Where are the Economies of Scale?

Since its founding in August 2011, KCS has tried to highlight some of the issues facing the US retirement industry in the hopes that perhaps best practices could be identified and DB plans, as a result, SAVED.  I recently came across the “Status Report on Local Government Pension Plans” for Pennsylvania.  The report was released in December 2012, and it used information through calendar year 2011.

The following paragraph jumped out at me:

“Pennsylvania’s local government pension plans comprise more than 25 percent of the public employee
pension plans in the United States. There are now more than 3,200 local government pension plans in
Pennsylvania, and the number is continuing to grow. Seventy percent of the local government pension plans
are self-insured, defined benefit plans, and 30 percent are money purchase or other type plans. The pension
plans range in size from one to more than 18,000 active members, but more than 98 percent of the pension
plans can be characterized as small (less than 100 members). While 68 percent of the local government
pension plans have ten or fewer members, 32 percent have three or fewer active members.”

I find it hard to believe that anyone thinks that having more than 3,200 local government plans in PA is a good idea, especially when one considers that 98% of the plans have fewer than 100 employees. The local governments and their participants would be much better off pooling their resources into larger, more professionally managed DB plans that afford everyone the benefit or economies of scale. 

I suspect that there exist other states in the Union with a similar governance structure, but if we are to preserve the defined benefit plan as the retirement vehicle of choice, we need to reduce the cost of managing these plans.  Allowing thousands of defined benefit plans with fewer than 100 participants to exist is not sound governance.

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