In a year of uncertainty and confusion reigned almost overnight, our industry packed its bags and went home one night and opened the next day from … what seemed like a zillion of different places.
Most probably did so with the anticipation of a short hiatus – a few weeks, a month at most. Who could have imagined then what the coming months would bring?
Now we weren’t fighting the same kinds of battles many of them did – the frontline healthcare workers who showed up to work every day, ill-equipped and facing the deadly and debilitating effects of a pandemic, those whose efforts were essential to keep the utilities running, to stock grocery store shelves, the delivery staff whose efforts kept the rest of us ‘inside’, and neither were we plus those looking for a vaccine that would save lives and help get things back to “normal” – but there were “battles” nonetheless.
Ours were battles to keep the phone (and video) lines open, to process payrolls, to produce statements, and yes, to prepare for distributions (not to mention the discrimination tests and the 5,500 statements). These were certainly not battles of life and death for most of us, but perhaps for those in whose name these acts were committed. There were also, of course, “battles” along the way – to seek the necessary financial assistance for millions of people, and this included the negotiations that culminated in the CARES Act, and regulatory guidance and clarity. later which made everything “work”. “… The processes and systems that had to be altered to accommodate these, the communications needed to explain not only what that relief entailed, but how it was all going to work… work that continued until to the very last week of the year with plan termination relief (finally) contained in the COVID relief bill.
Throughout, there have surely been disruptions and interruptions – lost connections, misinformation or communication problems – but, to the extent that they have occurred, they seem to have been outliers and rarities.
At the same time, there was encouraging news in the results that many, perhaps most pension plan members and plan sponsors were able to “get by” without dipping into retirement savings or cutting back on retirement savings. employer contributions. Not all, of course; some industries and participants were forced to fall back on or suspend these commitments. Still, there was comfort in knowing that for the most part those preparations would be valid for another rainy day, if not the retreat itself. Even more comfort in seeing the strength of these commitments – record levels of savings – in the months leading up to the onslaught of the pandemic.
We’re not at the end of it yet, of course. Millions of people continue to struggle, financially and physically – the tensions of loss, the burdens (and joys) of juggling home and work at home, separation from loved ones, clients and their coworkers. These retirement savings ‘cushions’ may still be (further) eroded, with partial relief from the termination of the plan being insufficient in length to survive the economic hardships of COVID.
But when we to do come to the end of this — and there will be an end — there will be plenty of opportunities to reconsider how we spent the past year — the things we did, the lessons we learned, the things we could have been able to do it differently, and maybe “better” if we had only known then what we know now.
It is, of course, too early to consider it as “mission accomplished” – the tasks ahead of us never really are – but in the broad sense it seems to me that in 2020 our collective “mission” – to help strengthen and securing America’s retirement future – was full of “accomplishments,” big and small, that made the difference.
And it is a “mission” statement that we can and should all be proud of.