SAN DIEGO - Some investment professionals dream of retiring in warm climates and improving their golf games. But for Ralph Kausch, the allure of the putting green could not match the attraction of catching a flight to the other side of the earth to help emerging democracies design pension plans.
A former executive director of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, Mr. Kausch recently returned to his home in San Diego from a seven-week sojourn in Russia, where he put his years of pension fund experience to work helping design a retirement program for the 25,000 workers of Irkustkenergo spelling is accurate , an electrical producer.
Mr. Kausch served as a volunteer with the International Executive Service Corps, a non-profit organization that sends retired Americans to assist businesses and private enterprises in the developing world and in the emerging democracies of Central and Eastern Europe.
"It seemed like an interesting and challenging way to do something with the knowledge that I had," Mr. Kausch said.
"So in the early 1990s, I sent my papers in to IESC and was entered into their computer as a pension man. I was in their data banks for a couple of years before I got my first assignment in Russia in 1992. Then around 1996, I went to Slovakia and was advising people there about how pension funds work in the U.S."
In addition to his earlier work for the IESC, Mr. Kausch had worked overseas before "running the government pension plan in American Samoa in the mid-1980s."
He said his recent experiences have shown that some governments in emerging democracies tend to be reluctant to embrace pension plans; they have a shortfall of available currency and don't wish to exacerbate the problem.
"Often when you approach some of those government officials about encouraging savings through private pension plans, you get a cold shoulder," he said.
Another obstacle to establishing pension funds, particularly in Russia, is a lack of trust among employers and employees.
"Workers and even their managers don't trust anybody," Mr. Kausch said. "Nobody has a good concept of fiduciary responsibility or obligation even though the Russians have made some strides in this area.
"When I was last in Russia, there were about six or seven licensed mutual fund money managers. But when you get away from Moscow to smaller towns like Irkutsk, where I was located, people there don't like the idea of sending their money to Moscow. They want to keep it local. They aren't concerned about diversification - they'd rather have all their eggs in one basket if they know where that basket is."
The IESC, the Stamford, Conn.-based organization that sponsored Mr. Kausch's trip, was founded in 1964 by David Rockefeller with the guidance of then-chairman of Xerox Sol M. Linowitz. Since then, volunteers have served on more than 20,000 projects in 120 countries.
Many Russian companies, Mr. Kausch said, face the difficult situation of being overstaffed but unwilling to cut workers.
"Russian employers are overweighted with older workers and want to develop pension plans to encourage them to retire," Mr. Kausch said.
While Mr. Kausch was in Russia, the company he was assisting was responsible for providing housing for him; in addition, he received a per diem that helped cover his expenses.
"I had a dual client relationship on this last trip," he said. "I was working with a money manager as well as the energy company. The manager hoped to manage the company's money after they established the pension plan. So they were working together to bring an American over to help with both sides of the assignment.
"While in Moscow, the company provided a driver who picked me up and drove me to the office each day, so transportation wasn't really a problem. I spent about five weeks in Moscow and two weeks in Irkutsk."
By the time of his departure, he said, he was convinced the energy company "really wanted to start a pension plan" and to that end another foreign adviser was asked to review the software needed to start such a plan.
"They also need printed material to put in the hands of their workers to educate them on what's involved," he said.