Enhancing, Restructuring, and Safeguarding Its Ministries Was the Focus of the BBT Board’s Fall Meeting

Photo by Patrice Nightingale
During the Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) fall board meeting, a group discusses information presented by an investment manager: (from left) Investment Committee chair Harry Rhodes, BBT president Nevin Dulabaum, consultant Tim Fallon, and Investment Committee member Jack Grim.

New capabilities for Brethren Pension Plan members, a restructuring of Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) as an organization, and the creation of a reserve fund for Brethren Foundation Charitable Gift Annuities were three of the main outcomes from the BBT board’s fall face-to-face meeting, which was held Nov. 18-19 in Martinsburg, Pa.

Each of these items will be implemented as a result of the board approving staff’s proposed 2012 budget.

“The respective changes that are on their way will allow the Brethren Pension Plan to better serve its retirees and current plan members, as well as to be more competitive at bringing in new members,” said Nevin Dulabaum, BBT president. “The changes will also reduce BBT’s overall expenses as we seek to maintain our effectiveness while utilizing some new efficiencies, and will provide Brethren Foundation protection from future liabilities. While change is never easy, I am confident that these proposals will serve the organization well.”

Total expenses for 2012 are budgeted at $4.18 million, down $58,000 (1.4 percent) from the 2011 budget and down $11,565 from BBT’s end-of-September annualized expenses. While overall expenses will be at a similar range in 2012, the story is in how the expenses will be allocated. Brethren Pension Plan is going to assume additional expenses so that it can transition to an outsourced record keeper, which will provide a number of value-added services for members and administrators including enhanced online tools for each member’s personal account and asset allocation advice. This shift will keep the plan competitive and compliant in a challenging, regulated marketplace. Meanwhile, BBT’s Insurance Services department will adopt some new efficiencies and will be slightly downsized in operations.

With the slight downsizing in operations in insurance, and with the closing of the Church of the Brethren Credit Union this past June, BBT finds itself with administrative support expenses that can be reduced. Thus, five BBT positions will be eliminated effective Dec. 16. A sixth position previously announced–a chief operating officer–will not be filled. The equivalent of a seventh position is being eliminated from BBT consulting fees. In addition to these positions, staff members combed through all budget line items, rethinking how BBT performs its work as they attempted to balance effectiveness with efficiencies. This process also resulted in BBT freezing its 2011 wages for 2012.

BBT fall board meeting
Photo by Patrice Nightingale
The Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) board of directors held its fall 2011 meeting in mid-November at the Village at Morrisons Cove, a Church of the Brethren retirement community in Martinsburg, Pa.

“Our organizational needs are changing,” Dulabaum said. “It is our responsibility to redirect expenses to meet the demands of those we serve and to fulfill internal obligations such as compliance. We are working hard to strengthen our ministries while creatively seeking new efficiencies to help bolster our operations. As we live into our new structure, we will continue to look at ways to reduce costs.”

In addition to the budget reductions, the organization will also become more streamlined in 2012. The BBT management team as of Jan. 1, 2012, will be composed of four members, and each member will carry an additional responsibility. Dulabaum will oversee communications. Scott Douglas, BBT’s vice president and director of Brethren Pension Plan, will become the director of the newly formed Employee Benefits Department, supervising all pension and insurance operations. Steve Mason, director of Brethren Foundation, will continue directing BBT’s socially responsible investing initiatives. John McGough, chief financial officer and director of investments, will become BBT’s chief compliance officer.

The other business item with financial ramifications was the board’s creation of a Charitable Gift Annuity Loss Reserve Fund, which will help offset gift annuities that have greater liabilities than assets. Mason indicated that the fund is needed to protect BFI’s assets from “underwater” gift annuities. The board also approved three additional steps that will help govern the administration of the gift annuities BBT manages; donors and intended recipient agencies will be notified of the changes by BFI staff.

Other significant actions

The BBT board affirmed its Ethos Statement for another year, with the belief that the statement that was first approved in Nov. 2008 continues to serve the organization well. The board also produced an announcement that reaffirms the Ethos Statement (see news item below). The Ethos Statement is available at www.brethrenbenefittrust.org/ideals .

The long-term strategy of Brethren Pension Plan’s Retirement Benefits Fund, the status on the search for a pension plan record keeper, and an update from the denomination’s vision committee were some of the reports received by the board.

In September, the board had heard departmental reports during a conference call. This call was designed to accommodate routine business items, which allows for more discussion about difficult issues when the group is convened in person. To this end, the board also decided not to meet at Annual Conference 2012, which would consist of a four-hour meeting following the conclusion of the conference. To conserve expenses and maximize meeting time, the board approved the concept of meeting for two days at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., over a weekend in August or early September.

The board also

— Approved an amendment to Brethren Pension Plan’s legal plan document, which clarifies when a person shall be entitled to receive an annuity benefit.

— Retained Sterling Capital Management as its short-term investment manager for a three-year term.

— Welcomed board members Harry Rhodes and John Waggoner as the Investment Committee’s chairman and recorder; Ann Quay Davis and Carol Ann Greenwood as the Budget and Audit Review Committee’s chairwoman and recorder; and Donna Forbes Steiner and Eunice Culp as the Governance Committee’s chairwoman and recorder.

— Met with Brethren Pension Plan members and Brethren Foundation Clients at the Village at Morrisons Cove retirement community. BBT’s board members and several staff also met with Corey Jones, Bob Neff, and Linda Banaszak, senior staff members of the Village at Morrisons Cove.

— Affirmed April 21-22 as the board’s next face-to-face meeting dates, in Elgin, Ill., with a conference call to be held in late March.

(This release was provided by BBT).

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