Private Pensions: Key Issues to Consider Following the Enron Collapse

GAO-02-480T Published: Feb 27, 2002. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2002.
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The collapse of the Enron Corporation and the resulting loss of employee retirement savings highlighted several key vulnerabilities in the nation's private pension system. Asset diversification was a crucial lesson, especially for defined contribution plans, in which employees bear the investment risk. The Enron case underscores the importance of encouraging employees to diversify. Workers need clear and understandable information about their pension plans to make sound decisions on retirement savings. Although disclosure rules require plan sponsors to provide participants with a summary of their plan benefits and rights and to notify them when benefits are changed, this information is not always clear, particularly in the case of complex plans like floor-offset arrangements. Employees, like other investors, also need reliable and understandable information on a company's financial condition and prospects. Fiduciary standards form the cornerstone of private pension protections. These standards require plan sponsors to act solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries. The Enron investigations should determine whether plan fiduciaries acted in accordance with their responsibilities.

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