WASHINGTON -- As trade groups lobby Congress for a raft of pension provisions, the American Council of Life Insurance is putting its money where its mouth is.
The ACLI offers retirement benefits far superior to those of other pension lobbying groups.
It offers its 500 participants a $76 million defined benefit plan and a $37 million 401(k) plan with a generous match and a range of nine investment options.
The ACLI's 61-year-old pension plan is integrated with Social Security, so higher paid employees may receive more generous benefits. Employees 60 or older, as well as retirees, may convert half of their pension into a variable annuity, allowing them to participate in the stock market even when they retire, said Laura Eide, director of human resources.
In the 401(k) plan, the association provides a 100% match up to 3% of pay, and a 50% match for the next 2% of pay. Employees are fully vested in the $37 million plan after only a year.
The 401(k) plan boasts a 98% participation rate; the average balance is $110,000.
"Not only does the ACLI believe in retirement security from a policy perspective, but also very much in practice," Ms. Eide said.
Richard L. Prey, senior vice president of pension at Des Moines, Iowa-based Principal Financial Group, who did a quick review of lobbyists' benefit plans, agrees.
"That, very likely, for most employees is a very good plan. It has the solid foundation of the defined benefit plan, plus the 401(k) plan," Mr. Prey said.
Meanwhile, the American Association of Retired Persons, frequently an adversary of lobbyists representing employers in debates over the direction of the nation's private pension system, also offers its 1,600 employees both a defined benefit and a 401(k) plan.
An employer match for the 401(k) plan is "under consideration," said David Certner, senior coordinator for economics.
At the same time, the Pension Rights Center, an advocacy group for workers participating in pension plans, offers what Mr. Prey calls a "strong plan."
The five-person organization has a simplified employee pension plan that provides a flat 8% benefit. As in the case of individual retirement accounts, employees decide how to invest their SEP contributions.
"We'd like to put in more, but we have a tiny budget," said Karen Ferguson, executive director.
This year, the organization's goal is to put 10% of employees' pay into the retirement plan.
The Association of Private Pension and Welfare Plans contributes a flat 5% of pay to its 401(k) plan for all 10 employees, regardless of whether they put in money of their own.
The employer contribution, independent of employee contributions, is a "unique feature," Mr. Prey said. "It's certainly a good start, and better than no plan at all, but it will not meet the income replacement needs long term."
Employees are immediately vested in 40% of the employer's contribution, said James A. Klein, president of the APPWP.
Not surprisingly, the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America, Chicago, offers employees a combination profit-sharing and 401(k) plan, said David Wray, president.
The association's eight employees receive a 1.5% match on the first 3% of pay they contribute to the 401(k) portion, and about 6% of pay in the profit-sharing plan, Mr. Wray said.
Employees generally invest their money in a variety of mutual funds, including five funds offered by Pacific Century Trust, the plan provider.
The American Society of Pension Actuaries, Arlington, Va., offers a similar plan. It contributes 5% to profit sharing, and a 3% match on the first 6% employees contribute to a 401(k) plan. Although its executive director, Brian H. Graff, conceived a simple defined benefit plan for small businesses, the association does not offer its 20 employees a traditional pension plan.