's first list was released in 2012.
Chief Investment Officer provides the latest news, opinion and research focusing on the overarching investment issues affecting public and corporate pension plans, endowments, foundations, healthcare capital pools and sovereign wealth funds.
ETF Receives Performance Award
ETF Staff Members: Pam Henning, Mark Lamkins and Kristin Gunther
ETF has been recognized for its strong commitment to performance excellence. The agency recently received a Challenger Recognition award, given by Wisconsin Forward Award, Inc. ETF is participating in a WFA initiative to implement best practices in several business areas and earn recognition for increasing organizational excellence. The award marks ETF's successful advancement through one of several milestones in the WFA initiative. A team of examiners evaluated ETF's organizational profile using a national standard, the Baldridge Criteria, which focuses on seven categories:
- Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
Wisconsin Forward Award, Inc. was created in 1997 by the Governor's Council on Workforce Investment. The award promotes excellence in organizational management, recognizes the achievements and results of Wisconsin organizations implementing performance excellence systems, and publicizes successful performance excellence management strategies. The WFA is a public/private partnership administered by the Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence.
ETF, SWIB Board Meetings in 2017
2017 WRS Governing Board Meetings
The issues discussed and decisions made by the five governing boards of the Wisconsin Retirement System affect the benefit programs administered by the Department of Employee Trust Funds. The 2017 meeting schedule for these boards has been set, as indicated below.
2017 Board Meetings
March 23, June 22, September 21, December 14
Group Insurance Board
February 8, February 21, May 16,
SWIB Board of Trustees
June 13-14, August 1-2, October 10-12,
2017 SWIB Board of Trustees Meetings
The Board of Trustees are scheduled to meet six times in 2017. Meetings are held at SWIB, 121 E. Wilson St., Madison, unless otherwise stated.
Ad hoc meetings can and do occur. All meetings are noticed in accordance with the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law.
To receive notification of WRS governing board meetings, agendas and materials, sign up for
ETF E-Mail Updates or follow ETF on Twitter
Learn more about WRS governing boards.
Learn more about the SWIB Board of Trustees.
ETF Seeks Individuals with Abandoned Accounts
Every January the Department of Employee Trust Funds publishes a notice of individuals age 70 or older who have abandoned Wisconsin Retirement System accounts. Members or their heirs have 10 years after published notification to apply for the benefit.
Find the current list of individuals with abandoned WRS accounts and their benefit application deadlines on our website.