Benefits

Analysis Notes More Large Employers Freeze Defined Benefit Plans

By Jerry Geisel

Nov. 17, 2011

More than 40 percent of Fortune 1000 companies that have defined benefit pension plans have frozen at least one such plan, according to a new analysis.

Of the 584 employers on this year’s Fortune 1000 list that sponsor defined benefit plans, 237 have frozen at least one plan, according to New York-based benefit consultant Towers Watson & Co.’s analysis of Securities & Exchange Commission filings.

That 40.6 percent is up from 2010 when 35.5 percent of 586 Fortune 1000 companies had frozen at least one defined benefit plan.

In 2004, as the corporate drive to freeze defined benefit plans was picking up momentum, only 45, or 7.1 percent of 633 Fortune 1000 companies with defined benefit plans, had frozen at least one plan.

In a freeze, a company continues its defined benefit plan, but future accruals for some or all participants stop.

Employers have frozen their plans for a variety of reasons, including cutting retirement plan costs and reducing the volatility of required contributions, which can fluctuate significantly due to changes in interest rates and investment results.

The most recent Fortune 1000 company to announce a pension plan freeze was R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co. The Chicago-based printing company said it would freeze the defined benefit program at the end of 2011, while restoring and enhancing its 401(k) plan matching contribution.

Jerry Geisel writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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Jerry Geisel writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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