MY LAGERS EXPERIENCE: A Reflection on Three Remarkable Decades

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Keith Hughes, Executive Director

Wow, I find myself repeating a question that I’ve heard uttered countless times at Pre-Retirement Seminars during my career: “Where did the last 30 years go?”

In the summer of 1987, I became the first Comptroller of the LAGERS system. Just like many of you, I was recruited because of an existing skillset I obtained through previous employment. Having worked at the Missouri State Auditor’s Office and Joint Committee on Public Employee Retirement, I felt well prepared to handle the task.

“Where did the last 30 years go?”

After two short years with LAGERS, my responsibilities dramatically changed when I was promoted to Assistant Executive Secretary/Comptroller. This fortuitous move forever changed my view of retirement. For it was in this position that I begin meeting with government employees with similar interest of mine. They simply wanted to go to work daily, provide superior services to their employer, and create a better community for their families. In this role, I regularly met with members of the system in an effort to identify and secure monthly pension benefits. At the time, I was not prepared for this position, which included frequent public speaking, but knew that 22,000 members were depending on the staff of eight to meet their financial retirement goals.

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Keith being a good sport accepting his caricature from LAGERS’ Board Chairman, Arby Todd, at Keith’s retirement celebration.

In pursuit of further pension education, I came to the realization that LAGERS’ benefit structure, investment allocation, and member service design was superior to many other public pension plans across America. LAGERS has always been promoted as meeting one of three financial legs of a retirement solution; with the other two supporting legs being Social Security and personal savings. When I view these three sources of retirement income, clearly LAGERS is BEST positioned to deliver benefits for the long-term.

The LAGERS Board of Trustees has done an excellent job of ‘right-sizing’ the solution for the membership. In the 1980’s many of the services provided for the membership were completed through third party vendors. As the system has grown in size and complexity, many of these same services have been absorbed by LAGERS professional staff. As indicated by the system Mission Statement, the Board and staff are always seeking the most efficient and economical solution available. An example of the changing technology was the implementation of the LAGERS web portal ‘ECLIPSE’ which provides access to LAGERS employers and member data, 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week. This is a dramatic change from the monthly paper reporting of the 1980’s.

“It has truly been my privilege to serve the LAGERS membership for the last thirty years.”

In the winter of 2010, I was named the fifth Director of LAGERS. With a little over 40 years in existence, LAGERS had grown to be the third largest public pension plan in Missouri and the largest system serving local government. In an effort to extend LAGERS efficiencies to local governments, legislation was recently adopted permitting LAGERS administration of closed local pension plans. This optional program may relieve local governments of the daily burden of pension administration while leaving the task to LAGERS professional administration. This legislation is a “game changer” for local governments struggling to meet their fiduciary responsibility in managing local administered pension plans. Again, another fine example of the extension of pension services for local governments in Missouri.

LAGERS Board and staff continually focus on delivering superior service to the LAGERS membership. In 2015, LAGERS was named the “Public Plan Sponsor of the Year – Defined Benefit Category” by Plansponsor Magazine. This award was a further confirmation that LAGERS was “Getting it Right” for the membership. In addition, LAGERS has now received the GFOA ‘Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting’ for 39 consecutive years. These two awards further support LAGERS meeting the membership needs and full reporting transparency. I am extremely proud of these two awards as they reflect the professionalism of the LAGERS staff I have the privilege to work with each and every day.

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LAGERS received the 2015 Plan Sponsor of the Year award.

In reflection, there has been one consistency in my LAGERS experience. That one consistency is that each and every action taken by the Board of Trustees and staff is to deliver superior service in the most economical manner. A very simple pursuit, but one worth the effort for the 700 employers and 62,000 plus members served today.

It has truly been my privilege to serve the LAGERS membership for the last thirty years. The system continues moving forward with a strong governance structure led by the Board of Trustees and professional staff. And now at the 50th Anniversary of the system, LAGERS is identified as one of the ‘premier public pension plans’ in America.

 

 

 

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