For lack of a better phrase, we'll call them the TSP No-Shows.
Some members of the Thrift Savings Plan rarely or never check to see how much money is in their retirement accounts. Others have seemingly vanished because their mail is returned to the TSP as undeliverable.
To some extent, the problem of dropouts in a large organization should not be surprising. The TSP, the 401(k)-type program for government workers, has more than 3.7 million members around the world. With more than $210 billion in assets, it is one of the nation's largest retirement programs.
But the no-shows have emerged as a concern at the TSP, in part because of what the staff at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which oversees the TSP, learned from a recent survey.
The survey found that about 16 percent of TSP members rarely or never review their retirement accounts. What was of more concern was the response from those who have most at stake in the TSP -- employees covered by the newer Federal Employees Retirement System -- because TSP savings will be a larger share of their retirement income. Of that group, 18 percent said they almost never or never look at their accounts.
The TSP also stumbled onto another problem while conducting the survey. Almost 10 percent of the questionnaires were returned to the TSP as undeliverable, suggesting that the retirement program has a similar percentage of incorrect addresses in its records.
To reach out to the no-shows, the TSP staff yesterday proposed sending an annual account statement to all 3.7 million plan participants. The cost of producing, printing and mailing the yearly statements would be $2.2 million to $2.6 million, based on preliminary estimates, said Gregory T.Long, TSP's director of product development.
The TSP provides quarterly account statements to participants through the plan's Web site. Paper statements are sent to participants who ask for them, and about 367,000 signed up to get statements in the mail.
The TSP shifted quarterly statements to the Web in 2003, and the effort has been successful, by and large. About 83 percent of respondents in the TSP survey said they were satisfied with their ability to get account information on the Internet. The elimination of quarterly paper statements saved the TSP more than $7 million last year.
Still, Long said yesterday, the TSP needs to take another look at the paperless policy in light of concerns about delivery of benefits, account security, participant education and notification requirements under the recently enacted Pension Protection Act.
A memo provided to the board by Long and Veronica Mance, a TSP benefits analyst, said participants who do not use the TSP Web site or receive paper statements may be unaware of their account balances, "resulting in poor retirement planning."
Those "disengaged participants" also may leave unpaid benefits in the plan or allow fraudulent activity on their accounts to go undetected, the memo said.
The board, chaired by Andrew M. Saul, gave Long a green light to design a single-page, doubled-sided document that would summarize account activity annually. Long said he hopes to have a firm cost estimate and proposal ready for board approval by spring.
TSP's International ChaseNot all TSP participants are disengaged. Last month, the TSP handled trades worth more than $1 billion in its international stock index fund, as participants tried to maximize their returns. The participants also ran up $523,123 in trading costs, far more than the costs incurred by the large and small-cap U.S. stock funds, Tracey A. Ray, the TSP chief investment officer, reported to the board.
The trading costs for the I Fund are high because the Australia and Asian stock markets close before the fund manager, Barclays Global Investors, receives the TSP buy-and-sell orders for the day. The trades are executed the following morning and in times of greater volatility, as was the case last month, the time lag can be costly.
Take That, Jack!Jack Bauer, the government's superagent on Fox's "24," leads a tortured life. But his TV dad, the evil Phillip Bauer, really knows how to hurt his son. In Monday's installment, the dad says to Jack:
"You know, none of this would have happened if you hadn't turned your back on me. So that you could become -- what? -- a civil servant."