Communications and Retirement Strategies Director
Myths & Facts
The retirement field can be complicated, and we want to be sure we share accurate information. Here are some common myths and facts:
MYTH: MERS only represents Lansing.
FACT: MERS is a statewide company that manages investments and delivers retirement and employee benefit plans for over 800 municipal members from the western Upper Peninsula to Wayne County. Our six regional teams are dedicated to providing responsive, local service to all of our members.
MYTH: MERS is a part of state government.
FACT: MERS is not a state-run retirement system or a part of state government. We are an independent professional retirement services company operating on a not-for-profit basis governed by an elected board.
MYTH: MERS dictates the terms of its plans to members.
FACT: MERS offers a full range of customizable plans and services. We work in partnership with our members to develop the plan that best meets their unique needs. We listen to our members and constantly add new, updated products and tools.
MYTH: Municipalities are forced to use MERS.
FACT: Our members choose to be a part of MERS because we offer a superior value that meets their needs. Much like a private company, MERS has to compete for business in the market.
MYTH: When MERS takes on a struggling municipality, it hurts other members.
FACT: Each member’s retirement plan is maintained in a separate trust, which gives our members the benefits of pooling resources for investments while maintaining the integrity and individuality of each plan. Additionally, MERS has a successful track record of improving the financial health of our members’ retirement plans, including turning around and rehabilitating plans that are struggling financially when they enter MERS.
MYTH: MERS is one huge plan with a low average funded level compared to other plans.
FACT: MERS is a collection of individual plans, each held in a separate trust with its own funded level.
MYTH: MERS is an outsource management model.
FACT: The Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) of Michigan is an independent, professional retirement services company that was created to administer the retirement plans for Michigan municipalities on a not-for-profit basis.
Our elected board is responsible for the administration of the system with fiduciary responsibility for the investment of assets and oversight. Pooling municipal assets for investment purposes provides benefits to members, including lower costs.
MYTH: Counties that manage their own pension systems do no worse than MERS, and in some cases do a better job of keeping their pension promises funded at sustainable levels.
FACT: Since each municipality determines benefits and sets assumptions at the local level, it’s misleading to compare average funding levels. Moreover, MERS has a successful track record of improving the financial health of our member’s plans, including turning around and rehabilitating plans that are struggling financially when they enter MERS. This is why over 80% of Michigan municipalities have chosen to partner with MERS.
MYTH: Underfunding in the MERS system is caused by overly generous assumptions about future investment returns and mortality rates.
FACT: Underfunding occurs for many reasons including, historical benefit enhancements and the once in 100 year market downturn of 2008. In addition, as a voluntary system, many plans joined MERS underfunded.
To ensure assumptions are sound, we perform an Experience Study every five years. This best practice helps us ensure that each municipality’s plan assets are adequate to provide for the benefits that are expected to be paid and that each plan is making reasonable progress to achieve full funding.
MYTH: MERS is reducing the assumed investment return again because the 7.75% investment return assumption set following the last Experience Study was too high.
FACT: Retirement plans operate over long-term time horizons, and over the long-term, MERS has met the 7.75% assumption that was set during the last Experience Study. In today’s ever-changing world, however, there is a need to review economic assumptions more frequently so that plans can make incremental changes. As a result, MERS pulled up the review of our forward-looking economic assumptions to help ensure MERS plans are continuing to adequately fund benefits. Because expected investment returns are likely to be materially lower than the past due to historically low interest rates and high equity market valuations, MERS will be reducing our investment assumption from 7.75% to 7.35%.
MYTH: MERS still uses mortality estimates from 1994.
FACT: We review all our assumptions, including mortality every five years. MERS has increased life expectancy assumptions based on the actual experience of our plans and in keeping with best practices in our industry.
MYTH: There is less accountability, and responsibility is more dispersed and less direct than with MERS, compared to a county that manages its own pension system.
FACT: MERS is ahead of the curve in following industry standards for transparency, accountability and fiduciary responsibility. We were created to administer the retirement plans for Michigan municipalities on a not-for- profit basis and are governed by an elected board that doesn’t receive compensation. As the plan fiduciary, we put our members first and that’s why we are the choice for over 800 municipalities across Michigan.
Vanden Bosch Named New CEO (pdf)
Experience Study Overview (pdf)
Understanding the Difference Between Accounting and Actuarial Numbers (pdf)
MERS Participating Municipalities (pdf)
Financial Wellness Report (pdf)
Understanding Defined Benefit Pension (video)
Learn more about MERS
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