Department of Employee Trust Funds Secretary Bob Conlin announced in September that he will step down from his post in March to join family out East. The ETF Board recently appointed his successor, ETF Deputy Secretary John Voelker.
As my time at ETF draws to a close, I’d like you all to know that the Wisconsin Retirement System remains strong, and it continues to be recognized as one of the best-funded public pension plans in the country. After very strong investment returns in 2019, the funded status of the WRS stood at 103% as of December 31, 2019. While the pandemic of 2020 wreaked havoc on the financial markets in the first quarter, those markets rebounded and finished the year strong, with the State of Wisconsin Investment Board securing a (benchmark-beating) Core Fund return in excess of 15%. Core Fund annuity adjustments this spring should be about in the range of 4.7% to 5.1% and we should see downward pressure on contribution rates paid by active employees and their employers.
In 2020 ETF paid more than $5.6 billion in benefits to retirees across the state. Those retirees, in turn, spend that money in Main Street businesses in every county in Wisconsin. And Main Street will need that support more than ever as we rebound from the physical and financial effects of the pandemic.
When the pandemic hit, ETF employees pivoted almost instantaneously to working remotely in order to keep benefit payments flowing, benefit applications processing, and the news and information you need streaming. This was no accident. ETF’s business disaster training and preparations in the years leading up to 2020 prepared us well for our current virtual environment. Our investments in security and technology allowed our everyday work to continue efficiently, safely, and securely.
We’ve continued to make improvements during the pandemic and have increased our service offerings to include virtual retirement appointments that can be scheduled online, and virtual WRS benefit fairs and trainings for employees and employers statewide.
With full support of the ETF Board, we continue to attract and retain a talented, agile, and diverse workforce who remain highly committed to the well-being of the 648,000-plus members and their families who participate in the WRS. We also remain committed to investing in updated and secure technology systems to serve you better. And we continue to improve in all ways as a matter of course.
As I wind down my service, I know that ETF and the WRS are well positioned for a successful future. To be sure, there is more work to do and there will always be challenges to overcome, but the dedicated professionals at ETF and SWIB, with your continued support, are ready, able, and willing to address those challenges head on. Thank you for your support over the years. The WRS is truly strong for Wisconsin!