A forum for retirement innovation information sharing focused on
states, supporters, and service providers.
Vol 39 | October 7, 2021
Greece and Retirement: a Ground Level View
If you ever get a chance to spend time on the Aegean Sea by catamaran, you must do it.
While you are there, you will experience ancient, rugged terrain. You’ll gaze at water so cobalt it will make you consider the meaning of life. You might meet some wild long-haired goats on a beach like we did here, at Polyegos. And you will with certainty meet some people you won’t soon forget.

If you’re like us, you’ll quiz them about their retirement savings.

When the topic came up, Georgia, 24 and currently serving as our boat’s steward, gave a little chuckle and said with furrowed brow, “I guess I should start thinking about that.” You see Georgia in the tender above, very nimbly tying off the stern. 
Phoebe, a 31 year old chef-becoming-captain, had given it some thought. “We’re not covered by national social security – we belong to a seaman’s retirement plan.” That may have been true at one time, but as of 2016 it looks as if occupation-targeted plans like these – many severely underfunded – have been consolidated into the national system. No one talks about private retirement savings like the IRAs we have here in the US, or about employer-based plans.

That night we slept on the bow under the stars. After midnight a wind came up and the boat slipped its anchor. The crew of three worked swiftly, efficiently, and I’m guessing with a healthy dose of fear, to keep the craft off the rocks. In the dark they got one line off, but the other one wouldn’t come loose. When cut, it cracked like a shotgun. Freed, and under the steady hand of expert captain Spiros, we motored quietly to Sifnos harbor. 
The next day Phoebe held the remaining line in her hand, thick and bright yellow, frayed at one end. “This line was so tight I could have cut it with a butter knife.” Let’s just say the work can be very dangerous.

Here’s a quick peek at the public pensions system in Greece. Many of you will know more than I do about this system, so I am counting on you for corrections and dialogue. The country’s primary pillar – a national pension – is based both on contributions (work duration) and residency. It used to be super-generous, unaffordably so. That has changed.

Back in Athens we took part of a day for a walking tour of the Acropolis. From the base, and in fact from anywhere in the city, the Acropolis seems to tower over you. On a sunny day warming quickly, we started walking from near the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
These guys have government jobs. So, the work may be hard and require a certain fastidiousness, but they’re unlikely to get fired and they’re very likely to get their public pension.

As we walked past the Zappeion, Olympic athletes’ lodging from the 1850’s, we got to talking about … retirement. “I was trained as an architect,” Rilla says. “I’m 65-66. I can’t get my pension until I’m 67.” She works as a guide to supplement her income, grossing 60 euros an hour to take easily-distracted groups of tourists up the unrailed steps and sometimes-steep pathway to the Parthenon. I think about her knees.

“When I get my pension, it’ll be about 1,000 euros a month.” She scoffs. “I live in a hundred year old house. I take care of my grandchildren. I have to put petrol in the car. I have a dog. A thousand euros …” her voice trails off. She doesn’t say a thousand euros is nothing, but she makes it clear she doesn’t think it will get her through the month. 
At lunch in Athens’ charming market district – the Plaka at the foot of the Acropolis – host Constantinos waves us into the Anafiotika Café. Dallying over our meal, we watch him buzz up the stairs, down the stairs, pulling customers in, calling to waiters and busboys to draw their attention to services needed.

“How’s your day going?” I ask. “My day? You mean my day?” “Yes!” and I love his response, so refreshingly honest. He’s smiling: “Well, I’m a little bit tired. I’d rather have a massage and a swim. But here we are.” If you look at the restaurant hours online, they simply say, We are Open. Monday-Saturday: Open. Sundays & Holidays: Open.

Constantinos has been in the restaurant business since he was six. This may be his family’s restaurant. He looks like he’s getting close to retirement age. But he does not look like he’s getting close to retirement.

On return to the US, we fact check our experience with a good Greek friend (thank you good Greek friend!). With some exceptions, the national pension system is the primary retirement savings vehicle for most Greeks. If they own a home, if their extended family is intact, these are their safety net. And by the way, the thousand euros Rilla will be getting sounds higher than average, as our friend estimates typical pensions at closer to E350.
Phoebe, who is both a Kiwi and Greek, would like to buy a bit of property, perhaps co-owned with some friends, and establish a sustainable home base that will carry her to and through older age. The system for doing this sounds byzantine. Maybe that’s not surprising when you live in a country where nearly every footstep is taken across ground whose active history reaches back to the Bronze age.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges we various countries face relative to personal savings and retirement security. But because we like simplicity and a good life in retirement, we’re going to think good thoughts for a gentle revolution that might include automatic, workplace-based enrollment into supplemental retirement savings – a Pillar three.

Let the conversations begin.

This piece is an editorial reflecting the personal views of our founder, Lisa Massena. No goats were harmed in the research process.
*Fresh!* State Auto IRA Program Metrics
Breaking it down! Funded accounts across the three programs are creeping toward the 400,000 mark. Last year at this time they were under 175,000. Combined assets have doubled this year and are closing in on 3x where they were a year ago.

Average account balances are now at $833. Remember this includes both long term and brand new savers. Oregon’s average account balance is $1,175 because the program has been in place longer. Average 30-day saver contribution rates are $114, $138, and $143 (Illinois, Oregon, California). At these rates, balances will increase by $1,300 to $1,700 annually, not including investment impact. Employee opt out rates are steady, at about 30%.
Employer perspective: Nearly 16,000 employers are now facilitating state Auto IRAs. Another 22,000 have registered to facilitate and are in the process of providing employee roster information, which is the first step in the employee engagement process, or preparing to start payroll deductions for participating employees.
State Facilitated Retirement Programs - Fresh Highlights
California (workforce 17.9 million) –The CalSavers Board met September 13, 2021. The agenda included items to discuss participation in the program’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment option, program updates and the readoption of regulations related to employer deadlines and the default investment option. Among other updates, Executive Director Katie Selenksi commented on the progress of employers in facilitating the program. Approximately 85% of Wave 1 and 71% of Wave 2 employers have responded with increasing numbers completing the employee roster and payroll deduction steps. Although California’s Wave 3 deadline is nine months off, nearly 20% of those employers have already responded.
Connecticut (workforce 1.6 million) – The Connecticut Retirement Security Authority’s Governance Subcommittee met September 15 to review and discuss an Investment Policy Statement and other policy proposals. The full CRSA Board held its regular meeting on September 24 to swear in two new board members, discuss program policies, procedures and budget, and to review program implementation progress.
Maryland (workforce 3.1 million) – has posted an update to its site to ensure employers have access to accurate information as they complete their contracting and go-to-market plan. 
If it’s time for Major League Baseball’s pennant race (Go Sox! Sorry, a glimpse of the loyalties here), it’s probably the legislative off-season most places. And yet, behind the scenes, states are active. We just can’t talk about it.
Hawaii (workforce .7 million) This we can say. Hawaii’s Retirement Savings Task Force is active under Senate Resolution 76, considering best opportunities for a very unique state. A report and recommendations are due in December.

  • New Mexico (workforce 1 million) – The next meeting of the New Mexico Work & $ave Board is scheduled for Nov. 4, 2021. For more information, please visit the Board’s website here.
  • Oregon (workforce 1.9 million) – The next meeting of the OregonSaves Board is scheduled for November 9, 2021.

  • California (workforce 17.9 million) –The next meeting of the CalSavers Board is scheduled for December 13, 2021.
Oregon's Michael Parker and NYC's John Adler:
Lessons Learned
As a follow-up to a recent piece I thought it would be interesting to speak directly to some of the people working on state-facilitated retirement savings programs (SFRPs) about lessons they’ve learned from others -- and the lessons they share with those who ask.

This month I spoke with OregonSaves director Michael Parker and to John Adler, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Pensions and Investments for New York City.

OregonSaves launched in 2017. Earlier this year, the New York City Council voted to create a similar program for the city’s private sector employees who lack access to plans at work. The program is on hold pending the outcome of legislation that would add automatic enrollment and an employer requirement to a Secure Choice program originally authorized by New York State in 2018.

Aside from reading RSM (that’s a given!), I asked Michael and John about the extent to which they keep in contact with colleagues across the country to stay abreast of relevant developments, what they’ve learned, and what they share.
For their effort-saving best practices, read on:
Final words? Michael’s feeling is that it doesn’t need to be significantly expensive to launch a state facilitated program, and that it can be accomplished with a handful of staff to support a board, execute an outreach program and handle related administrative tasks.
One piece of advice John shares is that the legislation establishing state-facilitated programs should not be overly prescriptive when it comes to program design and investment option considerations. Many of those details are best left to a board to determine with input from stakeholders, staff and expert consultants.

Many thanks to Michael Parker and John Adler for taking the time to speak to RSM and share their experiences and expertise for the benefit of all who are working on retirement security initiatives.

Stay tuned! / Grant
Columnist and Senior Associate Grant Boyken is based in California. You’ll see his Golden State perspectives reflected here – along with 50-state insights into retirement security innovation around the country. 
Hot Sauce! Cool Stuff.
A little curated content just for you.

First, don’t miss this new podcast from our favorite retirement security expert and convener, Georgetown’s Angela Antonelli. Angela hits a range of creative topics and this interview with another of our favorite people, Washington State Investment Board Executive Director Theresa Whitmarsh touches on excellence in investing and design for DB and DC plans – including how target date funds have created parity for the state’s DC savers, and what could make TDFs an even better option.

Do you like your info in bite sized pieces? If you do, the downloadable The Future of Building Wealth: Brief Essays on the Best Ideas to Build Wealth - for Everyone is for you. Ida Rademacher of the Aspen Institute and Ray Boshara of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis edit this motherlode of insight from 106 contributors. You’ll have to give your email to get it, but it’s free. We’d love to highlight the essay entitled “Achieving a Holistic, Inclusive, People-Centric Retirement Savings System”, by Karen Andres and David John. Jump to page 351 for a quick start.

Why do we care about retirement security? Because we care about the quality of life people experience now, and in the future. This new brief from Boston College’s Anek Belbase, Anqi Chen, and Alicia H. Munnell explores whether retirees are able to meet their future needs for long term care without exhausting their resources. Spoiler alert: sobering information ahead. Do you have an aging parent? Do you worry about aging yourself? Read this.

And, one editorial note about the power of automation, connected to aging. If, like us, you find yourself admitting an older loved one to hospice care, you will be entering what seems to be a very automated space. Within hours and days you’ll have the attention of a social worker, semi-personal nurse, a chaplain, a grief counselor (services may vary). All covered by Medicare. Don’t like what’s happening? You can tune it. But it’s there for you, even before you know you need it. Let’s make saving for the future more like that.

Ears on: If you find yourself traveling an ancient volcanic archipelago by boat and you’re curious about the cultures that took root there over time, you must listen to Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome by John R. Hale. We got it on Audible for one credit and it offered more than 18 hours of solid reading/listening pleasure. Great storytelling.

We did this one too; it filled in many gaps but was a lot more textbooky and we question some of the author’s conclusions, including the concept that ancient Greeks buried their dead with lots of fancy goods because they were showing off for the neighbors. Cuz we think they were equipping them for the afterlife based on their understanding of the universe … ?

OK that’s enough of that. If you need a fall reset, do not miss this short piece by Berlin-based designer Justine Leconte.
… Just one more PIC this week. OK maybe thre!
Here’s some graffiti truth-telling you may relate to. Feel free to use this one next time you get questioned about something distasteful you’re required to do at work.
It is possible to find toothpaste in the flavor “gin tonic” – with persimmon – it’s the red one.
And, corny but true, if you build things really well they can have a big impact on people.
That’s it for this edition! ❤ Hug your people and change the world.
If you like this piece, please stick with us. We’ll be back in about two weeks. If you don’t like it, please unsubscribe below. Comments for us? Please let us know. Want your own subscription? Request one here. All information shared is from public sources or used with express permission.
Massena Associates provides process, policy, and implementation consulting on retirement savings programs and products.

Our clientele includes states, governments, policy organizations, and private sector providers. Our specialty – efficient, targeted results. We are an active speaker on retirement security topics, including state-facilitated programs, MEPs and more.

If you’d like to explore working together, we welcome the conversation. Connect with us here, and at 339-236-0684.
RESOURCES you can use:
Looking for a great retirement savings innovation resource? Led by Dr. Alicia Munnell, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College develops and hosts terrific content and proprietary research related to states, financial security, social security, and more.

The Georgetown Center for Retirement Initiatives, Exec Angela Antonelli, provides excellent information on state-based and other retirement security innovation and policy.

Pew’s Retirement Savings Project studies the challenges and opportunities for increasing retirement savings and is another great resource - check out the work of John Scott and his terrific team.

If you want a great source of broad-based, consumer-focused retirement news, Jeffrey H. Snyder’s The Morning Pulse is your ticket. You can subscribe here.