Every fall, I look forward to three things: the World Series, leaf watching here in the great Northeast and, for the last 27 years, the annual NPEA conference. I got my first exposure to the National Preretirement Education Association (as it was then-named) when I became the Coordinator of Preretirement Planning at the New York State Teachers' Retirement System (NYSTRS) in 1987. NYSTRS was one of the founding members of NPEA in 1980, when it joined several other public pension systems that recognized the need to assist the nation's public employees plan for retirement. Until that time, retirement systems were providing information to their members only about their retirement system benefits and the decisions they had to make about those benefits prior to retirement.
After consulting with our members over the years, it was becoming increasingly apparent they needed more information than we were providing to make the right retirement decisions. That new framework would include many other issues to consider, namely estate and financial planning, Social Security benefits, taxes, housing choices, relationship changes and the psychological adjustment to retirement. Employers and unions didn't have the resources to take on the task. NPEA was created to fill that void. Its mission would be to promote the development of programs and services by public pension systems to make their members aware of these other considerations and encourage them to seek professional advice where necessary to make informed decisions.
Returning to Charleston in 2013 was special for me because it was there in 1987 at my first conference where I experienced the true value of NPEA. I was introduced to presentations and other retirement professionals who were all part of this growing retirement education movement. Believe it or not, some are still involved in NPEA, while others continue in the industry in other capacities. Over the years, the relationships and friendships that developed have played an important role in helping us achieve our professional and personal goals. In a borrowing industry, we have shared ideas and materials and have been there for each other to celebrate successes and offer support in difficult times.
Since 1987, I have attended conferences on both coasts and many cities in between. Agendas have reflected economic and legislative trends and changes. Topics address the most current pension issues and the latest communications tools to reach our diverse audiences. I remember when computer benefit estimates and video conferencing were hot technology topics and we were trying to determine if the Internet would play a role in what we do in the future. We have discussed the trend to retire early during the good times of the ’90s, and the trend today of working longer following the recession in 2008. More recently, we have given much attention to protecting public pensions from attacks on all levels.
We have been welcomed by local dignitaries, as well as motivated, energized and informed by authors, actuaries, academics, economists, government leaders, futurists, legislators, researchers, legal experts, and communication specialists. Systems have used conferences to exhibit their own unique programs and services. Conference themes helped us "team up" in Baltimore, "survive" in San Diego, and solve "mission impossible" in Tempe.
We have networked and gotten to know each other at offsite venues and activities, including boat rides, trolley tours, and visits to museums and historical sites. We learned line dancing in Lincoln, witnessed a reenactment at Fort Jackson in Georgia, and were in Washington, DC for the historical presidential election of 2000. We’ve had a "colorful" past as we saw the white sand of Destin, the Red Rocks in Colorado, bluegrass of Kentucky, and the "green flash" in Naples. All the while, taking advantage of the opportunities to share information and return home each year better equipped to serve our members.
In the early days, our efforts were concentrated on getting the first wave of Baby Boomers ready for retirement. We knew the benefits of planning earlier and getting the information out to our younger members earlier, so we began to expand our programs to help them plan at the beginning and middle of their careers. Consistent with that broader emphasis, we changed our name to the National Pension Education Association – same acronym, but now with an expanded focus to include all our members.
All this was made possible by dedicated board members who bring unique skills and experiences in helping the organization continue to grow and be a force in the pension industry. I am privileged and honored to have been involved for so many years as a participant, board member, and in my current position as Administrator. I have been enriched in so many ways – professionally and personally – by my association with NPEA.
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