Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Equity Indexed Annuities Are Improperly Sold

I have never been a fan of the Equity Index Annuity. An EIA is a fixed annuity that allows for some extra growth tied to an index, typically a stock index.

They are sold by uneducated insurance agents everyday to an unsuspecting public that doesn't understand a word coming out of the agents mouth. In most cases - the agents don't understand the product either. The agent tells a great story and the customer buys it hook, line, and sinker.

Imagine this scenario.....Let's say that I could give you the returns of the market without the risk, would you like that? This is the basic pitch that agents use to sell high commissioned (typically 10%) EIA's. Who wouldn't want the market return without the risk? Unfortunately these products are mostly hot air - they have littl substance to them and are easily manipulated by the insurance company producing them.

In the latest issue of Senior Market Advisor, an annuity sales rep had the following to say about how he "uncovers risk aversion," as follows:

"To uncover risk aversion, Abedeen asks clients if they would prefer an investment that's earning 15% but could lose 20%, or an investment that's earning 8%, but can't ever have a return less than zero. Clients invariably choose the 8-percent option."

The unwitting prospect would almost always pick the latter option - if you could earn a guaranteed 8% (which is what he is insuating) versus 15% with a major loss potential why wouldn't you. There is so much wrong with this line of quesitoning this agent uses that I don't even know where to begin.

I will start with the fact that all people are "risk averse" - nobody wants to lose money if they don't have to. What is really bad is that stocks do not average 15% annually, sure they have in the past 15 - 20 years, but historically they have barely returned 10% - half of that from divideneds (which we will get to later). Next, stocks can fall by more than 20% - yes, i know that this helps boost his arguement, but it is still worth pointing out. The real point I am attempting to make is that he is telling people that they have a choice (and basically only one) between a 15% return with lots of risk (of which doesn't exist - the 15% at least) or an 8% with zero risk. I am here to tell you that there is no way Equity Indexed Annuities will return 8% or even close to it in the decades to come. Why? I don't have enough room to tell you why - but I will lay out a short case. An EIA's return is based on the growth of the market - not the total earnings (as is insuated by the agent in the above quote), the growth of the market has not average much above 5% in this last century and doesn't appear to be headed higher. EIA's do not include the return of dividends. Dividends have made up a siginificant portion of the return of the stock market in the last 100 years. Even if we say that the market will return in the 7% range for growth - highly unlikely for the market as a whole - the EIA annuity will not return anywhere near that - at best perhaps 5%. There will always be years where index annuities will have a great year and return double digits, but they will be few and far in between and the years in which they return zero will offset the double digit years.

EIA's may be an alternative to a fixed annuity, but I wouldn't put my clients money into them - if I did I would explain the actual risks and the actual potential returns possibilities and not lie in order to make a sale.

By the way - for every $10,000 in EIA sales an agent could make about $1,000 (which comes out of your return) - so in order for an agent to make $100,000 in a year he/she only needs to sell $1,000,000 worth of EIA's - not a difficult thing to do.

Next time you are approached by an agent about buying an Equity Indexed Annuity or anything that sounds similar - just say no, then tell your friends to stay away from that person.


Teachers Advocate Released

The latest edition of The Teachers Advocate e-newsletter has been released. Just goto to link to it. It contains a compendium of thoughts on many subjects afffecting educators.


Tuesday, June 08, 2004

403bCompare will be delayed

Several of the target dates related to the launch of the 403bCompare Web site
have been recently delayed. The 403bCompare Web site is now scheduled to be
fully functional and available to employees of local school districts,
community college districts and county offices of education on August 27,
2004. (For the purpose of California Education Code sections 25113 and 25114,
August 27, 2004 will be known as the “implementation date.”)

Some areas of the site will continue to be accessible before the
date; vendors can currently log on to register general information about their
company. However, the features allowing vendors to add specific product
information and for employers to designate their list of approved vendors will
not be available until after July 16, 2004.

The vendor registration period is unchanged; all vendors who wish to
participate in 403bCompare must communicate their intent to register to
by June 25, 2004.

This notification will be given to participating vendors and employers, and
will be posted on the 403bCompare Web site.

If you have any questions, please contact the 403bCompare Administrator at:

403bCompare Administrator
403bCompare Program
Mail Station #38
P.O. Box 15275
Sacramento, CA 95851-0275
Telephone: (888) 394-2060
Facsimile: (916) 229-4202
Reagan's Final Goodbye

My Fellow American,

I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

In the past, Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had my cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing.

They were treated in early stages and we were able to return to normal, healthy lives.

So now, we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life’s journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes, I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan.
A Real American Hero

Ronald Reagan passed away on Saturday and interestingly enough I am not saddened. This may sound odd, but I think a lot of people feel this way. No, I am not about to bash President Reagan - I am not sad because I know Reagan lived an incredible life and now we are finally able to celebrate it. I don't believe Nancy wanted the President to die, but I do think that it wore on her heavily - both emotionally and physically. Reagan was a hero to many, and to me as well. I have always admired President Reagan, even when I was a young boy. I was only six years old when Reagan took office, I didn't pay attention to politics and couldn't tell you what I was doing that year....but by the time Reagan was running for re-election I was aware of him. I remember staying up late to watch the polls come in, I remember being in awe of the man who won 49 states. I also remember the great optimism I felt about my life and about America in general. I remember being in the Just Say No club and receiving a letter from Nancy Reagan. I never did drugs growing up, though I did my share of drinking (always in a safe environment though!!). I can't say that I now agree with the war on drugs, but it is a noble cause - this is a subject for another time. I remember watching Reagan talk to us after the Shuttle Challenger disaster, I did not really understand what was going on, but felt comforted anyway. I remember hoping that they would change the consitution to allow for a third term in office for a President - just so Reagan could stay on. We now know that even if that happened, he would not have been able to fulfill it. I never met Reagan, I wish I had, though it isn't important - you didn't have to meet him to know what kind of man he was. For his detractors, of which there are many - among them are probably many of my clients - I think that you may have disagreed with him, but you never disliked him (of course I could be wrong). What I admired about Reagan was his ability to separate politics from friendship - many of my best friends, and clients have completely different political ideaologies, yet we are still friends, not only that, good friends.

To me, there is nothing better than watching old media shots of President Reagan - and nothing more inspiring than watching him utter those words "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall." His zeal for freedom and liberty electrified the nation and the world. When he remarked that he wouldn't allow age to be an issue in his re-election campaign because he didn't want to take advantage of his challengers youth and inexperience - I thought it was brilliant and even the folks who were avid Mondale supporters had a great chuckle. Ed Meece told a story the other day that made me laugh - Desmond Tutu came to the White House and just took to Reagan, complaing about every policy and basically trashing the President, the press, seeking and opportunity to exploit the controversy asked Reagan the next day about the meeting, to which the President replied - "Tu-Tu, So So" And with that quick, funny quip, he disarmed everyone.

I don't remember much about the first term of Reagan's presidency, but I do remember when he got shot. Perhaps that was the time that I fell in love with this American Icon, of course it was more than that. There has never been anyone like Reagan, nor will there every be anyone like him again, I am saddened by his death, but excited that we can celebrate his life. I trust that he is now up in heaven looking down on what he called "The Shining City Upon A Hill." I believe in America's greatness and Reagan is the one who taught me how. There is no other place on earth that people will literally risk death to get to, none.

What follows is Reagans Farewell address from the Oval office. May you Rest In Peace Mr. President.

This is the 34th time I'll speak to you from the Oval Office and the last. We've been together 8 years now, and soon it'll be time for me to go. But before I do, I wanted to share some thoughts, some of which I've been saving for a long time.

It's been the honor of my life to be your President. So many of you have written the past few weeks to say thanks, but I could say as much to you. Nancy and I are grateful for the opportunity you gave us to serve.

One of the things about the Presidency is that you're always somewhat apart. You spent a lot of time going by too fast in a car someone else is driving, and seeing the people through tinted glass--the parents holding up a child, and the wave you saw too late and couldn't return. And so many times I wanted to stop and reach out from behind the glass, and connect. Well, maybe I can do a little of that tonight.

People ask how I feel about leaving. And the fact is, 'parting is such sweet sorrow.' The sweet part is California and the ranch and freedom. The sorrow--the goodbyes, of course, and leaving this beautiful place.

You know, down the hall and up the stairs from this office is the part of the White House where the President and his family live. There are a few favorite windows I have up there that I like to stand and look out of early in the morning. The view is over the grounds here to the Washington Monument, and then the Mall and the Jefferson Memorial. But on mornings when the humidity is low, you can see past the Jefferson to the river, the Potomac, and the Virginia shore. Someone said that's the view Lincoln had when he saw the smoke rising from the Battle of Bull Run. I see more prosaic things: the grass on the banks, the morning traffic as people make their way to work, now and then a sailboat on the river.

I've been thinking a bit at that window. I've been reflecting on what the past 8 years have meant and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one--a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor. It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him. He yelled, 'Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.'

A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I. Because that's what it was to be an American in the 1980's. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again--and in a way, we ourselves--rediscovered it.

It's been quite a journey this decade, and we held together through some stormy seas. And at the end, together, we are reaching our destination.

The fact is, from Grenada to the Washington and Moscow summits, from the recession of '81 to '82, to the expansion that began in late '82 and continues to this day, we've made a difference. The way I see it, there were two great triumphs, two things that I'm proudest of. One is the economic recovery, in which the people of America created--and filled--19 million new jobs. The other is the recovery of our morale. America is respected again in the world and looked to for leadership.

Something that happened to me a few years ago reflects some of this. It was back in 1981, and I was attending my first big economic summit, which was held that year in Canada. The meeting place rotates among the member countries. The opening meeting was a formal dinner of the heads of goverment of the seven industrialized nations. Now, I sat there like the new kid in school and listened, and it was all Francois this and Helmut that. They dropped titles and spoke to one another on a first-name basis. Well, at one point I sort of leaned in and said, 'My name's Ron.' Well, in that same year, we began the actions we felt would ignite an economic comeback--cut taxes and regulation, started to cut spending. And soon the recovery began.

Two years later, another economic summit with pretty much the same cast. At the big opening meeting we all got together, and all of a sudden, just for a moment, I saw that everyone was just sitting there looking at me. And then one of them broke the silence. 'Tell us about the American miracle,' he said.

Well, back in 1980, when I was running for President, it was all so different. Some pundits said our programs would result in catastrophe. Our views on foreign affairs would cause war. Our plans for the economy would cause inflation to soar and bring about economic collapse. I even remember one highly respected economist saying, back in 1982, that 'The engines of economic growth have shut down here, and they're likely to stay that way for years to come.' Well, he and the other opinion leaders were wrong. The fact is what they call 'radical' was really 'right.' What they called 'dangerous' was just 'desperately needed.'

And in all of that time I won a nickname, 'The Great Communicator.' But I never though it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation--from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I'll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.

Common sense told us that when you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it. So, we cut the people's tax rates, and the people produced more than ever before. The economy bloomed like a plant that had been cut back and could now grow quicker and stronger. Our economic program brought about the longest peacetime expansion in our history: real family income up, the poverty rate down, entrepreneurship booming, and an explosion in research and new technology. We're exporting more than ever because American industry because more competitive and at the same time, we summoned the national will to knock down protectionist walls abroad instead of erecting them at home.

Common sense also told us that to preserve the peace, we'd have to become strong again after years of weakness and confusion. So, we rebuilt our defenses, and this New Year we toasted the new peacefulness around the globe. Not only have the superpowers actually begun to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons--and hope for even more progress is bright--but the regional conflicts that rack the globe are also beginning to cease. The Persian Gulf is no longer a war zone. The Soviets are leaving Afghanistan. The Vietnamese are preparing to pull out of Cambodia, and an American-mediated accord will soon send 50,000 Cuban troops home from Angola.

The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we're a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there's no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.

Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech and turning away from the ideologies of the past. For them, the great rediscovery of the 1980's has been that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is the practical way of government: Democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive.

When you've got to the point when you can celebrate the anniversaries of your 39th birthday you can sit back sometimes, review your life, and see it flowing before you. For me there was a fork in the river, and it was right in the middle of my life. I never meant to go into politics. It wasn't my intention when I was young. But I was raised to believe you had to pay your way for the blessings bestowed on you. I was happy with my career in the entertainment world, but I ultimately went into politics because I wanted to protect something precious.

Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: 'We the People.' 'We the People' tell the government what to do; it doesn't tell us. 'We the People' are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world's constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which 'We the People' tell the government what it is allowed to do. 'We the People' are free. This belief has been the underlying basis for everything I've tried to do these past 8 years.

But back in the 1960's, when I began, it seemed to me that we'd begun reversing the order of things--that through more and more rules and regulations and confiscatory taxes, the government was taking more of our money, more of our options, and more of our freedom. I went into politics in part to put up my hand and say, 'Stop.' I was a citizen politician, and it seemed the right thing for a citizen to do.

I think we have stopped a lot of what needed stopping. And I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.

Nothing is less free than pure communism--and yet we have, the past few years, forged a satisfying new closeness with the Soviet Union. I've been asked if this isn't a gamble, and my answer is no because we're basing our actions not on words but deeds. The detente of the 1970's was based not on actions but promises. They'd promise to treat their own people and the people of the world better. But the gulag was still the gulag, and the state was still expansionist, and they still waged proxy wars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Well, this time, so far, it's different. President Gorbachev has brought about some internal democratic reforms and begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has also freed prisoners whose names I've given him every time we've met.

But life has a way of reminding you of big things through small incidents. Once, during the heady days of the Moscow summit, Nancy and I decided to break off from the entourage one afternoon to visit the shops on Arbat Street--that's a little street just off Moscow's main shopping area. Even though our visit was a surprise, every Russian there immediately recognized us and called out our names and reached for our hands. We were just about swept away by the warmth. You could almost feel the possibilities in all that joy. But within seconds, a KGB detail pushed their way toward us and began pushing and shoving the people in the crowd. It was an interesting moment. It reminded me that while the man on the street in the Soviet Union yearns for peace, the government is Communist. And those who run it are Communists, and that means we and they view such issues as freedom and human rights very differently.

We must keep up our guard, but we must also continue to work together to lessen and eliminate tension and mistrust. My view is that President Gorbachev is different from previous Soviet leaders. I think he knows some of the things wrong with his society and is trying to fix them. We wish him well. And we'll continue to work to make sure that the Soviet Union that eventually emerges from this process is a less threatening one. What it all boils down to is this: I want the new closeness to continue. And it will, as long as we make it clear that we will continue to act in a certain way as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner. If and when they don't, at first pull your punches. If they persist, pull the plug. It's still trust by verify. It's still play, but cut the cards. It's still watch closely. And don't be afraid to see what you see.

I've been asked if I have any regrets. Well, I do.The deficit is one. I've been talking a great deal about that lately, but tonight isn't for arguments, and I'm going to hold my tongue. But an observation: I've had my share of victories in the Congress, but what few people noticed is that I never won anything you didn't win for me. They never saw my troops, they never saw Reagan's regiments, the American people. You won every battle with every call you made and letter you wrote demanding action. Well, action is still needed. If we're to finish the job. Reagan's regiments will have to become the Bush brigades. Soon he'll be the chief, and he'll need you every bit as much as I did.

Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in Presidential farewells, and I've got one that's been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough it starts with one of the things I'm proudest of in the past 8 years: the resurgence of national pride that I called the new patriotism. This national feeling is good, but it won't count for much, and it won't last unless it's grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.

An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.

But now, we're about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom--freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs production [protection].

So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important--why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who'd fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, 'we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.' Well, let's help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.

And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.

And that's about all I have to say tonight, except for one thing. The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

We've done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for 8 years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.

And so, goodbye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Saturday, April 24, 2004 Holds What May Be Last Advisory Council Meeting......Are They On Track?

I attended the advisory council meeting for the website created out of the AB 2506 legislation on Thursday. The meeting was probably the last meeting before the website goes live on July 1st, 2004. The meeting was not heavily attended, but the attendees were all very serious about they wanted to accomplish.

Eric Norton, the project manager did a great job of bringing together several disperate agendas and finding compromise. There was however a lively discusson on what "Guaranteed annual rate of return" actually means.....what we found out is that fixed annuity is rarely fixed and has more variables than you might expect! We did finally agree on a definition (it was the one that we actually started out with), but it took about 45 minutes.

All in all, I am quite impressed with the progress and what the end result will look like. Each time I see what Eric and his team are doing I get more excited about what is going on. The best news of the day was that the fee for vendors has now dropped to around $8,000 (assuming all the vendors who sent in "letters of intent" actually register).

There were quite a few advocates in the meeting trying to make sure that the end user (the educator) was always in the forefornt when building the database. Despite the work of a few vendors to undermine the usability of the site, I believe that the educator will be able to navigate the site, learn a lot, and in the end benefit tremendously.

July 1st is coming, that will be the day that sovereinghty is handed over to the Iraqi people and educators that own 403(b)'s in California! While I believe there is still a lot of work to do in the 403(b) arena, I think we are making a ton of progress - who would have thought four years ago that we would be where we are today.

Till next time......


Monday, March 29, 2004

Envoy Plan Services Bought By Keenan & Associates

Envoy Plan Services will officially be owned by Keenan & Associates beginning April 1st (this is not an April Fools Joke). Envoy has entered into an agreement to be purchased by Keenan and has already moved it's operations to the Keenan office in San Clemente. The move should not affect operations and should be a good fit for Keenan. Robert Hornaday wills stay with company and become a Sr. Vice President at Keenan.

Recent developments have put the kibosh on the method Envoy was charging for its services. Envoy now earns it's revenue via fees charged to the districts it serves, a welcome development (more on this in the next Teachers Advocate). I will keep you updated as to how things will change and how they will affect you.

Till next time.....


Thursday, March 04, 2004

Loophole closes, Mandatory notice to begin in 2005

HR 743 was signed by the President on March 2nd (2004) and closes the last day loophole that educators used to avoid the Government Pension Offset (for details see my website). It also required that employers whose employees don't pay into Social Security (read School Districts) must provide written notice to all new employees and have them sign a statement acknowledging that they understand the GPO & WEP and its affects, this must be in place by January 1st, 2005.

While the NEA and AFT are fighting for outright repeal of the provisions it is clear by the passage of this legislation that nobody is really listening. I suspect a lot of congressmen and women are giving lipservice to these provisions, but in reality they know they can't support them because the cost is too high and social security is already in trouble. Don't expect a repeal anytime soon, don't plan on recieving social security - if you does get repealed, then guess what - You will have some extra money in retirement, just don't count on it!


Monday, March 01, 2004

The Coming Fall of the Pension Plan

The trend in the private sector has been away from provided employees a pension plan, or Defined Benefit plan. A Defined Benefit plan is one in which an employer agrees to pay the employee a set amount of money at retirement for the rest of that employees life (in essence, the benefit amount is defined). There is usually a formula to figure out what the actual benefit will be. These plans are very expensive and all the risk is taken by the employer, not the employee. A DB plan also favors workers who are long time employees and retire later in life (after age 60). The plan that these companies are moving over to is called a Defined Contribution plan (DC) and in most cases is funded through a 401(k). In a 401(k) the employee assumes the investment duty and is responsible for funding his/her own retirement. The risk is thereby shifted from the employer to the employee. Over the past few years I have been predicting that the trend in the private sector will begin moving to the public sector (government). Over the past year we have heard governors, mayors, and legislatures all float trial balloons to gauge peoples reaction. The reaction has usually been extremely negative from workers, but more positive from taxpayers (who ultimately pay for a portion of the benefit). While no government plans that I am aware have made the switch (except for Florida, but it wasn't a complete switch, just another option), it is only a matter of time. Daniel Weintraub, a writer for the Sacramento Bee proposed just such a plan this weekend in his column. Many people believe Social Security should be switched from a DB to a DC plan funded with private accounts. When governments start seeing the money they could save by eliminating the higher cost DB plans they will begin salivating - it will take a long time, perhaps a decade or two, but eventually they will wear down the unions and convince the taxpayers that the a DC plan is the way to go. Keep in mind that I am not advocating for, or against either plan, just keeping you aware of the trends and how I see them playing out. For those of you in a DB plan, don't worry, usually a switch is made only for new hires. I have been to meetings with Unions on this issue and they are vehemently against the idea of DC plans, they want to keep the DB plans - so expect them to continue to fight for that benefit. As for me, I would rather have a DC plan with a generous match than a DB plan - but remember, I know what I am doing - I am trained in this area - most people aren't. Most people cannot invest on their own successfully, so perhaps the answer is something like what Florida has done - give the workers a choice of either the DB or the DC. Only time will tell, but remember where you heard it from first!!

Till Next Time....


Friday, February 20, 2004

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat - Envoy Learns its Fate

The Attorney Generals office of the State of California has taken a big step in protecting educators best interests, and I bet most educators have no idea. Early last year, a company by the name of Envoy Plan Services created a firestorm of controversy when they came out of nowhere and started adminstering several California school district 403(b) & 457(b) retirement plans. The controversy surrounded how they charged for their services. Envoy charged vendors for their services - this effectively cut out low, mid, and many high cost vendors from district providers lists and created an opportunity for Envoy to funnel money into their own products. Myself, CalSTRS, 403bwise, and many mutual fund, insurance companies, and broker/dealers joined together in a rather wierd informal alliance to ensure that teachers would not be subjected to the long term affects of Envoy (see my Teachers Advocate newsletter for all the details).

Yesterday, the Attorney Generals office effectively put a stop to Envoy Plan Services method of charging for their services by putting out an opinion stating that charging vendors is not an option in California, it is prohibited. For the full text of the opinion you can go to This is a victory for school teachers in California.

The question becomes "what will school districts do?" They should do several things. First, they should review their contract with Envoy and consider firing them if Envoy will not Cease & Desist their current arrangement for compensation. Second, they should decide if they want to pay for Envoy's services themselves (unlikely), if they don't they have several options. Thirdly, they need to work on behalf of the vendors who have paid Envoy's fee for the time periods invovled and require that Envoy or the E & O carrier for Envoy refund all fees that the vendors paid. The requirement of those fees was illegal and thus the vendors should be reimbursed and Envoy should pay for it. If school districts do not do these things they will face additional scrutiny by the media, unions, educators, planners, and vendors - something they probably don't need right now.

If Envoy decided to change its ways and offered a structure that works for everyone, perhaps I wouldn't be against them as the TPA, but at this point I have problems with the way they have handled things as well as the ethics of the company.

This is a victory for educators, and a defeat for Envoy - I have no doubt however that we haven't seen the last of Envoy....stay tuned!!


Saturday, January 31, 2004

403(b) Market Could Double In The Blink Of An Eye

A bill has been introduced in the House of Reps that would extend the 403(b) to state & local government employees. This would almost immediately double the number of possible 403(b) participants (and the number of people who could potentially buy my book!!). As you might expect I support this bill and hope it passes - if it does it could create an opportunity for major changes throughout the 403(b) industry and an all out war among the debating theories of how 403(b) plans should be distributed. I don't expect this bill to get much attention any time soon as it didn't come from the people who normally are behind this type of stuff, however if enough people show their support we just might see some action on this. I am doubtful it will be passed under the current budget constraints and it really isn't needed - after all, how many government employees can afford to contribute to two retirement plans (403(b) & 457(b)) in the same year? It's a bit overkill, but I support it anyway - even if just for selfish reasons!

Read my website and for continued coverage of the extended 403(b) and LSA's & RSA's.

Till next time......ScottyD

What Did I Tell You About Variable Annuities

Hmmmmm........Looks like mutual funds aren't the only scandalous game in town. As many people have suspected for a long time, the VA industry is guilty of not acting in the best interests of its clients - of course I doubt anyone is really surprised. The investigations are just starting, but I expect this to be bigger than the mutual fund industry scandals and spread much further than just market timing. The VA industry is an industry that is driven by greed and high commissions, look for some major lobbying from NAVA and ACLI to sway the regulators, lawmakers, and policyholders that the VA companies are innocent bystanders - don't believe a word.


Monday, January 26, 2004

Variable Annuities Are Next

Mark my words - Variable Annuities are next in line to be caught up in mass scandal. If you think that mutual fund scandals were bad, I suspect what we learn about Variable Annuities will be much worse. I don't like or dislike Variable Annuities - they are simply a tool - though most of the VA products on the market are pure junk. VA's are not subject to breakpoints and they are used instead of mutual funds because of it - of course it also doesn't hurt that VA's come with features that allow advisors to use the term "guarantee" - be very weary of an advisor selling you a variable annuity.

New Teachers Advocate is Available

For those of you who read my e-newsletter - The Teacher's Advocate - it is now available on my website ( Have fun!

More State Attorney General Stuff & The Junk e-mail Keeps Coming

As for the latest on the State's Attorney Generals office decision about the Envoy situation....I am now leaning toward believing the AG's office will rule against Envoy. I am not usually one to believe rumors, but the rumor mill is strong that the AG's office will come out with an opinion against the fee Envoy charges vendors. I suspect that Envoy believes they will be able to stay in business even if the fee is ruled illegal, I don't know how they plan on doing it but I bet they have something up their sleeve. It might be possible that they will give away their TPA services in exchange for the right to market to the educators their high cost, junky products - I would actually be fine with that as long as the fees are not charged to the vendors. I would rather have them gone - but my real beef is with the fee and how it will affect teachers long term.


Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Envoy & The State Attorney General

I spent a few minutes speaking with the individual working on the opinion regarding Envoy today. The gentleman was very concerned about the topic from all sides of the debate (which is good). I explained my rationale for being against the fee and believe that he listened to it and will take it into account. By no means am I positive that the AG's office will rule against Envoy in this situation - there is a possibility that Envoy will win out. Either way the issue of legality should be cleared up. I will have some additional comments soon.

Until next time....

Paying For Shelf Space & The Toothless SEC

For those of you who don't know, I came from the brokerage industry. I served time at three major brokerage oufits, Merrill, Morgan Stanley, & Smith Barney. Each of these firms favored certain fund companies - no surprise that the funds they favored were "loaded" funds. I knew for a fact that these "favored" funds had arrangements with the company and were paying the company a fee for having a "favored" status, everybody knew it. The correct term is "paying for shelf space." It is the practice of paying a broker/Dealer (industry speak for a brokerage firm) to put your fund company on a favored list - it is a classic "pay to play scheme". The arrangements are never explicitly disclosed, but every broker knows they exist in one form or another - if they don't then they are either ignorant or plain stupid. The SEC just released a study saying that it found abuses at 13 of 15 unnamed brokerage firms in a probe of "revenue-sharing." Here's the funny part, reports "As scandals simmered across the $7-trillion mutual fund business, the SEC said it found that "revenue sharing" -- or mutual funds paying brokerages to tout the funds' shares -- is "common practice," based on a probe launched in April 2003." The funny thing is the probe was only launched about 9 months ago, despite the fact that the SEC knew this was going on for probably at least a decade, if not more. Why did the SEC all of a sudden launch this probe? Elliot Spitzer. The NY State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer has ruthlessly gone after fund companies and broker/dealer for conflicts of interest - had the AG not stepped in the SEC would never had started a probe and none of the enforcement activities would be happening. The SEC has not did its job for years and now is trying to play catch up with Elliot Spitzer in order to save face.

I am not defending the practice of "paying for shelf space," simply saying that the practice was well known by the industry and the SEC and the SEC chose to do nothing about it, now they suddently care? There efforts too clean up the industry are a little late, by not enforcing existing rules (or spirit of the rules) they effectively have told the industry that what they are doing is ok, we will look the other way. They are sending a mixed message to Wall Street and mutual fund companies (and inevitabley Variable Annuities) - that message: We will look the other way while you clearly violate shareholders interests, as long as we aren't embarrased by a state attorney general, if we are, then we will enforce and come down on you as if you are evil.

Well, the companies are basically greedy and evil, but the SEC might as well have been a partner in the wrongdoings because they never acted as a regulator and constantly turned there head when they knew bad things were going on. Heck, I knew bad things were going on after only a few months at a brokerage firm - I was only 23 years old....

As stated before, I think it is rather slimy to pay a company to promote your product. It is a huge conflict of interest - but it is an industry norm that has been tolerated by the SEC, basically a tacit endorsement. Now the fund companies are under investigation for paying these fees and there reputations are at stake. I don't promote any of the funds that are implicated, or that will be implicated because the funds I use rarely show up in brokerage firm accounts - the reason: they won't pay for shelf space. However, some of the fund companies being implicated are good, honest fund firms - American funds come to mind. It will be interesting to see how the SEC handles this issue going forward. The have been asleep at the wheel so long, the question is, have they awoken in time to steer the car away from the ditch?

If the SEC truly were an enforcement agency then Elliot Spitzer and his band of publicity hungry state AG's would not be involved in the numerous mutual fund, broker-dealer, & eventually variable annuity scandals that have been unearthed and will be unearthed. Shame on the SEC, they've been toothless for so long - does anyone really believe they suddenly have fangs?

Until next time...


Monday, January 12, 2004

What Your Broker Isn't Telling You About Dividends

The last tax act that passed congress made many dividends taxable at only a 15% rate (sometimes less), this is significant because they are usually taxed as ordinary income (when held outside retirement plans - dividends inside retirement plans are tax-deferred and tax as ordinary income when distributed). This is a significant development in the world of stocks and has some people changing their portfolios. What most people don't know is that their dividends may actually be taxable as ordinary income, not at the 15% rate - the reason? Their brokerage firm.

In the new tax act their is a provision that makes dividends taxable as ordinary income if received from the lending of your securities. Without getting into the specifics, brokerage firms make big money lending your stocks to other institutions (such as hedge funds), however when they do this the institution that borrows the stock receives the dividend and you receive an "in-lieu" payment of equal amount, the problem is that this "in lieu" payment is taxable as ordinary income because it isn't really a dividend. There is a simple solution to this problem, don't open a margin account - if your taxable assets are held in a straight "Cash" account without Margin than your brokerage firm cannot lend your securities out.

Don't count on your brokerage firm to tell you this though. As I stated earlier, they make big money lending your securities out to others and face a conflict of interest by telling you to switch to a cash account. They lose out on potential gains by telling you to switch, yet it is usually in your best interest. This is yet one more example of how brokerage firms take advantage of their clients and do not put their interests first. If you think this is limited to just the major brokerage firms that I usually rag on (Merrill, Morgan, Smith Barney - etc) you are wrong. Fidelity is in on it as well - the disclosure they send to their clients reads: “You are not entitled to any compensation in connection with securities lent from your account or for additional taxes you may be re-quired to pay as a result of any tax treatment differential between substitute payments and actual interest,” - of course you first have to find this disclosure...Goodod luck.

If Fidelity and the other institutions were truly putting your interests first they would do more - they would write letters in plain english and urge you to switch your account to a cash account and even include the forms. Better yet they would automatically switch you if you didn't sign an opt-out form. This is just one more reason you need someone looking out for you - you can't count on the regulators and you can't count on your brokerage firm.

If you want more info on this subject just e-mail me and I will send you a link to a good article.

Until Next Time............


Saturday, January 10, 2004

Envoy Situation Is Submitted To State Attorney General

The California State Attorney Generals office is set to offer its opinion on the Enovy situation. CalSTRS originally referred the Envoy problem to the state AG and then Envoy submitted a request for a formal opinion through an El Centro Congresswoman (Bonnie Garcia - Bonnie, be careful who you deal with...). The request was poorly worded and designed to decieve (that is my opinion - you can read the actual request in the latest teachers advocate - should be out soon). The request gave little context and no history of why the opinion was being sought. The opinion request was eventually revised with a much simpler wording as follows: May a school district assess a fee for providing deferred compensation plans to cover the district's administrative costs?

I have heard through the grapvine that the AG's office will have its opinion written and released within the month. I submitted a five page commentary in regards to the opinion that provided for a proper history and context. It is my belief that the opinion will not be in favor of Envoy. We will have to wait and see. The question remains what will happen if the AG's office says the fee is illegal? I actually don't know - but I do know that the media outlets will probably love to report on school districts who are doing things that are illegal - especially when the teachers bear the brunt of it. If the school districts don't drop Envoy (or at least begin making plans to drop Envoy) then I will bring the full pressure of the media down on Envoy and the districts until the correct decision is made. Unfortunately I can't just make a couple calls and "poof" the media responds - but I do have several people in the media that I think would love this story and good stories catch like wildfire, especially when money is invovled.

If for some odd reason the AG opinion supports Envoy then I have another trick up my sleave - I have found another portion of law that may render Envoy's fee illegal - of course I can't give that away yet. I may reveal this in my next Teachers Advocate, but I don't want to give the other side (Envoy) any more advanced notice than they deserve!

For those of you who think I am picking on Envoy - you are right. I think the company is rotten to the core and harmful to the long term financial health of school dsitrict employees. I would not be waging battle except that Envoy clearly violates what is in the best interest of my cilents and employees of the school districts. If they didn't I wouldn't have a problem.

Until next time..................


Wednesday, January 07, 2004

I'm Back!

Sorry for the long absence from this blog - I have been busy with life and business and have neglected the blog! My next Teachers Advocate will be out very soon and will have updates from the last two months of what has been happening in the world of teachers and retirement plans. you can view it at

AB 2506

I just returned from a trip to Sacramento where we had another Advisory Committee meeting on AB 2506. For those of you who don't know what AB 2506 is - it is a bill that is being implemented by CalSTRS that will create a registration process (for 403(b) vendors) and a databank that will allow comparison and disclosure of 403(b) plans sold to educators. I believe this is an important project and the the rest of the nation is wathching to see how this turns out. What follows is my update:

The project is being led by Eric Norton, a project manager hired by CalSTRS and the project is overseen by Ed Derman (Deputy CEO) & Jack Ehnes (CEO of CalSTRS). I think Eric and his team are doing an incredible job and I am quite impressed at the progress being made and excited about the debut of the website, . The website will make its debut on July 1st, 2004. I have scene preliminary screen shots of the project and can assure you that it is going to look great. I believe that the educators who are eligible for 403(b) products will be very happy with this new tool. The project is still far from complete, the next 6 months are very critical and their are a lot of details still to be worked out, but overall everything seems to be on track. The meeting today officially unveiled the website name and dealt mainly with the search functionality of the website - there was a lot of disagreement among the attendees as to what should and shouldn't be allowed in a search function. I think the discussion was very constructive and that the Project team will be able to further refine their plans for this important function. I would like to hear from the readers on this one - please e-mail me at and let me know what is important to you when attempting to find a 403(b) product. In other words, what criteria would you like to see available to be able to be searched on.

The most important aspect of the new site will be the educational content - the project teamed unveiled prelimiary topics today and I think that by the time everything is finished it will be rich in valuable content. This site promises to be very educational, in short it will be a great tool. Despite some vendor negativity I thought the meeting went well and the project is on track. There will always be people who want to see this project get derailed or watered down and their presence is felt in the room, but rest assured that myself and many other people (including the good people at CalSTRS) are 100% behind this project and have the educator in mind - a first in the 403(b) world!!!! (Only slightly joking!!).

Ok - I am tired and need some rest, I'll write on some other topics soon.