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NCR offers former employees lump-sum pension option

Like Ford and GM, move would limit liability, volatility


DULUTH, Ga.—NCR Corp. will give 23,000 former employees who are eligible for but not yet receiving monthly pension payments the opportunity to convert their future annuity to a lump-sum benefit payable in December.

The action will help meet the company's objective of “permanently reducing NCR's pension liability and supporting our profitable growth strategy,” Bill Nuti, NCR's chairman, president and CEO, said in a statement last week announcing the transaction.

NCR's action follows those by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. to give certain former employees the option to take their monthly annuity as a lump-sum payment. For participants remaining in its pension plan, GM is purchasing a group annuity from Prudential Insurance Co. of America to cover their benefits and is terminating the plan.

More employers are expected to follow in the paths blazed by Ford, GM and NCR, benefits experts say. Through such pension “de-risking” strategies, employers no longer will be exposed to factors such as interest-rate fluctuations and investment results that can cause big changes in their pension plans' costs and contributions.

In addition, employers can reduce certain fixed costs, such as the payment of premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., associated with offering a defined benefit plan.

Giving deferred vested plan participants the opportunity to take their future benefit as a lump sum is the latest step NCR has taken in recent years to control the growth of pension plan liabilities and reduce volatility.

In 2004, the Duluth, Ga.-based technology giant closed off its pension plan to new employees. Then, effective Jan. 1, 2007, NCR completely froze the plan while beefing up its 401(k) plan match.

On the investment side, NCR in 2009 began to reallocate plan assets away from equities and into fixed-income investments. As a result, fixed- income asset allocation increased from 39% at the end of 2009 to 80% in 2011 and is expected to be 100% fixed income by the end of this year, the company said.