1 VIA Ms. Christine J. Penkala Manager, Human Resources Department Contra Costa County 651 Pine St. 5th Floor Martinez, CA Re: Overview of Developments and Additional Information Received in the RFP Process Dear Christine: The purpose of this letter is to provide a brief overview of developments in the request for proposal ( RFP ) process and additional information received from ICMA-RC and Mass Mutual regarding the County s 457(b) deferred compensation plan ( Plan ). Our Summary Report dated March 27, 2013, contains useful and pertinent information, and we suggest that the contents of that report be considered along with this letter. We are also submitting an additional report today that provides a high-level overview of alternative general account and stable value products. We will provide a very brief summary of that report in this letter, as well. Fees The original RFP requested fee quotes from vendors under multiple scenarios. One scenario involved the use of a vendor s proprietary investment products while another scenario involved a totally open architecture framework in which the County would have complete flexibility to select any investment product. This is important because some organizations are good at administering plans, but not at managing assets. In addition, very few investment management firms have a top tier or best-in class investment product in every asset class or category. Question #89 of the original RFP requested fee quotes under an open-architecture framework. Mass Mutual s response of 0.25% in administration fees was not competitive relative to the other proposals received, and in Buck s experience it is not competitive for similarly sized plans. In addition, Mass Mutual s 0.25% fee quote was connected to a general account rate guarantee schedule, which runs contrary to the open architecture premise of the question. In Buck s view, Mass Mutual s response was either not responsive to the question, or the fee quote was not competitive with other offers that were received (or both). Mass Mutual subsequently explained that the 0.25% administration fees that would be charged to investors in the non-general account assets would actually serve to produce a higher rate guarantee in the general account. We have two major comments here. First, that proposed fee structure is not consistent with the nature of Question #89 of the RFP. Question #89 was requesting Mass Mutual s fee quote under a scenario where no Mass Mutual products would be offered within the Plan. The response Mass Mutual gave would have been a more appropriate response to Question #91, and that would have been welcome along with a more responsive answer to Question #89. We believe the County could reasonably deem Mass Mutual s RFP submission as non th Street, Suite 1200 Denver, CO (fax)
2 Page 2 responsive (and if Mass Mutual were to argue that the 0.25% fee quote was in fact an openarchitecture scenario offer, then it was clearly uncompetitive). In addition, we are very uncomfortable with mechanisms that charge higher fees to one group of participants (non-general account investors) in order to provide a benefit to a different group of participants (general account investors). We believe that administration fees should be priced and evaluated separately from general account guaranteed rates of return. While governments may enact policies that have similar effects via taxation and social programs, we believe that this is fundamentally inappropriate within the context of a tax-qualified deferred compensation or defined contribution plan. Mass Mutual subsequently made a revised fee offer of 0.14% for administration services at their finalist interview, and this was accompanied by a different general account rate guarantee schedule, but the 0.14% fee quote did not require that the general account be included within the Plan. We view this clarification as an appropriate response to question #89. Subsequent to the finalist interview and the revised 0.14% fee quote, Mass Mutual complained to Buck Consultants that it did not receive the opportunity to provide fee quotes on a like-tolike basis as other vendors. This is was not a valid complaint, as Mass Mutual had the opportunity to provide fee quotes under multiple scenarios in response to the original RFP, and the finalist interview provided a second opportunity to clarify pricing. Mass Mutual also attended a public Board of Supervisors meeting during the first half of 2013 where the fee quotes of other RFP respondents were made public. Mass Mutual subsequently submitted additional revised pricing scenarios. The table below depicts Mass Mutual and ICMA-RC fee offers: Mass Mutual Administration Fee (Open-Architecture) Original Proposal (January 2013) Finalist Interview (March 2013) Committee Meeting (September 2013) 0.25% 0.14% 0.11% Mass Mutual Administration Fee (with Proprietary General Account) 0.25% 0.14% %, (depending on general account minimum rate guarantee) 0.06% % (depending on general account minimum rate guarantee) ICMA-RC Administration Fee (Open-Architecture) ICMA-RC Administration Fee (with Proprietary Stable Value) 0.122% 0.115% 0.115% 0.625% 0.625% 0.625%
3 Page 3 Mass Mutual s most recent fee offers are competitive with other vendors including ICMA-RC. However, the most competitive offer from Mass Mutual was not received until after other vendor s fee quotes were made public at a Board of Supervisors meeting. Education and Participant Engagement The finalist interview agenda asked vendors to spend time discussing participant communication materials, education, and the participant website. Our qualitative assessment ranked ICMA-RC higher than Mass Mutual in terms of the quality of participant communication and education materials. In addition, active participants in the County s plan appear to be deferring, on average, approximately $3,500 per year into the plan, based on information contained in plan administration reports produced by Mass Mutual. We ve seen many plans administered by other vendors, including ICMA-RC, achieve average deferral rates which are substantially higher, and in many cases more than double the rate we see in the County s plan. Some of these differences may result from demographic or other differences between the County s employees and those in other jurisdictions. However, we would like to note that the County has a relatively mature work force with a significant number of employees over age 50, and participants in that age group should be making deferrals into the plan as they prepare for retirement. Regardless of which vendor is selected as the administrator of the Plan, Buck recommends the County leverage its provider to encourage greater levels of deferrals and higher participation rates. As we have mentioned to the County previously, we are concerned with the high percentage of assets invested in the general account option, the large number of participants that invest 100% of their balances in the general account, and reports of Mass Mutual s on-site representatives encouraging participants -- regardless of age or risk tolerance -- to invest in the general account. Buck and the Committee raised these issues with Mass Mutual at the Deferred Compensation Committee Meeting which occurred in early September. Mass Mutual was receptive to that feedback and made a verbal commitment to address those concerns, and this was encouraging. As of August 31, 2013, there were 1,810 participants solely invested in the general account. That represents over one-quarter of all participants in the plan (6,653 as of July 31, 2013). We also recommend, regardless of who is selected as plan administrator, that the County track the number of participants invested solely in the general account (or stable value) option in total, and by age group, going forward. General Account vs. Stable Value Products Buck Consultants has recommended that the County move away from using a general account product due to the concentration of risk in a single insurer. While State-level regulators oversee insurers to promote stability, and several insurers appear to have strong financial conditions as measured by credit ratings, we believe the consequences of bankruptcy or insolvency could be devastating to the Plan. During periods of financial crisis, Federal regulators have sometimes intervened to promote stability, which was the case during 2008 and 2009 when many financial institutions, including The Hartford, received TARP money. However, Buck does not believe it is prudent to expect government intervention during any future crisis. Our other reports dated March 28, 2013, and, contain more information on this topic.
4 Page 4 We have submitted a separate report titled Stable Value and General Account Comparison which is dated. We briefly summarize that report here. While we continue to not recommend a general account product, the Mass Mutual general account offer appears to be the least bad due to a high guaranteed rate of return and the relatively strong financial condition of Mass Mutual as an organization. In terms of stable value funds, we believe the ICMA-RC PLUS stable value fund is a very attractive choice for several reasons: 1) attractive returns relative to money market funds and many peer stable value products, 2) assets segregated from the asset manager and insurance wrap providers, and 3) The 12-month put contract feature, which provides the County with a way to terminate the investment and receive a book value payment after one year. (The fund would be fully liquid to participant-initiated withdrawals and transfers during the 12-month period.) Most stable value investment products that contain a 12-month put feature are closed to new plans due to limited capacity in the insurance wrap market and a specific aversion to the 12-month put feature by insurers. We also believe the PIMCO managed separate account solution would be very attractive to the plan given PIMCO s excellent track record at managing fixed-income portfolios and their deep investment talent. However, with a separate account there would not be a 12-month put contract feature and there would be the added administrative burden for the County to deal with third-party wrap contract issuers. The RFP process has established that the County will have full open-architecture flexibility to select non-proprietary investment products within the Plan. Please note that it is not necessary to make a decision on the future of the Plan s current general account investment option at the same time a decision is made on recordkeeping and plan administration services. Persistency Credit We have recommended that the County discontinue the practice of the annual persistency credit. Briefly, the credit is funded by fees collected from participant accounts (either in the form of implicit revenue sharing attached to investment options, or from a reduced general account rate) and then rebated back to participants in the form of a fixed-dollar credit. Please see our report dated March 28, 2013, for more information. Benefits of RFP Process We believe that this RFP process will result in a number of benefits for the County and Plan including: Lower administration fees More transparency with respect to the general account (if retained) More transparency with respect to revenue sharing received from Plan investments o In addition, revenue sharing reimbursements would automatically increase if the Plan s economics improve Complete flexibility to select non-proprietary investment options and institutionally-priced mutual fund share classes (open-architecture) Increased vendor commitments to track and drive plan success metrics such as participation rates and average employee deferrals
5 Page 5 Performance guarantees where the vendor would place fees at risk if specific and measurable actions are not met Ability to choose new relationship manager or on-site vendor representative if the assigned professional is not satisfactory to the County The Hartford vs. Mass Mutual We have been asked by the County to comment on the differences between The Hartford, the firm that Contra Costa County originally hired to administer the 457(b) Plan, and Mass Mutual who acquired The Hartford s retirement plan business. In terms of financial stability, the transition to Mass Mutual is clearly an improvement; Mass Mutual has an AA+ credit rating from S&P. We have also seen evidence that Mass Mutual s plan sponsor and participant websites are more robust. Relative to The Hartford, we expect Mass Mutual to have enhanced capabilities of tracking plan success metrics and sending targeting communications to participants. However, prior to the acquisition of The Hartford, Mass Mutual was not administering a significant number of governmental 457(b) plans, and so Mass Mutual s ability to communicate with and engage government employees is has not been demonstrated. We are aware of RFP situations in other public jurisdictions in which legacy clients of The Hartford have considered vendor changes, and some of those have included political lobbying, involvement by outside legal counsel, and theatrics at public meetings. We believe Mass Mutual is currently learning the strengths and weaknesses of its newly acquired government retirement plan business. In five years time, we fully expect Mass Mutual to bring stronger capabilities to the market in this arena, but in terms of exactly what that will look like, we honestly do not know. Summary and Recommendations After reviewing RFP responses, reviewing answers to follow-up questions submitted at finalist interviews, participating in finalist interviews, conducting reference checks, reviewing answers to additional follow-up questions, and conducting additional vendor meetings, Buck believes with a high level of confidence that ICMA-RC is the best provider of the recordkeeping and administration services sought by the County. Our second- and third-place ranked vendors would not include Mass Mutual, but rather, they would be other vendors that had been ranked lower than ICMA-RC by Buck during this process. We would like to highlight that Buck Consultants is independent and does not derive any benefit from the County s decision to select one provider over another. We would also like to note that Staff, the Committee, and the County s Board of Supervisors are under no obligation to agree with or accept Buck s recommendations. Regardless of what the County chooses, we firmly believe that this RFP process will deliver tangible benefits to the County and the County s employees. Sincerely, Jonathan P. Slinger, CFA Senior Consultant Buck Global Investment Advisors