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WRS News Online Logo

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WRS News Online Vol. 4, No. 3 - September 2018

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No Increase for State Employee Health Insurance for Second Year

For the second consecutive year, the state's Group Health Insurance Program premiums will not increase in 2019, as recently approved by the Group Insurance Board. Local employee premiums will be more varied and set by each employer. While some health plans were able to reduce their rates, the overall increase is 1.7%.

In addition, the Department of Administration's Division of Personnel Management has confirmed contribution amounts will remain unchanged for 2019. This includes what state employees and employers pay for health insurance and Uniform Dental benefits as well as the employer contribution for the Health Savings Account.

The flat rates are a result of reduced pharmacy costs, successful contract negotiations with health plans to keep health care costs down and use of some of the program's reserve fund.

You may enroll or change your benefits during the annual It's Your Choice open enrollment period, October 1-26. Watch for the It's Your Choice 2019 Decision Guide, describing plan and benefit changes for 2019 and important take-action steps, from your employer in a few weeks.

Plan and Benefit Changes
Here are highlights of the most significant changes for 2019:

  • HealthPartners has added a new health plan option, Robin with HealthPartners, with coverage in northeast Wisconsin.

  • It's Your Choice Medicare Advantage with UnitedHealthcare is a new option for Medicare participants and their Medicare-enrolled dependents.

  • State employees: The State Maintenance Plan (SMP) will be newly available in Forest County and no longer available in Florence County. Local employees: For SMP coverage area changes by county for 2019, please see the It's Your Choice 2019 Decision Guide. Make sure your providers are in-network or select another plan.

  • If you are currently enrolled in a supplemental dental plan, you must enroll in a new plan to continue coverage in 2019. The following supplemental benefit plans will not be available in 2019:

    • Current Anthem DentalBlue participants in any of the three Anthem plans must choose a new Delta Dental plan to have supplemental dental coverage in 2019.

    • Current EPIC Benefits+ participants must choose a new Delta Dental plan to have supplemental dental coverage in 2019, VSP to have supplemental vision coverage and Zurich for Accidental Death and Dismemberment coverage. There will be no hospital and surgical indemnity coverage option for 2019.

    • Current EPIC Dental Wisconsin participants must choose a new plan to have supplemental dental coverage in 2019.

    • New enrollments will not be accepted for Mutual of Omaha Long-Term Care Insurance, administered by HealthChoice, in 2019. Current participants can continue their long-term care policies and do not need to take any action.

  • Pharmacy benefits – There will be increased cost sharing for "dispense as written" (DAW-1) brand name level 3 drugs for non-Medicare participants, unless the generic equivalent cannot be used due to medical necessity.

  • Medical benefits – Telehealth services will be covered 100% except for It's Your Choice High Deductible Health plan participants who pay the full cost until their deductible is met. The exclusion related to benefits or services based on gender identity is removed for 2019.

For More Information
Visit the It's Your Choice 2019 section of the Department of Employee Trust Funds website for more information and helpful tools. The website will be live the week of September 17.

Attend a benefit/health fair this fall. This is your chance to ask questions about all ETF-administered benefit programs, retirement as well as health insurance. To find one near you use the interactive map or call ETF at 1-877-533-5020 or send a secure email.


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Teachers and Educational Support Personnel: WRS Governing Boards Need You

Teacher and Educational Support Personnel

The process to elect several members to two important Wisconsin Retirement System governing boards has begun. Seats for an educational support staff member and three active teachers will be open next spring. Nomination materials are now available for the following three races. If you're interested in running, contact the Department of Employee Trust Funds as soon as possible to ensure you have time to gather at least 25 valid signatures and return the paperwork by October 26. Details are below:

Governing Board

Seat Member

Term Begins

Who May Vote


Current Seat Holder(s)

ETF Board

Educational Support Personnel

May 2019

All active WRS educational support personnel

4 years

Leilani Paul

Teachers Retirement Board

(2 seats available)

Active Teacher
(excludes Milwaukee Public School District Teacher)

May 2019

All active teachers (excluding Milwaukee Public School District teachers)

5 years

Brent Grochowski

Allison Pratt

Teachers Retirement Board

Milwaukee Public School District Teacher

March 2019*

Milwaukee Public School District teachers

Winner will serve the remainder of the current five-year term, which expires May 1, 2020.


*After the election is certified.

  • Nomination materials can be downloaded from our website.
  • You may also request materials by sending an email to or write to: ETF, Retirement Board Liaison, P.O. Box 7931, Madison, WI 53707-7931. To ensure you receive the correct packet of materials, please specify which election packet you want. ETF is conducting four elections and we want to ensure you receive the correct nomination packet.
  • Completed nomination materials must include signatures from at least 25 qualifying WRS members and be received by ETF by October 26.
  • For information on the WRS governing boards, including current board rosters, board member responsibilities, meeting schedules and agendas, visit our Governing Board webpages.


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Search Under Way for New SWIB Executive Director

David Stein


Rochelle Klaskin

by David Stein, Chair, SWIB Board of Trustees

State of Wisconsin Investment Board Trustees are conducting a search for a new executive director, following the July resignation of Rick Smirl, who accepted a position with Russell Investments. The Trustees are confident with both SWIB's interim leadership plan and the prospects for finding a new executive director. Because SWIB is viewed as a preeminent agency in the public investment management space, we are confident that our search process will attract a strong candidate to move SWIB forward.

During this transition period, the Board of Trustees has appointed Rochelle Klaskin as interim executive director. Rochelle joined SWIB in 2015 as chief legal counsel and was appointed SWIB's assistant director in 2017. She has 20 years of experience counseling organizations, leading teams and filling key leadership roles throughout her career. She has the full support of the Board of Trustees and has strong rapport with both the Trustees and SWIB staff.

Further, David Villa, who has been SWIB's chief investment officer since 2006, continues to lead the investment management division and drive strategies to secure SWIB's strong investment performance on behalf of the Wisconsin Retirement System. Staff is committed to making sure that the WRS remains one of the best funded pension plans in the country. Our year-to-date investment performance (preliminary through June 30, 2018) is above our benchmark. Additionally, our 1-, 5-, and 10-year investment performance for the Core Trust Fund remains strong, and we have outperformed our benchmarks in each of those periods.

Our priority is to find the best individual to lead the organization, and we will remain true to SWIB's values and disciplines in both this interim period and long-term. SWIB's disciplined, prudent, and innovative approach to managing more than $118 billion in assets remains unchanged. We want to assure you that during this transition, staff will continue to work on behalf of the WRS beneficiaries and the other separately managed funds SWIB invests.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact SWIB at 1-800-424-7942 or send an email to


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New Online Tool Helps You Pick Health Benefits

If you need help sorting out health insurance plan designs and costs, or if you have questions about supplemental benefits, use the Department of Employee Trust Funds' new online tool, ALEX.

Here are some things to know about ALEX:

  1. It's personalized. You will discover which plan makes the most sense for you and your family. It's like having your own virtual benefits counselor.

  2. It's fun. There's no boring insurance jargon or complicated legal explanations. ALEX provides easy-to-understand explanations in a conversational style.

  3. It's confidential. You can get the guidance you need without revealing any personally identifiable information or personal health information.

  4. It's useful. You can use ALEX to review and compare health plan options and cost factors such as deductibles and tax implications.

Look for the link to ALEX after September 17 in the It's Your Choice 2019 section of our website.


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The Great Recession: 10 Years Later

This is the third in a three-part series that looks back at the Great Recession, its effect on the Wisconsin Retirement System and how the State of Wisconsin Investment Board invests first to help protect the pension system from another major downturn and then to earn reasonable returns.

In June 2009, the National Bureau of Economic Research, which determines start and end dates of U.S. recessions based on a range of economic indicators, declared that the Great Recession had ended. The declaration came despite many feeling the U.S. economy was far from fully recovered. Since then, the economy has, in many ways, pulled out of the economic tailspin. The stock market has seen tremendous growth and record highs, housing prices have bounced back, and June's job numbers show the economy has added jobs every month for almost eight years, the longest streak on record.

The Great Recession was the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. It left investors wondering what, if anything, can be done to help protect against another major economic downturn. SWIB moved to implement a disciplined, prudent and innovative investment strategy to manage the WRS trust funds.

A key to that strategy is diversification. Choosing the right asset allocation is an important factor in providing moderate downside protection. Everyone is familiar with the children's fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks tries to find the porridge, chair and bed that is just right. SWIB is looking for the "Goldilocks zone" with its asset allocation.

Asset allocation – the distribution of investments across stocks, bonds, and other assets to maximize returns and minimize risk – is the primary driver of long-term investment returns and is approved by SWIB's Board of Trustees. SWIB recommends a mix of assets based on expected returns, their contribution to risk, and expected liabilities of the WRS. SWIB works closely with ETF and its actuaries to identify projected liabilities and the appropriate return targets and proper asset allocation. SWIB continues to explore future allocation changes based on shifting market conditions.

"We are trying to find the allocation that is just right and will provide moderate downside protection from another dramatic downturn while still earning reasonable returns in multiple market conditions," David Villa, chief investment officer, said. "Our portfolio of investments is highly diversified, carefully monitored, and designed to strike an appropriate balance between risk and returns."

To provide the best value to all WRS participants in the long run across all market environments, both strong and weak, SWIB's asset allocation has become more diverse.

"Twenty-five years ago, it was possible to earn 7.5% with a portfolio made up of just investments in bonds," Villa said. "That is not the case today. The dramatic swings in the financial markets since the Great Recession have resulted in the need to build a diversified portfolio that includes not only bonds but global stocks, private equity, real estate, hedge funds, and other investments."

SWIB remains focused on the future, the challenges that lie ahead and what's best for the WRS.

"The markets over time are going to continue to present significant challenges," Rochelle Klaskin, interim executive director, said. "But we are expecting that and we are building and preparing to meet those challenges over the long-term by putting in systems and technology, and continuing to hire people with the necessary experience, skills and talent to support our investment strategies and generate the returns that are critical to achieve our long-term goals."

The Great Recession: 10 Years Later Part 1
The Great Recession: 10 Years Later Part 2


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Set a Solid Foundation with WDC

Are you on track for achieving your retirement financial goals? The Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program can help you set a solid foundation. Review your WDC Program account now to see whether the amount you're saving now is in tune with your future plans. Changing your contribution amount is easy and increasing it by just a little can really add up over time. Watch this video to learn how even small increases can earn big rewards.

For More Information

Schedule a Touch-Base meeting

Take advantage of the WDC's convenient monthly and quarterly informational sessions held at locations throughout the state. To find and register for a meeting near you, use the WDC's online "Schedule A Meeting" tab or contact your WDC local plan representative.



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Villa Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

David Villa

SWIB Chief Investment Officer David Villa was recently presented with a 2018 Institutional Investor Lifetime Achievement Award. Villa was recognized for having created a model for successful and aligned hedge fund investing at a U.S. public pension system.

"There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in Madison to make it look easy for the CIO," Villa said. "I was delighted to be recognized, but the achievements are really driven by almost 200 professionals who come to work every day on behalf of more than 600,000 public employees and retirees."

Villa's career in the financial industry spans more than 30 years. Before becoming SWIB's chief investment officer in 2006, Villa started his career in the private sector after graduating from Princeton University with a degree in economics. Villa stepped into public service when he was named CIO of Florida's public pension system.

Villa also holds a master's degree in economics and Latin American studies from Stanford University, and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Institutional Investor provides award-winning coverage of the people and events impacting the world's economy and all facets of institutional asset management.


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Your Sick Leave Credits Could Pay for Health Insurance

State employees: How do you plan to pay for health insurance in retirement? If you're eligible to use credits converted from unused sick leave to pay premiums, do you know how this benefit works, how credits are calculated, and the escrow and eligibility rules? Learn everything you need to know about the Accumulated Sick Leave Credit Conversion Program with this three-part series of videos and resources from the Department of Employee Trust Funds. Topics reviewed also include comparable coverage, reinstatement of sick leave, use of credits by spouses/survivors, and much more.


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Before You Check the Box: Know Your Annuity Options

Q: Can I change my annuity option after submitting the retirement application?

A: Yes, but the timeframe for making this change is brief – only 60 days after the date of your first payment or, if applicable, the date your lump sum payment was issued.

The official retirement estimate from the Department of Employee Trust Funds will list all annuity payment options available to you. No matter which option you select, your annuity is always paid for your entire life. Your annuity may also extend beyond your lifetime, depending on which option you select and how long you live.

For More Information



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Tips for Visitors to ETF Offices

Here are some tips for visiting the Department of Employee Trust Funds at the new Hill Farms State Office Building:

  1. The street address for the building is 4822 Madison Yards Way, Madison; the street address for the parking garage is 4846 Sheboygan Ave., Madison.

  2. ETF's reception area is on the eighth floor of the North Tower.

  3. ETF has private counseling rooms for individual meetings, a group counseling conference room, and private rooms for conducting online retirement appointments.

  4. Review ETF's online instructions for visiting ETF, which shows how to check in with security on the first floor and to access a link to our flyer on parking instructions for handicapped visitors. Find both of these on our website or call us toll free at 1-877-533-5020.

  5. Parking is free for scheduled appointments only.

  6. Appointments are not needed to drop off or pick up forms. Parking fee is $2 per hour after the initial 30-minute free period.

  7. Ample visitor parking stalls are located on the lower floor of the structure and marked with green signs.

  8. The facility has free parking for handicapped visitors; however, the number of available stalls is temporarily limited.

ETF's telephone and mailing address have not changed. Send correspondence to ETF, P.O. Box 7931, Madison, WI 53707-7931.



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Preparing for Your Retirement

Are you within 10 years of retirement? If so, we recommend attending the Department of Employee Trust Funds presentation, Preparing for Your Retirement. There are face-to-face events scheduled throughout the state this fall as well as live webinars that you can watch anywhere.

Led by an ETF benefits specialist, these sessions review important topics like:

  • How contributions and investment returns affect your retirement account
  • When you can retire
  • WRS payment options
  • Rules for returning to work after retirement
  • What happens to your account when you die
  • How to navigate health and life insurance options

Questions are welcome during and after the presentation!


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Projections for Effective Rates and Annuity Adjustments

Every year the Department of Employee Trust Funds credits active employee retirement accounts with the Core and Variable (if applicable) rate of interest. How the rates affect your account can be found on your most recent Statement of Benefits, which was distributed in April.

What can employees expect in terms of effective rates next year? Keep in mind that actual rates won't be announced until February, after finalized net returns for 2018 are in and an actuarial analysis conducted. Watch for news on this topic in January.

In the meantime, ETF's projections using four different investment return scenarios are shown in the accompanying table.


2018 Core Fund Finalized Net Investment Return

Projected Core
Effective Rate
(applied in 2019 to employees' account balances)

Projected 2018 Core Annuity Adjustment

Scenario 1


7.3% to 7.7%

1.6% to 2.0%

Scenario 2


6.8% to 7.2%

1.2% to 1.6%

Scenario 3


5.7% to 6.1%

(no increase)

Scenario 4


4.7% to 5.1%

-0.5% to -0.8% (a reduction)

Note: As of July 31, preliminary returns for the Core Trust Fund were 2.2%. If this figure were the finalized net return for the year, it would, when combined with investment gains and losses already in the books (due to smoothing), likely produce an effective rate of 6.1% to 6.5%. However, the year is far from over. Bookmark this WRS Trust Funds Investment Performance page and check it monthly for preliminary, year-to-date investment results or follow ETF on Twitter.

For More Information

  • ETF presents Core effective rate and annuity adjustment projections annually. Review the March 2018 presentation.
  • Review Wisconsin Retirement System returns, rates and since 1986 here.
  • Sign up to receive email notification via ETF E-mail Updates.


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Tell Us Why You're in Public Service

What makes you passionate about serving the public, your community, and the people of Wisconsin? We are collecting stories to share in future newsletters and other communication efforts. Complete this short survey to tell us your story.


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SWIB Retirement Funds Annual Report Available Online

The 2017 Retirement Funds Annual Report and the 2017 Schedule of Investments, a listing of SWIB holdings as of December 31, 2017, are now available on the publications page on SWIB's website. To request a printed copy, contact SWIB at or call 1-800-424-7942.


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2018 Well Wisconsin Incentive Deadline October 19

Act quickly! The 2018 Well Wisconsin incentive deadline is October 19. Complete three steps to improve your well-being and earn $150 in 2018*.

  1. Get a health screening
  2. Take the health assessment
  3. Complete a well-being activity

Visit to get started or to learn more about this voluntary program available to employees/retirees and spouses enrolled in the State of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Public Employer Group Health Insurance Programs. Questions?  Contact the Well Wisconsin Program administrator, StayWell, at 1-800-821-6591 or

*All wellness incentives are considered taxable income. All health information is protected by law.


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Retirement Appointments to Suit Your Needs and Schedule

The Department of Employee Trust Funds offers three types of retirement appointments: Group, Online and Individual. No matter which type you book, an ETF benefits specialist covers the same topics, listens to your questions and ensures you have the information needed to make a well-informed, lifetime decision. These include:

  • How ETF calculated your WRS benefit – Formula or Money Purchase
  • Your WRS payment options and how they would affect you
  • The importance of beneficiaries and how to keep this information updated with ETF
  • How WRS monthly annuities are taxed
  • How ETF calculates your military service
  • Rules for returning to work

Group Appointments – Conducted in convenient locations throughout the state and designed to accommodate 10 people and their guests. The wait time for a group appointment in Madison is approximately one week. Wait times vary for other locations.

Online Appointments – Secure, private, one-on-one appointments conducted entirely online – save the travel hassles!

Individual Appointments – One-on-one appointments conducted only in ETF's Madison office, located in the new Hill Farms State Office Building.

Contact ETF to learn more and schedule an appointment. We are also a quick phone call or email away.


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Williamson Named Blair Testin Award Recipient

Michael Williamson, retired SWIB Executive Director, received the Wisconsin Coalition of Annuitants 2018 Blair Testin Award in recognition of his many years of exceptional service and dedication on behalf of public employees and their retirement benefits. Williamson was honored in May at the WCOA annual conference. Williamson, who retired in January, spent five years as executive director at SWIB and has worked more than 40 years in the public sector. The WCOA is a statewide organization representing more than 20 retired public employee associations. The award is named in honor of Blair Testin, former state director of retirement research.


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ICI Program Administrator Change

The Hartford has acquired Aetna's disability business, which includes administration of the Income Continuation Insurance (ICI) Program for the Department of Employee Trust Funds. Participating state and local government employees should continue to call 1-800-960-0052 for ICI claims. ETF will continue to handle employer and member inquiries about enrollment, coverage and premiums. During the transition, please note that Aetna email addresses, letterhead and online portal access will gradually change to The Hartford.


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SWIB Staff Recognized Among Industry Leaders

SWIB continues to be recognized as an investment industry leader because of the highly qualified staff managing the funds of the Wisconsin Retirement System. Chris Eckerman, a private equity senior managing analyst, was recently named to Trusted Insight's list of Top 30 Private Equity and Venture Capital Investors for 2018.

"I am honored to be selected for the 2018 Top 30 PE/VC Investors by Trusted Insight," Eckerman said. "The list includes tremendously smart and successful individuals and I am humbled to be included. The recognition validates the strength of the SWIB platform and the long-term success of SWIB's private equity team."

Trusted Insight is the world's biggest network of institutional investors, connecting investment decision-makers at endowments, foundations, pensions, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, family offices, corporations and healthcare systems.

This is the second time in as many years that Eckerman has been recognized for his outstanding work. Last year, Trusted Insight named him to the list of Top 30 Public Pension Rising Stars. The group of 30 real estate, real assets and equities specialists were recognized for having "strong career momentum" and for producing "robust 2016 returns for their respective asset class despite challenging market conditions." Eckerman has been part of the team at SWIB since 2013. He holds an MBA and a BBA in finance from the University of Texas at Austin.



Last Revised: September 4, 2018
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