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Judging by a recent interactive poll on the Credit Union Times Web site, it seems clear that if there are any problems regarding under funding (or no funding) of a pension plan for credit union CEOs, that both the CEO and the board of directors should share the blame. To refresh reader’s memories, the poll question was: “In those cases where the CEO is nearing retirement with no retirement plan, or one that is not adequately funded, whose fault is it?” The answer selected by 51.9% of the 526 persons participating in the poll, from the five choices offered, was: “the board and CEO; as part of good board/CEO relations, retirement planning should be discussed by both parties.” The answer that garnered the next highest number of votes, 31.56%, was: “The CEO; he or she needs to alert the board of this compensation void.” The other three choices blamed the board (11.22%); blamed no one (3.23%); or allowed the respondents to plead ignorance (2.09%). The trouble with most polls is that there is so much more to both the question and in the choice of answers than it might appear on the surface. Regarding the question that is the heart of the pension poll, for example, it assumes that there are in fact cases where the CEO has been chugging along for years without an adequate pension plan in place to take care of him or her as the retirement date sneaks up. Are there? Is it a common situation? Before engaging in the blame game, perhaps some straightforward questions should first be asked by every CEO and his or her board. Like, is there a fair and solid pension plan in place for the CEO? Does it differ from the one offered to the rest of the staff? If yes, good for those credit unions where the board and CEO communicate and where the board is fulfilling its responsibilities without the need for any pressure to do so. If no, more questions should be asked. Is there at least agreement that there should be such a plan? If so, is the board willing to do some research that is sure to lead to beefing up the funding schedule depending on the base salary and anticipated retirement date and at what age of the CEO? A question that this poll brought to my mind is how it could be possible that a CEO and a policymaking board of directors for which the CEO works, would ever allow such a situation to exist in the first place, especially with retirement dates for so many credit union CEOs just around the corner? What kind of management and policymaking is that? The board has only one employee. Shouldn’t it be expected that individually and as a single entity that the board would be on top of a fair overall compensation and financial package for that employee? And wouldn’t it also be logical to assume that a CEO who is responsible for an adequate benefits program (including a pension plan) for perhaps dozens of employees, would have played at least some attention to his or her own financial situation? Regarding the answers, let’s look first at the one with the highest percentage that says both the CEO and board need to be held accountable. Good answer. Frankly, I’m surprised that even a larger number of respondents didn’t choose this one. After all, that’s how things are supposed to work between boards and their CEOs, namely that they communicate effectively with each other. So a good answer, but only as far as it goes. What this response doesn’t take into account is that some CEOs are afraid to ever bring up to their boards anything that involves money, now or in the future. They weren’t always so gun shy, but many of these perfectly capable CEOs have been shot down so often and so forcefully that they decided to play it safe and take the path of least resistance and avoid the subject. Maybe these are the credit unions where board members checked off the answer that blames the CEO for the inadequate pension situation? On the other hand, some CEOs are faced with something we have mentioned in this space before; a board that evaluates pay (whatever that word encompasses) for their “hired hand” in concert with their own retirement pay, or even their full-time job pay before they retired. Especially if by “pay” they also mean pay after retirement. There are those persons serving on boards who can’t see a credit union CEO getting more money in retirement than they do, or than they did when they were still working. CEOs with boards like this will never get the right kind of pension plan in place. They are too old to quit so they have given up. Recent headlines in this publication have detailed a number of credit union CEOs who have been put in the position of having to defend what some have labeled “outrageous compensation packages.” Some have bought the explanation that a big chunk of the money going to the CEO was actually catch up money going into a soon-to-retire CEO’s under funded pension plan. Many have not. The numbers are just too large for some to comprehend. But whatever the numbers are, the hidden message behind this poll is that every board has an obligation to put personal prejudices and fears aside and have a frank discussion about the CEO’s pension plan. If it is in line with industry stats, good. If it is not, something should be done ASAP to get all the pension ducks in a row before the CU either has to play catch up, or worse, a long time and loyal CEO is sent off to retirement with a gold watch, a plaque, and not much else. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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