The Retirement Program Crisis

Many grieve the situation with our retirement program. Down the road we may address the anxiety, fear, disgust, hope, and opportunity presented by the current predicament. The presentation at the General Board disappointed not because federal authorities limited the information that could be shared about what happened, but because of the attitudes, commitments, and priorities expressed for the way forward. We are hopeful that new information shared over the next few weeks will prove leadership commitment to do the right thing, no matter how difficult. Moreover, we pray for an entirely new structure with prompt resolve of this matter (at least with a fair plan) so the church can move on. Following are my offering of some general Goals and a Proposal. Let us not only discuss and refine strategies, but we must also help decision makers know our passion and thinking so we do not waste time pursuing unacceptable resolutions. No plan will be perfect. Let us lift wisdom, creativity and some compromise to help the best design become visible.

GOALS

  1. Make program participants whole based on the presumed value as of the 30 June 2021 statements.
  2. Create an environment that will encourage resolution without litigation. Let us show we can do right without going to court.
  3. Reform/Restructure the Retirement System

PROPOSAL for RESTORATION (explanations and arguments in footnotes)

  • Dissolution of current plan in favor of a denominationally negotiated plan where individual participants manage their investments with the assistance of the designated company.[1] The people want more control of THEIR investment.
  • Current program funds should be liquidated with proportional shares deposited to the accounts of individuals in the new program.[2]
  • A Restoration Plan be constructed to restore to individual accounts funds lost. Time preferred consideration according to age of participants must be afforded to assure wholeness by the time of scheduled retirement.  The oldest will be restored fully before the youngest to allow for pending retirement payouts and payouts to those whose retirement is imminent. All will be restored within 10 years.[3]
  • Restoration will be at a rate of 90% – 70% of stated value as of 30 June 2021.[4] In other words, participants will accept a loss of 10%-30% of 30 June 2021 value.[5]
  • Restoration will include up to $40m in asset liquidation[6] and immediate deposit of funds by the denomination.[7] The remainder of up to $40m will be deposited with annual payments of $3m – $4m by the denomination.[8]

There are many with over $100,000 of pending loss who are within a decade of retirement. Few can afford such loss. It is not reasonable, or acceptable, that new leadership can invest existing funds to make this right. As cooperative and peace loving as we can be, the masses must register an unwillingness to just “suck it up” and return to the old truck with a new driver and route. The people must affirm that they will not morally fail those who trusted an underperforming system for decades and now see the evaporation of poor returns.


[1] Central administration of “individual” accounts is outmoded.  Current workers are accustomed to having access and investment control over such funds.  Moreover, there is NO trust in a program where investment decisions are made for all participants.  It is ill advised for all participants to be invested without regard to their individual particulars.

[2] All participants are entitled to a proportional share of the liquid funds available in the current program.  Each should be given their share based on the proportional value of their share of the combined value as reported in June 2022.

[3] There must be a negotiated establishment as to what constitutes wholeness for participants.  Once this amount is determined, each participant should see a steady addition to their “new” account until the amount required for wholeness has been deposited.  Current retirees awaiting payment should be given priority along with those who will age out of the system within the next five years.  This will require the immediate infusion of “new” funds designated specifically for Restoration. All current participants must be made whole by 2032.

[4] Any loss more than 30% will be an open invitation to individual or class action litigation. While sidewalk pundits affirm that legal fees will be added to any judgement, there is no guarantee.  Litigation may result in a loss of more than 30%, but it will not result in a loss equal to or greater than the 70% loss currently projected.  Any Restoration must assure participants that they will not lose more than 30% of the funds they were told was in their account. The relevant question for a potential litigant is not “can we win,” but “what can I collect if we win.” The assets are not what many presume. We can do better with a fair blueprint than a court with an uncollectable judgement. Others should not be enriched by our disaster. Let’s start on high ground.

[5] The easiest loss would be 0%.  AME’s are faithful and would rather settle than litigate.  10% as a “tithe” contribution/loss on their part is palatable.  The amount of loss that will be endured without litigation is strained but certainly caps at 30%.  While it may be difficult for successful litigants to collect more than 50% of the $91m, anything will be viewed as better than nothing.  The folk must see an incentive to compromise rather than litigate.

[6] I do not see a fair settlement without the liquidation of some assets (cash and real). If we allow this matter to be litigated, not only could an adverse decision cause the loss of all, it may also bind the denomination with obligations that will crush us. We will not waste time, money and reputation on a bitter legal battle(s) if we just stand up and start walking the difficult road toward justice. Recovered funds will reduce the liability to church funds and help to preserve assets.

[7] The Retirement Services Commission and the General Board should demand that the Retirement Services Office move into the new building in Nashville.  The liquidation of the Memphis property would be a wise strategic move and signal to the church a serious commitment to doing that which is necessary.

[8] The COVID Budget expense approach be used to produce $3-4m per annum. This will yield $30-40m over 10 years to be used in the Restoration of individual accounts following the initial deposits made from asset liquidation.

3 thoughts on “The Retirement Program Crisis

  1. Bishop Leath- You make a lot of sense and I applaud your strategies. Do you think our leadership will respond to your recommendations? Have any of your colleagues called or contacted you and asked if your recommendations / strategies can be discussed / explored? If not, their silence speaks volumes!

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  2. Sir: Though the proposal presented here would feel great in an environment of full transparency, accepted responsibility and accountability, and declared repentance for this sin of significantly breaking our fiduciary and life trust that we gave to the church; it feels right now a bit like asking the victims to bring the spirit of “negotiation” to the table to make this work for those who carried out this injustice at this point! We have not been told enough about “who, how, why, or what prevents this from happening again” to ask us in this injured and taken advantage of state to just essentially “move on.” Some of us have given our lives to this church, and this injury requires more than we’ve gotten from the church concerning it so far. Beyond this, the thought that we should make a “tithe” to the church of what was already given to the church using tithes? Another tithe on what was a tithe? Really? No pastor or PE could mismanage or misrepresent 70% of their church’s (district’s) funds and be allowed to tell the people to allow for the restoration of all but 10-30% of it, and keep their job! Why should we? Who’s keeping the 10-30% we’re not getting? There is just still too much unanswered and unknown. Maybe with some greater clarity on the unanswered questions this could be discussed/Considered then. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for your comment! Let me share a few points.
      1. As noted at the General Board, there is an active government investigation going on. The absence of discussion/information on who, what, when, has been discouraged by authorities outside of the church. This is not yet a cover up.
      2. Many of us would like to see retirees get some funds and other participants be granted fair access to funds. Waiting until there is “more information” on the who, what, when translates into delay for a yet undetermined time. My position is not a simple “move on.” It is “let’s begin to pick up the pieces” while we wait for “more information” and dealing with responsible parties.
      3. “Waiting for details,” without reforming the system, will play into the hands of forces which resist real change. We can do both, if the concerned will unite without distraction.
      3. A safeguard to prevent a repeat of the problem is the creation of a new program where participants exercise greater control over investment decisions.
      4. The assets and the moral/political will of the church are not unlimited. If we agree on something which is feasible, though difficult, there is a realized benefit. Winning something which is impossible will result in less gain for all except the professionals who work the system. Negotiation is a part of daily life. The proposal calls for the painful raising of cash so people can get their money. It reflects low and high limits from my view.
      5. I am all for holding persons accountable in this crisis. My appeal is not to forget and cut loose the guilty. We also need to fix the system and get folks as much of the money they deserve as quickly as possible. We can multi-task. I appreciate this discussion, and I am open to your ideas on how to accomplish these goals.

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