A long-term investment strategy and fiscal stewardship kept the Board of Pensions financially strong and stable during 2020. In this, a uniquely challenging year that unsettled the Church and financial markets, the Board of Directors was able to grant an experience apportionment for the Defined Benefit Pension Plan for the ninth consecutive year. The apportionment is an increase in monthly pension payments or, for those not yet drawing the benefit, an increase in pension credits.
Further, in 2020, the Board of Pensions was able to provide nearly $7 million in dues relief and $1 million in dues deferrals to churches and employers struggling amid the COVID-19 crisis. The agency held 2021 dues for Pastor’s Participation at 37 percent for the fourth consecutive year. And access to assistance and education programs has been expanded, including through the addition of a second benefits package for ministers: Minister’s Choice.
In a report to Directors, Michael F. Fallon Jr., Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, and Treasurer, conveyed the strength of agency finances and the funding of its plans and programs. Assets available for benefits and programs totaled $12.3 billion as of the end of 2020, with each plan reserve at or above the established target levels.
For more news from the Directors’ spring 2021 meeting, read on.
Donald A. Walker III, Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer, reviewed the Board of Pensions Balanced Investment Portfolio asset allocation, liquidity profile, and 2020 performance of 13.6 percent. Returns for all periods over the last 20 years exceeded the Board’s required long-term return of 6 percent.
The Board of Pensions Balanced Investment Portfolio is the investment fund for the Defined Benefit Pension Plan, Financial Protection Programs, Endowment Fund, and Assistance Program assets. On December 31, 2020, the Balanced Investment Portfolio had a market value of $11.1 billion. (See the 2020 Investment Review.)
Suzanne P. Welsh, Chair of the Investment Committee, provided an overview of the committee’s work on behalf of Benefits Plan members and their beneficiaries. The committee affirmed the Board-approved, long-term strategic asset allocation; reaffirmed its investment policy allocation targets; and approved illiquid private partnership investments in private equity and real estate.
The committee reviewed the liquid growth components of the portfolio, comprising U.S. equity, international equity, and marketable diversifying strategies, and approved an emerging markets equity strategy. The committee affirmed the December 31, 2020, asset allocation of 35.3 percent in U.S. stocks, 23.2 percent in global/international stocks, 27.5 percent in fixed income, and 14 percent in other assets. The committee affirmed long-term strategic asset allocation ranges for the portfolio.
The committee reviewed the asset allocation and investment performance of the investment options in the 403(b)(9) Retirement Savings Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the 401(k) New Covenant Retirement Savings Plan.
Recognizing the continuing long-term performance of the Board of Pensions Balanced Investment Portfolio, Directors granted a 2 percent experience apportionment for the Defined Benefit Pension Plan. It will take effect July 1, 2021. The apportionment, the ninth in as many years, yields a nine-year cumulative increase of 28.9 percent.
In voting to grant the apportionment, Directors complied with the Board of Pensions experience apportionment policy guidelines, which tie apportionments to the overall funded status of the plan. At year-end 2020, the funded status was 124 percent. The guidelines establish three goals:
Directors approved a 1.5 percent increase in the disability benefit received through the Death and Disability Plan. The assets and liabilities of this plan are evaluated independently of the other plans the Board of Pensions administers. A review of investment and actuarial experience, reserves, and inflation informed the Directors’ decision.
The intention of such increases is to prevent inflationary erosion of disability benefits. Plan members who were receiving this benefit as of December 31, 2020, will receive the 1.5 percent increase in their benefit, effective July 1, 2021.
Philip D. Amoa, Chair of the Board of Directors Development and Governance Committee, outlined the path forward for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force of the Board of Directors. Mr. Amoa is Chair of the task force, which is charged with assessing the agency’s impact in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. The task force, formed at the Directors’ fall 2020 meeting, is developing broad recommendations for Directors to consider at their meeting in June, Mr. Amoa said. From there, it will develop a strategy, to be presented to the Board of Directors at its meeting in October. The agency, through the Board of Directors’ task force and the staff-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership Council, is committed to dismantling structural racism and to eliminating the effects of structural racism that plague our workplace and policies.
The Healthcare Committee of the Board of Directors approved an extension of the Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) administrative services contract through 2024. The Church Benefits Association buying coalition negotiated the extension. As one of the largest coalition participants, the Board of Pensions was prominent in forging the extension, which lowered fees and freezes them for the life of the contract. The Board of Pensions partners with Highmark BCBS for network and claims administration. Enrollees in the Medical Plan have access to the BCBS network of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers.
The Board of Directors elected, from among current Directors, the following individuals to serve as Board officers for one-year terms, beginning with the conclusion of the 2021 Spring Board Meeting (March 13, 2021) and concluding with adjournment of the 225th General Assembly (2022):
Fredric J. Bold Jr., Chairperson
Larry I. Palmer, First Vice Chair
Reverend Margaret O. Fox, Second Vice Chair
The next meeting of the Board of Directors will be in Philadelphia June 24-26, 2021. For further information, email the Corporate Secretary or call 215-587-7600.