Sunday, May 05, 2013

Decision Points

There’s a saying that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” and one need look no further than the experience of a morning commute to see the principle in action.

While we all head to different places from different places, most head out for work at what for each of us is likely a consistent, regular time. That timing may be driven by external or internal factors: a mass transit schedule, by our desire to avoid traffic congestion, the constraints of fellow passengers, or simply by a need to arrive at our place of work at a specific time. But for most of us, on most days, the regularity of that schedule provides a certain dependable start to our days.

It doesn’t take much to disrupt that start, unfortunately—as anyone who has ever awakened to an unexpected snowfall, encountered the impact of a traffic accident on a major thoroughfare, or slept through a snooze alarm can attest. Sometimes we can make up the time loss imposed on our commute, sometimes we simply have to deal with the consequences of being late, and sometimes we make other adjustments in response—a different route, for example, or, if time permits, a different medium of transportation. Sometimes those alternative approaches help matters, and sometimes they don’t.

As policy makers, regulators, providers, plan sponsors and individual participants, we make decisions every day that impact not only others, but others’ choices, as well as our own. Sometimes those decisions are not only imposed by external forces, but influenced by factors over which we have little or no control.

On May 9, the Employee Benefit Research Institute will sponsor its 72nd Policy Forum. Titled “Decisions, Decisions: Choices That Affect Retirement Income Adequacy,” the sessions will be looking at factors that matter—both at the macro and micro levels. Specifically, a series of expert panels will consider what a sustained low-interest rate environment means for retirement savings and retirement income, the effect(s) of the match timing, amount, and sources on meeting plan objectives, and helping plans and participants optimize their distribution choices—rollover, drawdown, and annuity options (the agenda is online here).

Every day we make decisions—or have decisions imposed on us. These decisions, in turn, have consequences: some foreseeable, some not, others for which the true impact can only be viewed in the fullness of time. Ultimately, as with a disrupted commute, the better information we have about the nature, size, and duration of the problem, and the alternatives available, the better our choices are likely to be.

That’s what we hope to provide at EBRI’s policy forum next week: insights on key decisions and alternatives, the perspectives of experts, the sharing of research findings, the exchange of ideas.

Even the “best-laid” plans may indeed go astray. All the more reason to have a timely, working appreciation of the alternative(s).

Nevin E. Adams, JD

Information on registering for EBRI’s 72nd Policy Forum is available here.  The agenda is online here.

For those unable to attend in person, the EBRI policy forum will be webcast live by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), online here.

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