Tag Archives: The Fund

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Fight Against Pension Fraud

Since taking office in 2007, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has been committed to fighting public corruption and protecting the New York State and Local Retirement System from pension fraud.

fighting pension fraud

Teamwork

Comptroller DiNapoli, through his Division of Investigations, partners with federal, state, and local law enforcement at every level of government. The Division’s pension fraud investigations have resulted in dozens of arrests and convictions and the recovery of nearly $3 million dollars.

The Retirement System’s Pension Integrity Bureau (PIB) is responsible for recovering erroneously paid pension benefits. In many cases, this is due to the survivors’ failure to report the death of a retiree in a timely manner, but some cases involve schemes to conceal the retiree’s death to continue pocketing pension payments. When PIB comes across apparent criminal activity, it refers the case to the Division of Investigations.

Recent Cases

In June 2021, an Ontario County woman pleaded guilty to grand larceny for stealing $2,076 that was intended for a deceased friend. The woman and her friend, who was retired from the Tonawanda Public Works Department, had a joint bank account. After his death, the woman unlawfully withdrew his pension payment and $3,216 in Veterans Affairs benefits and closed the account.

That same month, an Orange County woman was arrested and charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing her late mother’s pension payments. She attempted to hide her mother’s death from NYSLRS and more than $50,000 in pension payments were deposited into a joint account after her mother’s death. The woman allegedly used the money to pay bills and make personal purchases, including fast food, liquor, clothing, gas and entertainment.

Other Notable Cases

Some people have taken elaborate measures to keep the pension payments coming in. For example, there was the Queens man who left his father’s body in a morgue for more than a year while he siphoned off $7,542 in pension payments and $17,790 in Social Security from his father’s bank account.

In many instances, the pension fraud involves substantial amounts of money which can lead to serious penalties for those who get caught. A few years ago, a Florida woman was sentenced to 2-to-6 years in State prison after she was convicted of stealing more than $120,000 in pension payments after her uncle’s death. She sent false information to his bank indicating he was still alive, then used her power of attorney to withdraw pension payments for several years.

Then there was the man who impersonated his dead brother in order to collect more than $180,000 in pension benefits. The Retirement System learned of the brother’s death and stopped payments to a trust account the man controlled. The man phoned the NYSLRS Call Center pretending to be his deceased brother demanding his money and insisted he was alive. The ploy failed and he was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation. He also signed a $180,140 judgment and had to repay NYSLRS.

Your Pension Fund is Secure

The Pension Fund, which provides the money for pension payments and was valued at an estimated $254.8 billion as of March 31, 2021, has long been recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public pension funds in the nation. The State Comptroller’s ongoing effort to combat pension fraud and abuse is just one more reason that the Fund remains safe and secure.

New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555.

A Century of Security and Stability

A century after its creation, the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) is widely recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public pension systems in the nation. Comptroller DiNapoli recently announced that the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund), which holds and invests the assets of NYSLRS, had an estimated value of $254.8 billion as of March 31, 2021 – a record high for the Fund. The security and stability of NYSLRS and the Fund are due, in large part, to the stewardship of Comptroller DiNapoli, as well as a long line of State Comptrollers that came before him. The System has also been bolstered by some key events along the way.

NYSLRS History - key events contributing to the security and stability of the Retirement System and the Fund

In the Beginning

NYSLRS’ security and stability were built in at the start. In 1918, the State Legislature created the Commission on Pensions and charged it with recommending a pension system for State workers.

After surveying pension plans in New York and other states, the Pension Commission recognized the need to calculate the cost of the pension plan through actuarial calculations, which take into account such things as employees’ salaries and how long they are expected to be retired. They also saw the need to make provisions to cover those costs through contributions and other income. They recommended a plan supported by the contributions of employers (New York State and, eventually, local governments) and employees. The improved actuarial calculations the System uses today helps to ensure that member contributions and employer annual contributions are sufficient to keep the System adequately funded.

The Pension Commission also recommended a service retirement benefit be made available to workers who reached a certain age, based on average earnings and years of service. Though they didn’t use the term, their pension plan was very similar to the defined-benefit plan NYSLRS members have now.

Unlike the 401k-style defined-contribution plans common in the private sector today, a defined-benefit plan provides a guaranteed, lifetime benefit. With a defined-benefit plan, you don’t have to worry about your money running out during retirement, and your employer has an excellent tool for recruiting and retaining workers.

Constitutional Protection

In 1938, New York voters approved several amendments to the State Constitution, including Article 5, Section 7, which guarantees that a public pension benefit cannot be “diminished or impaired.” This constitutional language protects the interests of the Fund and its members and beneficiaries, ensuring that the money the Fund holds will be there to pay the pensions for all current and future retirees. The courts have upheld this constitutional provision to protect the Fund several times over the years.

For NYSLRS members and retirees, that means the retirement benefits you were promised when you started your public service career cannot be reduced or taken away.

Sound Investments

Sound investments are crucial to the health of the Fund, but in some cases changes in the law were needed to give Fund managers the flexibility to make the best investments. In 1961, the Fund was allowed to invest in the stock market, opening up the door for growth opportunities. Roughly half of the Fund’s assets are currently invested in stocks.

In 2005, the Legislature expanded the types of investments the Fund could make, allowing the Fund to increase investments in real estate, international stocks and other sectors that had been providing high returns.

Today, under Comptroller DiNapoli’s leadership, the Fund’s investment returns cover the majority of the cost of retirement benefits. After suffering a drop in value at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the Fund had its best year in history, with estimated investment returns of 33.55 percent for fiscal year 2021.

NYSLRS is well-positioned to face the challenges of the future and provide retirement security for more than 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries.

The Common Retirement Fund: 100 Years of Strength and Security

In 1921, NYSLRS’ pension fund held several million dollars and provided benefits to just a few dozen State employees. Today, the Common Retirement Fund (Fund) provides more than a billion dollars per month to hundreds of thousands of retirees and beneficiaries.

The System’s founders showed foresight in establishing the framework for a sustainable retirement system capable of providing long-term pension security for its members and retirees. Today, one hundred years later, we are considered one of the strongest public pension funds in the country, thanks in large part to the stewardship of Comptroller DiNapoli, trustee of the Common Retirement Fund and administrator of NYSLRS for the past 14 years.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s diligent efforts to maintain the financial well-being of the Fund, the fact that NYSLRS’ participating employers contribute their share into the Fund, and New York’s constitutional requirement that lifetime pension benefits be guaranteed to all NYSLRS retirees — all these elements combine to ensure that NYSLRS retirees will enjoy secure benefits for generations to come.

Common Retirement Fund - A Snapshot of Growth

Investments

The Common Retirement Fund has been widely recognized as one the best-funded and best-managed public pension fund’s in the nation. (In June 2020, the Pew Charitable Trusts ranked NYSLRS as the second-best-funded public retirement system in the nation, based on 2018 data.) The cornerstone of the Fund’s reputation is its sound investment policies. At the direction of Comptroller DiNapoli, Fund managers use a long-term investment strategy designed to take advantage of growth opportunities during good economic times, while helping the Fund weather economic downturns.

The Comptroller seeks the input of a wide range of internal and external advisors, consultants and legal counsel who help to determine the best investment choices and allocation of assets for the Fund. These advisors provide independent advice and oversight of all investment decisions, serve as part of the chain of approval on all investment decisions before they reach the Comptroller for final approval and participate on advisory committees that meet periodically throughout the year.

Fund assets are invested in a diversified portfolio. About 55 percent of the assets are invested in publicly traded stocks. Other investments include bonds, mortgages, real estate and private equity.

The Fund is also strengthened by a forward-looking approach to addressing climate change-related investment risks and capitalizing on the opportunities created by the transition to a low-carbon economy. Comptroller DiNapoli recognizes that climate change poses an enormous threat to the global economy and to the Fund’s investment portfolio. Recently, he announced plans to transition the Fund’s portfolio to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This process will include a review of investments in energy companies and, where consistent with his fiduciary responsibility to maintain the long-term financial health of the Fund for NYSLRS members, divestment of companies that don’t meet minimum standards. This policy will help ensure that the Fund adapts to a changing global economy and maintains its growth in coming decades.

The Common Retirement Fund’s Impact on New York Businesses

The Common Retirement Fund’s In-State Private Equity Program invests in new and expanding New York companies and makes capital available to qualifying small businesses. As of March 31, 2020, the Fund’s private equity portfolio included investments in over 330 New York businesses with a total value of $1.9 billion. These investments boost the State’s economy while at the same time generating significant returns for the Fund.

Looking Forward

As the Common Retirement Fund’s assets have grown over the years, so have its obligations. As of March 31, 2020, there were 487,407 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries, who were paid $13.4 billion in benefits over the previous year. That’s up from 67,689 retirees and beneficiaries, who were paid $194 million in benefits in 1971. Roughly a third of NYSLRS members are expected to retire over the coming decade.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s focus on continuing the Fund’s record of strong growth ensures that the Retirement System will be ready to meet the challenges of the future. The New York State Common Retirement Fund’s estimated overall investment return was 33.55 percent for the State fiscal year that ended March 31, 2021, reflecting the financial markets’ dramatic rebound from lows reached during the COVID-19 pandemic. The return on investments increased the Fund’s value to an estimated $254.8 billion. More than 1.1 million NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries can continue to rely on the Retirement System for their retirement security.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS paid $13.4 billion in benefits to 487,407 retirees and beneficiaries during the State fiscal year that ended on March 31. These benefits are paid out through the New York State Common Retirement Fund (the Fund).

NYSLRS By the Numbers

NYSLRS Membership                                                           

But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. The system had 673,336 members as of March 31, including county workers, professional firefighters and State troopers. Here are some facts about our membership:

  • 530,547 active members (that is, members still on a public payroll) work for 2,962 public employers statewide.
  • One-third of those active members work for New York State. The rest work for counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities.
  • Nearly 94 percent of active members are in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS). The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) accounts for 6 percent of NYSLRS membership.
  • More than 44 percent of all members are in Tier 6. Fifty-eight percent of PFRS members are in Tier 2 and almost 49 percent of ERS members are in Tiers 3 and 4.

NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries

The average pension for an ERS retiree was $25,105; the average for a PFRS retiree was $54,684. But these pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $10.8 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

Extensive information about NYSLRS members and retirees, the Fund, and Fund investments can be found in the 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). NYSLRS once again received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2019 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 16 years.

Your NYSLRS Pension is Secure

You probably have a lot on your mind right now, but one thing you don’t need to worry about is your NYSLRS pension. Despite the turmoil in the financial markets, your retirement benefits are secure.

“I want to assure the more than one million men and women who rely on the State pension fund for retirement security that we are well-positioned to weather the ongoing volatility,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “To our retirees, your pensions are safe and we will continue to pay your benefits as promised.”

The New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests NYSLRS assets, has long been recognized as one of best managed and best funded public pension plans in the nation. The strength of the Fund puts NYSLRS in a good position as we navigate through the current economic turmoil.

The Fund’s professional managers take a conservative approach to investing and focus on sustained, long-term results. This approach allows the Fund to capitalize on investment opportunities in good times and cushions it against market ups and downs. In recent months, as they recognized increased volatility in the market, Fund managers began making adjustments to the Fund’s investment portfolio to prepare for an expected downturn in the economy. They are actively managing the Fund through these difficult times and are confident the markets will ultimately recover.

News You May Have Missed

Information comes at us fast these days. So, we thought we would say one last goodbye to 2017 with some news from your retirement system that you may have missed last year.

Investing in a Cleaner Future

The New York State Common Retirement Fund holds some $200 billion of assets in trust for more than a million NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries. But, that’s not all it does. Here’s a look at how Comptroller DiNapoli is putting the Fund’s investments and influence to work — taking advantage of low-carbon investment opportunities and seeking improvements in the environmental practices of the companies in the Fund’s portfolio.

Read more …

Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning

We’re all NYSLRS members, but we’re spread out over two systems, six tiers and 346 retirement plan combinations. Here’s a look at why knowing your plan is so important when it comes to understanding your benefits and planning for retirement — and how to find yours if you don’t know it already.

Read more …

Choosing Your Pension Payment Option

When it comes to retirement, you have some decisions to make: whether to retire, when to retire, but also, how you want to receive your pension benefit. It’s an important choice, one which can affect both your own financial security and that of your loved ones. In this post, we break down your options.

Read more …

Help with Retirement Online

More than 100,000 NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries are now using Retirement Online to review their NYSLRS benefits and conduct transactions in real time. If you’re one of them, but you’ve forgotten your password or your user ID, or if you want to register a trusted device, we can help.

Read more …

Know Your Benefits: Death Benefits

Another in our Know Your Benefits series. This time, we tackle death benefits. Most of us will leave our beneficiaries what’s called an ordinary death benefit if we die while we’re still working. We take a look at this and other common death benefits and how your survivors should file for them.

Read more …

From NYSLRS

Investing in a Cleaner Future

Saturday is Earth Day. Since 1970, April 22 has been set aside as a day to draw attention to environmental issues. Today, 47 years after the first Earth Day, we face perhaps the greatest threat to the planet: climate change as a result of carbon emissions.

As trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund (CRF), Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli seeks sound and sustainable investments in strategies and companies that are developing and using low-carbon technologies.Comptroller DiNapoli's Sustainable Investment Strategy

The CRF’s investments in New York-based companies such as Crystal IS in Green Island and the High Sheldon wind farm in Sheldon are examples of low-carbon investment opportunities that provide solid returns for the Fund, create jobs and generate local tax revenues, while helping promote a lower carbon economy.

As an investor, DiNapoli continually seeks improvements in environmental practices and lower carbon emissions from the companies in the CRF’s portfolio. For example, he has asked Exxon­Mobil* and other portfolio companies to explain how they can adjust their business model to meet the worldwide effort to limit global warming, and has urged the Securities and Exchange Commission to ask fossil fuel companies to explain how they are addressing climate change. The CRF has created a $2 billion public equity index that excludes or reduces investments in the worst carbon emitting corporations, and increases CRF’s investments in companies that are lower emitters. In addition, DiNapoli has increased the CRF’s total commitment to sustainable investments to $5 billion to take advantage of the growing low carbon economy.

The Comptroller’s sustainable investment strategy is crucial to the long-term health of the CRF. Addressing investment risks presented by climate change is a major part of that strategy. Rising seas, severe storms, floods and droughts are likely to disrupt the global economy. Moving toward a low carbon future reduces risk to the CRF’s investments, spurs innovation and opens new investment opportunities.

*Update: Recently, ExxonMobil agreed to implement the CRF’s shareholder request, which received landslide support from more than 62 percent of Exxon voting shareholders.

“I am pleased Exxon has agreed to undertake this important analysis,” said DiNapoli. “Climate change is one of the greatest threats to our pension fund’s long-term value. Exxon’s decision demonstrates that investors have the power to hold corporations accountable and to compel them to address our very real climate-related concerns. We will continue to monitor Exxon’s response to climate change as we urge the company, and others in the energy sector, to find ways that they can adapt to the growing lower carbon economy.”

Links:

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39329304

http://time.com/4082328/climate-change-economic-impact/

 

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.

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.