Despite the massive losses suffered on Wall Street in the past six weeks, the retirement plans for University faculty seem to have weathered the economic storm better than most.
Faculty members across the country are concerned about the value of their retirement accounts as the country’s economic state has worsened.
Jennifer Compton, a spokeswoman for TIAA-CREF, a national financial corporation that handles retirement investments for faculty members, said calls to the company from concerned clients have increased 60 percent nationwide from last year at this time.
Here in Michigan, Todd Kephart, a retirement account adviser for TIAA-CREF based in Ann Arbor, said he has received several panicked phone calls, particularly during the week of Oct. 6, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped about 11.5 percent.
But he said very few of his clients have asked for drastic changes to the way the investments that make up their retirement accounts are handled.
Kephart said he attributes the small number of devastating losses to his clients’s retirement plans to the array of investments that make up their retirement accounts. A typical client’s portfolio, he explained, contains a combination of stocks, bonds and commercial real estate, with the average portfolio including about 30 to 40 percent in stocks.
He said that because of this strategy, the stock market’s decline has “certainly made an impact, but it shouldn’t be tremendous.”
Kephart said the faculty members most concerned about the economic downturn were not those who plan to retire in three or four years or even those who have been retired for a few years, but instead those who have just announced their retirement or retired last year.
“A lot of people are asking, ‘Did I make the wrong choice?’ ” Kephart said.
But Kephart said in every one of these cases that he’s seen, the faculty member was still able to stay retired or retire as planned, perhaps by slightly tightening their budget for the near future.
He said much of the worry has come from anecdotal reports in the media of retirees who have had to go back to work or significantly delay their retirement. But, in most of those cases, the people involved had a significant percent of their portfolios invested in stocks, say, 85 percent.
Not everyone shares Kephart’s optimistic outlook, however, especially considering that no one knows how much longer and how much further stock markets will continue to fall, dragging down with them faculty members’s retirement accounts.
Political Science Prof. John Jackson said he believes the effect of the financial crisis is being felt now and will continue to hit retirement funds.
“The impact is quite substantial,” he said. “We will feel it soon.”
Emeritus Physics Prof. Lawrence Jones, who has been retired for 10 years, said he’s satisfied with his retirement benefits. Even after losing about 10 percent of his total portfolio in recent weeks, Jones said he isn’t concerned.
“I may use my money more carefully, but my portfolio has been handled well by TIAA-CREF,” he said. “So it’s been perfectly satisfactory.”
Jones said he has several other retired friends, none of whom have mentioned retirement problems to him.
Meanwhile, TIAA-CREF has implemented a number of initiatives meant to alleviate University employee worries and ensure they are invested appropriately.
The company has set up presentations on North and Central Campus, and is encouraging professors to contact their representative with concerns. For now, the market decline has not significantly affected many faculty members.
“No one really to my knowledge is putting things off because of what’s happened,” Kephart said.