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A Look Inside NYSLRS

Want an inside view of NYSLRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund)? Curious about how the Fund is managed and how well its investments are performing? Then check out the latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

The 2017 CAFR, which covers the state fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2017, is chock full of facts and figures that offer a detailed look at the Retirement System and the Fund. The biggest story is the financial health of the Fund. The Fund’s assets were valued at $192.4 billion at the end of the fiscal year and continued to grow, reaching an estimated value of $201.3 billion as of September 30, 2017. The average return on Fund investments in fiscal year 2017 was 11.48 percent, well above the long-term expected rate of return of 7 percent.

The soundness of NYSLRS was confirmed by several recent independent studies, which concluded that the New York State’s pension system is one of the best-funded public pension systems in the nation. And that means NYSLRS’ 652,324 members and 452,455 retirees and beneficiaries can rest assured their pensions will be there for them in retirement.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

The average pension for an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retiree was $23,026; the average for a Police and Fire Retirement System was $49,123. In all, NYSLRS paid out $11.3 billion in benefits during the fiscal year. (Fund investment earnings covered 75 percent of the cost of these benefits.) But NYSLRS pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 78 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $9.1 billion worth of benefits stayed in the State. And that money supported local businesses, paid local taxes and generated economic development statewide.

An Award-Winning Publication

NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2016 CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports. NYSLRS has won this award for the last 13 years.

Stopping Pension Fraud

Stopping Pension Fraud is a top priority of Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoliSince taking office, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has battled public corruption. One of his top priorities is to protect the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) from pension scammers.

Under the direction of Comptroller DiNapoli, NYSLRS has put in place a system of safeguards designed to prevent and identify potential incidents of pension fraud. One such safeguard uses data analytics to uncover and stop improper payments.

Post-Retirement Employment Violations

Our investigative efforts include a focus on post-retirement employment. New York State law restricts the amount of money public sector retirees can earn if they return to public service employment after retirement. The law permits public sector retirees under the age of 65 to earn up to $30,000 per year from public employment before their pension benefits are suspended.

As of this March, our review of post-retirement employment cases have uncovered more than $700,000 in benefit payments subject to recovery. For example, a former Newburgh City Fire Chief, who double-dipped by collecting $95,000 in pension payments while still working as fire chief, was federally convicted.

The “Muscle” in the Pension Fraud Fight

In some cases, the pension fraud NYSLRS uncovers gets referred to Comptroller DiNapoli’s wider umbrella program to root out public corruption and fraud involving public funds. The Comptroller’s aggressive initiative included partnering with federal, state and local prosecutors and law enforcement statewide, including DiNapoli’s groundbreaking “Operation Integrity” task force with Attorney General Schneiderman. To date, Comptroller DiNapoli’s various partnerships have garnered more than 130 arrests and $30 million in ordered recoveries.

NYSLRS’ partnership with DiNapoli’s “Operation Integrity” has resulted in the investigation, prosecution and recovery of stolen pension payments, exposing $2.75 million in pension fraud in recent years.

Here are some recent cases where pension scammers have been thwarted:

Comptroller DiNapoli and NYSLRS will not tolerate pension fraud. These arrests and convictions serve as warnings to those who might steal pension benefits: if you think you can steal the hard-earned benefits of NYSLRS members and retirees, you are gravely mistaken. When fraud is identified, Comptroller DiNapoli will work with law enforcement to hold the pension scammers accountable. The clear message to anyone who tries to defraud our pension system is that you will be found, and you will pay.

If you suspect someone of pension fraud, call the Comptroller’s toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, file a complaint online at investigations@osc.state.ny.us, or mail a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 14th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.

What is the CAFR?

Last week, we published the latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). This annual report gives a clear view about how both NYSLRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) are managed. This year’s CAFR covers our last State fiscal year, from April 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016.

The CAFR and Transparency

Each year when the CAFR is prepared, we strive to make sure the data is accurate, complete, and clear. For example, the financial section was prepared in keeping with accounting principles established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, and reporting requirements outlined by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. These principles set standards for financial accounting and reporting. By following them, we can see how we compare with other government entities using the same standards, ensure our data is consistent between accounting periods, and provide reliable financial statements to the public.

Comptroller DiNapoli is responsible for the Fund’s management. He ensures that investment policies and practices follow the highest levels of ethical conduct and transparency. The CAFR aids in transparency by providing historical data and extensive detail about the Fund’s audited assets, liabilities, investments, and transactions.

The CAFR provides many facts and figures about both NYSLRS and the Fund. Here are some statistics from the past fiscal year:

  • As of April 1, 2016, there were a total of 647,399 NYSLRS members; 612,294 in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and 35,105 in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).
  • As of April 1, 2016, there were 440,943 NYSLRS retirees, 78 percent of whom live in New York.
  • As of April 1, 2016, there were a total of 3,040 participating NYSLRS employers.
  • The largest holdings in the Fund’s portfolio include:
    • Apple, Inc.
    • General Electric Company
    • AT&T, Inc.
    • Exxon Mobil Corp.
    • Microsoft Corp.
  • The Fund has invested approximately $9 billion with minority- and women-owned business enterprises since Comptroller DiNapoli took office in 2007.

This fact sheet (PDF) summarizes many other NYSLRS statistics you’ll find in the new CAFR. You can also find back issues of the CAFR on our website.

A Quick Look at the NYS Common Retirement Fund

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the trustee of the Common Retirement Fund, which is the third largest public pension fund in the country. The Fund’s assets come from three main sources: member contributions, employer contributions, and investment returns. The Fund has two main goals:

  • Provide the means to pay benefits to NYSLRS’ participants; and
  • Minimize employer contributions through an investment program designed to protect and enhance the long-term value of the assets.

Over the last 20 years, 79 percent of benefits have been funded from investment returns. When you retire from NYSLRS, your monthly pension benefit—and the benefits of many others—will be drawn from this fund. Ethical management and a long-term, diversified investment strategy has made NYSLRS one of the best managed and funded plans in the nation.
Common Retirement Fund Assets

Strategic Long-Term Investments

The Fund’s investment program is designed to weather the ups and downs of an increasingly volatile global market. Our long-term target allocation for our investment portfolio is 22 percent in fixed income assets (bonds and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities [TIPS]) and 78 percent in equities, which includes:

  • Domestic and international public equities
  • Real estate
  • Real assets
  • Absolute return strategies
  • Mortgages
  • Private equity investments
  • Opportunistic funds

A diversified investment strategy helps us meet the funding needs for our current and future retirees while also helping to control risk.

The Fund is Well-Managed

An independent review of the Fund commended Comptroller DiNapoli and NYSLRS for strong policies and ethical management. By adhering to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, our members, retirees, and beneficiaries can be confident the Fund is being managed wisely.

The Common Retirement Fund: Invested In New York

As the third largest public pension fund in the country, the New York Common Retirement Fund (Fund) is in an excellent position to help strengthen the New York economy. One way it accomplishes this is by investing in New York businesses. Like all of the Fund’s investments, businesses are evaluated on their potential to earn a solid return for the Fund. Under New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s direction, the Fund uses several programs to invest in New York businesses:

  • The In-State Private Equity Investment Program
  • The New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC)
  • The New York Credit Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Fund

By making money available through these programs, the Fund supports local businesses and creates jobs across the state.
The Fund—Invested in New York

The In-State Private Equity Investment Program

With the In-State Program, the Fund looks for companies in need of expansion capital. Businesses use the Fund’s investment to expand their operations and hire workers. The Fund has invested $820 million in over 300 New York businesses, with almost $325 million returned on exited investments. The companies in the In-State Program have also created or kept more than 4,500 jobs around the state.

The New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC)

The Fund works with NYBDC to provide loans to small businesses in New York. These loans help small businesses buy property and equipment, expand, or start up. They also help create or retain almost 9,000 jobs each year. By borrowing from NYBDC, small businesses can receive lending terms that are often more favorable than other lending terms. Since the Fund partnered with NYBDC, they’ve loaned $362 million to 1,082 small businesses.

Invested in New York — Comptroller DiNapoli at Versa-Tel

Since teaming up with New York Business Development Corporation in 2007 to offer small business loans to returning military veterans, the New York State Common Retirement Fund has made nearly $1.5 million in loans to military veterans. On Veterans Day, Comptroller DiNapoli visited Versa-Tel, a veteran-owned telecommunications company based in Long Island, which received one of those loans.

The New York Credit Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Fund

Last week, State Comptroller DiNapoli introduced a program that will make $200 million available for in-state investing. The SBIC fund offers credit financing to eligible New York companies, which provides another way to help smaller businesses expand their operations. The Fund is one of the first public funds to offer state-focused credit financing.

The Fund has New York’s best interests in mind by investing in local businesses and the result is two-fold: New York businesses receive the financing they need to succeed, and the Fund receives solid returns that get passed on to its members and retirees.

A Snapshot of NYSLRS

Each year, we publish our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to explain how the Common Retirement Fund is managed and provide statistics about NYSLRS’ financial activities. This allows the public to see what we do behind the scenes to make sure the Fund stays well-funded and secure for the years to come.

NYSLRS by the Numbers

Retirees-in-US_Top-States The CAFR features many figures about NYSLRS and the Fund. At the end of the 2014–15 fiscal year, the Fund was valued at $184.5 billion. Prior to the recession, in fiscal year 2006–07, the value of the Fund was at $154.6 billion. Overall membership in NYSLRS is currently at 1,073,486, with membership being comprised of 643,178 members and 430,308 retirees and beneficiaries.

Of those 430,308 NYSLRS retirees, 78 percent of them — 337,406 — have chosen to live in New York. This is important because the pension money paid to retired state and local public employees flows directly back into our communities, stimulating and growing our local economies. During 2014, NYSLRS retirees were responsible for $12 billion in economic activity in New York State.

Here are some other facts you may not be aware of:

  • The state with the fewest number of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries is North Dakota, which only has 18 retirees and beneficiaries.
  • Florida has 35,014 retirees and beneficiaries, coming in second place to New York;
  • The county with the most retirees and beneficiaries is Suffolk County, with a total of 32,555. Erie County comes in second with 28,342 retirees and beneficiaries, and Nassau County comes in third with 21,947. The county with the fewest retirement and beneficiaries? Hamilton County with 411.
  • There are 717 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries who live outside the United States.

An Award-Winning Publication

NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2014 CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports. NYSLRS has won this award for the last 11 years.

You can check out CAFRs from past years by visiting our website at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/retire/about_us/financial_statements_index.php#cafr.

NYSLRS Retirees Build a Stronger New York

NYSLRS pension benefit can provide security and peace of mind in retirement. What some retirees might not realize about their lifetime benefit is the effect it has on the local economy. During 2014 alone, NYSLRS retirees were responsible for $12 billion in economic activity in New York State. By buying local goods and services, NYSLRS retirees help existing companies grow, create opportunities for new businesses, and help foster an environment that helps companies create job opportunities.

NYSLRS Retirees in New York

Of the 430,308 current NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries, 78 percent of them live in New York State. These retirees make up 2.8 percent of the general population, but their impact on the State economy is considerable:

  • Retiree Spending Creates Jobs, Supports Local Business. NYSLRS retirees spend a larger than average share of their income on industries that benefitted local businesses, such as health care, restaurants and entertainment. These industries can expect more growth in the coming decades with NYSLRS retirees as part of their customer base. As a result of this spending, NYSLRS retirees were also responsible for an estimated 60,400 jobs.
  • Retirees Pay Billions in Taxes. In 2014, NYSLRS retirees paid $1.6 billion in real property taxes, which is five percent of the total collected in New York. These taxes help support New York schools, roads and government services. Also, spending by NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries generated an estimated $514 million in state and local sales tax.

After spending their careers working in State and local governments, the university system, public authorities and schools, NYSLRS retirees continue to help New York’s Main Streets grow and develop. The benefits of a NYSLRS pension aren’t just felt by retirees, but also by local businesses and communities. As the number of NYSLRS retirees continues to grow, the investment they make in communities across New York State will also continue to grow.

Why Corporate Political Disclosure Matters

With the help of Comptroller DiNapoli, the New York State Common Retirement Fund is asking the companies it invests in to be more open about their corporate political spending. When companies spend money toward certain political causes, their shareholders may end up footing the bill. And as a shareholder in many large American companies, the Fund wants to make sure its investments are used wisely.

The Comptroller’s Efforts Toward Transparency

Election-Spending-Trend_2008-2014 Political Disclosure

In the election years from 2008 to 2014, the cost of congressional and presidential races climbed into the billions.

In 2010, the Supreme Court decided that corporations could contribute unlimited amounts of money to independent election efforts. Shareholders of these companies may not realize their money gets put toward these efforts. So, after the ruling, the Comptroller pushed for more transparency from the companies the Fund invests in.

One way he accomplishes this is through shareholder requests. These requests ask companies for a full, public report that lists their spending on:

  • Candidates
  • Political parties
  • Ballot measures
  • Any direct or indirect state and federal lobbying
  • Payments to any trade associations used for political purposes
  • Payments made to any organization that writes and endorses model legislation

This knowledge helps the Fund determine if it will still invest in these companies. Ultimately, the Fund wants to make sure its portfolio companies provide a long-term value on its investments, because that value will get passed on to its members, retirees and beneficiaries. If a company’s political spending puts that investment at risk, the Fund can withdraw as it sees fit.

The Fund’s Progress on Disclosure Agreements

The Fund has asked 52 of its portfolio companies to disclose their corporate political spending, and 26 companies have agreed to do so. Over the last year, the Fund has reached disclosure agreements with:

The Fund has taken a leadership role in corporate political disclosure, and Comptroller DiNapoli will continue to make it a priority.

Keeping the Pension Fund Funded

People are living longer, which means that recent retirees are spending more time in retirement than in previous generations. This also means that they are collecting a benefit for a longer period of time. That’s why Comptroller DiNapoli, administrator of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), ensures that the most accurate and current data available is used to project how long our members and retirees are expected to live. In doing so, NYSLRS lessens the risks of underfunding the benefits of its current and future retirees.

How the Pension Fund Plans Ahead

The pension fund’s assets come from member contributions, investment income, and employer contributions. Each year, NYSLRS calculates the funds it needs to pay current and future benefits. NYSLRS can’t know for certain how long a member will pay into the pension fund before retiring or how long a retiree will receive a pension. What NYSLRS can do, though, is make assumptions about each of these scenarios.

In this case, an assumption helps NYSLRS predict the expected future payments over the lifespan of its members and retirees based on their age and gender. By estimating how long NYSLRS can expect to pay its retirees, it can plan ahead and determine how much money the pension fund will need.

A New Direction on Assumptions

In August of 2014, NYSLRS’ actuary recommended a change in our mortality assumptions (pdf-icon PDF) based on the completion of a much anticipated study and report from the Society of Actuaries. This new approach to creating these assumptions considers the age and gender of members and retirees, and also their birth year. Birth years provide a more accurate way of looking at life expectancy as not all generational groups share the same life expectancy. A baby boomer who retires at age 62 may live until a certain age, but that doesn’t mean a millennial retiring at 62 will live until the same age. Using more realistic models of life expectancy gives NYSLRS a better understanding of what benefits to pay out over time.

NYSLRS can expect to pay out more benefits in the future as its retirees live longer, but it won’t come as a surprise. By planning ahead, NYSLRS is making sure the benefits you worked for will be there for you during retirement.

New York State Common Retirement Fund’s Emerging Manager Program

The New York State Common Retirement Fund (the Fund) can owe much of its high performance to its investment strategy, but another lesser-known investment approach that helps the Fund is its Emerging Manager Program. This program gives newer and smaller investment managers – people or firms who make investments on behalf of clients – the opportunity to invest for the Fund. And as you’ll see in this video, The Fund’s emerging managers deliver solid results.

8/7/14 Correction to video: We misstated the company name for interviewee Thurman White. Thurman White is from Progress Investment Management Co., not Program Investment Management Co.

The Emerging Manager Program: A Diverse Approach to Investing

The Fund’s Emerging Manager program started 20 years ago, when it granted almost $50 million to the public equity Emerging Manager platform. Today, in 2014, the Fund has provided $1.6 billion to that platform. The Fund is one of the few state pension funds in the country that features an emerging manager program across all major asset classes (private equity, public equity, hedge funds and real estate).

The goal of the program is to invest some of the Fund’s assets with smaller, newer managers, most of which are minority- and women-owned firms. By investing with emerging managers, who tend to focus on the smaller ends of the market, the Fund’s investment portfolio becomes more diverse, and ultimately, more sustainable. In turn, the emerging managers gain the capital and experience they need to become larger, best-in-class investment managers.

At this year’s emerging manager conference, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli summed up the benefit of the Fund’s Emerging Manager Program. “When you look at our program, and the success of it, and the overall strength of the Fund, it’s proof that expanding opportunities and access, to women-owned firms, to firms of color, to emerging managers – it’s not only the right approach, but it’s certainly the best approach.”

Visit the Division of Pension Investment & Cash Management on our website for more information on the Fund and the Emerging Manager Program.