- National Institute on Retirement Security
National Institute on Retirement Security Founder(s) The Council of Institutional Investors, The National Association of State Retirement Administrators, The National Council on Teacher Retirement Type Research and education Founded 2007 Location Washington, D.C. Motto Reliable research. Sensible solutions. Website www.nirsonline.org
National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) is a nonpartisan non-profit research institute based in Washington, D.C.
The institute's website describes its goals as seeking to "contribute to informed policy making in the area of retirement security by fostering a deep understanding of the value of traditional pension systems to employees, employers and the economy as a whole." NIRS accomplishes its agenda through a variety of research and education initiatives, such as research reports, toolkits, issue briefs and informative programming.
NIRS is guided by the vision that all Americans should have access to retirement security and seeks to encourage the development of public policies that enhance retirement nationwide. According to the organization’s "2009 Impact Report", this vision is one of a retirement system that can meet the needs of employers, employees, and the public interest alike.
NIRS has gained recognition for its research on breaking retirement issues. “By developing and disseminating high-quality and reliable research, our goal is to identify sensible solutions that build broad-based retirement security,” the NIRS website says. As of 2010, NIRS has released seven reports and four issue briefs. Research focuses on retirement security, with an emphasis on the role and value of the defined benefit pension plan (DB) and on innovative policy and strategies in the retirement arena.
History and mission
NIRS is a leading national research organization focused on retirement security. The organization conducts research, education and outreach programs that are national in scope.
NIRS’ mission is “to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers and the economy as a whole.”
NIRS was established in early 2007 by three leading organizations in the retirement arena:
- Council of Institutional Investors (CII)
- National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA)
- National Council on Teacher Retirement (NCTR)
The founding members of NIRS represent pension funds with combined assets of $7 trillion.
According to founding Board member, Meredith Williams, executive director of the $37.9 billion Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association, the organizations established NIRS as "a vehicle for obtaining independent research with respect to the various types of plan designs out there and the different arenas (in which) pension plans come to play." 
Since NIRS’ founding, the organization has focused on its research and education endeavors. In addition to producing unbiased, non-partisan analysis, the organization has also focused on outreach, disseminating research findings to the public, policy makers, and the media. For example, in 2009, NIRS “testified before both national and state level policy makers, interviewed with a wide range national and local media outlets, and traveled the country extensively to inform stakeholders about their work”.
In August 2008, NIRSs released its first report, "A Better Bang for the Buck: The Economic Efficiencies of Defined Benefit Pension Plans," which presents an original analysis on the costs of defined benefit (traditional pension) plans as compared to 401(k)-type individual defined contribution plans. The model developed shows that the Defined Benefit (DB) plan provides the same retirement income at nearly half the cost - 46 % less - than the individual Defined Contribution (DC) account.
In 2009, NIRS hosted its inaugural policy conference, "Raising the Bar:Policy Solutions for Improving Retirement Security".
As of 2010, NIRS had published the following reports and research briefs:
- Raising the Bar: Policy Solutions for Improving Retirement Security
- Out of Balance: Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation Over 20 Years
- The Pension Factor: Assessing the Role of Defined Benefit Plans in Reducing Elder Hardships
- Pensionomics: Measuring the Economic Impact of State and Local Pension Plans
- Pensions and Retirement Security: A Roadmap for Policy Makers
- In it for the Long Haul: The Investment Behavior of Public Pensions
- The New Intersection on the Road to Retirement
- A Better Bang for the Buck: The Economic Efficiencies of DB Plans
- Shattering the Retirement Glass Ceiling: Women Need a Three-Legged Stool
- Look Before You Leap: The Unintended Consequences of Pension Freezes
- Patience is a Virtue: Asset Allocation Patters of DB & DC Plans
- Retirement Readiness: What Difference Does A Pension Make?
The Executive Director of NIRS is Beth Almeida. Prior to this position, she served as assistant director for strategic resources and as senior economist at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, where she was pivotal in transitioning some 40,000 airline workers into the IAM's multi-employer pension plan.
The institute began with a seven-member board with two members each from the CII, NASRA and NCTR, including the executive directors of each of the three organizations: Anne Yerger; Glenda Chambers; and James Mosman. Also on the Board in 2010 are:
- Laurie Fiori Hacking, Executive Director of the Minnesota Teachers Retirement Association
- Jack Ehnes, CEO of the $147 billion California State Teachers' Retirement System
- Gary Harbin, President of NCTR and Executive Secretary of the 13 billion Kentucky Teacher's Retirement System.
A seventh director, Michael Williamson, President elect of NASRA, Deputy Treasurer of State of North Carolina, and Director of the 70.5 billion North Carolina Retirement Systems, serves as the current Chair of the NIRS Board.
Academic Advisory Board
According to the NIRS website, on April 29, 2008, NIRS announced the establishment of its Academic Advisory Board. The board consists of experts in the fields of retirement policy, economics, law, and actuarial science to ensure that NIRS research continues to meet the highest standards of quality and accuracy.
As of 2010, the following experts comprised the Academic Advisory Board:
- Mr. Ron Gebhardtsbauer, FSA, MAAA, Faculty-in-Charge, Actuarial Science Program, Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University
- Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci, PhD, Irene and Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of Economics, Director, Bernard Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, New School for Social Research
- Dr. Jacob Hacker, PhD, Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University, and a Resident Fellow at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies. He is also a Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., and a former Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows.
- Dean Regina T. Jefferson, JD, LLM, Professor of Law, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America
- Dr. Alicia H. Munnell, PhD, Peter F. Drucker Professor of Management Sciences, Carroll School of Management, Director, Center for Retirement Research, Boston College
- Dr. Jeffrey B. Wenger, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Public Administration and Policy, University of Georgia.
What NIRS does: research and education activities
This section discusses NIRS' research and education endeavors that meet organization's goal of fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers, and the economy.
Research Reports and Issue Briefs
According to the company web page, NIRS' research focuses on informing the public policy debate around important retirement security issues at both the national and local level. "By developing and disseminating high-quality and reliable research, our goal is to identify sensible solutions that build broad-based retirement security," it says.
NIRS has published the following research reports on relevant and timely retirement topics:
- Raising the Bar: Policy Solutions for Improving Retirement Security summarizes key themes and policy solutions from NIRS' inaugural conference. The cross-cutting message delivered by industry leaders and policy experts was that inaction on retirement policy is no longer an option.
- Out of Balance: Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation Over 20 Years finds that employees of state and local government earn an average of 11% and 12% less, respectively, than comparable private sector employees.
- The Pension Factor: Assessing the Role of Defined Benefit Plans in Reducing Elder Hardships finds rates of poverty among older households lacking pension income were about six times greater than those with such income.
- Pensionomics: Measuring the Economic Impact of State and Local Pension Plans finds that the benefits provided by public and pension plans have a sizable impact that ripples through every state industry across the nation. Pension benefit expenditures by retirees leave a large economic footprint: 2.5 million jobs and $358 billion in economic output.
- Pensions and Retirement Security: A Roadmap for Policy Makers finds a high level of retirement concerns across America, with strong support for pensions. Americans say access to pensions would reduce anxiety and express strong support for government action to ease the way for employers to offer pensions.
- In it for the Long Haul: The Investment Behavior of Public Pensions finds that state and local pension plans are prudent investors. The data indicate that they are prudent in their asset allocation and ‘buckle down’ during market downturns.
- The New Intersection on the Road to Retirement examines how politics, perceptions and interest groups—rather than sound economics and public policies—are shaping public pensions.
- A Better Bang for the Buck: The Economic Efficiencies of DB Plans finds that the efficiencies of pension enable them to deliver the same retirement income at 46% lower cost than an individual defined contribution (DC) account. Hence, DB plans offer employers and employees the best bang for the retirement buck.
NIRS' issue briefs present concise analysis on related research topics:
- Shattering the Retirement Glass Ceiling: Women Need a Three-Legged Stool finds that women remain at a higher risk for retirement insecurity than men. That risk can be reduced with the traditional three-legged stool.
- Look Before You Leap: The Unintended Consequences of Pension Freezes finds that Americans are increasingly worried about their retirement security in the face of turmoil in the financial markets and general economic instability.
- Patience is a Virtue: Asset Allocation Patters of DB & DC Plans finds that public and private retirement funds represent a considerable source of capital in the United States’ financial markets.
- Retirement Readiness: What Difference Does A Pension Make? finds that a defined benefits plan plays a key role in ensuring middle-class Americans a secure lifestyle after leaving the workforce.
Annual Policy Conference
A central component of NIRS’ education agenda is its annual policy conference, which is generally held in Washington, D.C. in the late winter. An important goal of this non-partisan conference is to bring together thought leaders from across the retirement industry and policy spectrum—including retirement plan service providers, policymakers, plans sponsors and administrators, academics and policy experts—to pinpoint policy solutions aimed at improving American retirement prospects. The conference is thus solutions-focused as it explores the most promising public policy approaches and private-sector initiatives to enhance retirement security.
The inaugural policy conference, “Raising the Bar: Policy Solutions for Improving Retirement Security”, was held on February 2, 2010. The goal of this event was to identify practical, broad-based policy solutions that could be implemented to rebuild a strong infrastructure, as opposed to merely patching the potholes of an well-worn road to retirement. Despite a great diversity of perspectives presented by key industry and policy thought leaders, a broad consensus was clear: America could no longer afford to be inactive on the retirement security front. Among the solutions proposed were three structural improvements: improving defined contribution retirement saving plans; strengthening defined benefit pensions and developing entirely new ways to deliver benefits.
Public Pension Tool Kit
In January 2010, NIRS released The Public Pension Resource Guide, a compilation of educational materials designed to serve as a resource and tool for interested parties. The Guide consists of three modules:
- Public Pension Basics presents key facts about how pensions work—how benefits are earned, how pensions are funded, and how investment decisions are made. It also provides data on the number of Americans who rely on pensions for their retirement security.
- Why Pensions Matter discusses the characteristics of pension plans that make them attractive to employees, employers, taxpayers, and the broader economy.
- Strong Public Pensions for Today and Tomorrow identifies practices that can enhance the long-term sustainability of public pension plans, specifically through the integration of funding, investment, and benefit policies.
The tool kit also includes supplementary material:
- Public Pension Primer
- Summary Fact Sheets
- Pensions by the Numbers (Key Statistics)
- Frequently Asked Questions
The NIRS Research and Education Fund (NIRS-REF) provides research and analysis to provide insights in achieving retirement security for all Americans. NIRS-REF is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization, supported by contributions and grants. NIRS-REF broadly disseminates its research findings to policy makers, employers and employees, so that every American can be more informed about retirement issues and better able to enjoy a secure retirement.
NIRS is able to achieve its goals in part thought the support of its member organizations, whose annual contributions help to further NIRS’ ongoing research and education agenda.
NIRS' membership base represents a diverse group of organizations interested in retirement security issues such as employee benefit plans, state or local agencies that manage retirement plans, trade associations, financial services firms, and other retirement service providers. Long-standing members include the AARP/NRTA and a number of the country’s largest state and local public employee pension plans.
NIRS currently offers two types of membership: Educational Sustainer and Associate. Members receive, for example, advance access to the latest retirement insights in the form of reports, member alerts, newsletters, commentary and webinars.
NIRS works with the media to promote the publication of fair and balanced pieces on current retirement security issues. The NIRS website writes that the organization "is committed to working closely with the media to be a trusted source of information. In the end, this helps ensure decision makers have access to reliable information and data that results in sensible retirement policies.”
NIRS research has been referenced in a number of prominent local, national and international publications. For example, in 2009 NIRS was cited in more than 100 news articles across the US, including publications such as The Wall Street Journal, US News & World Reports, USA Today, and The New York Times. Research articles and commentary authored by NIRS staff have also been published in trade journals such as Pensions and Investments, The Journal of Pension Benefits, and PlanSponser.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i National Institute on Retirement Security
- ^ a b c d e 2009 Impact Report: Delivering Results Coast to Coast
- ^ a b Global Pensions
- ^ Getting it right: Face to Face with Meredith Williams - Pensions & Investments
- ^ a b A Better Bang for the Buck: The Economic Efficiencies of Defined Benefit Pension Plans
- ^ a b c d Raising the Bar: Policy Solutions for Improving Retirement Security
- ^ Fund figures taken from the 2009 Pension and Investment 1,000: The Largest Retirement Plans: P&I Websiste
- ^ Out of Balance: Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation Over 20 Years
- ^ The Pension Factor: Assessing the Role of Defined Benefit Plans in Reducing Elder Hardships
- ^ Pensionomics: Measuring the Economic Impact of State and Local Pension Plans
- ^ Pensions and Retirement Security: A Roadmap for Policy Makers
- ^ In it for the Long Haul: The Investment Behavior of Public Pensions
- ^ The New Intersection on the Road to Retirement
- ^ Shattering the Retirement Glass Ceiling: Women Need a Three-Legged Stool
- ^ Look Before You Leap: The Unintended Consequences of Pension Freezes
- ^ Patience is a Virtue: Asset Allocation Patters of DB & DC Plans
- ^ Retirement Readiness: What Difference Does A Pension Make?
- ^ a b Boive, Ilana. "Inaction on Policy Not an Option for Travelers on Road to Retirement Security." Pension & Benefits Reporter. Bureau of National Affairs, 7 September 2010.
- ^ The Public Pension Resource Guide
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