First Union Corp.'s benefit services group is working with a Boston retirement services company to offer a defined benefit retirement product that is designed to feel more like an a la carte 401(k) package than a pension plan.
The product, Comprehensive Pension Resources, is to be offered by First Union's benefit services group and MassMutual Retirement Services, a unit of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. It is to feature online information access and education that will let companies design and customize a pension plan to fit their needs.
"When you look at our business and our vision for the business, it is to provide innovative services," said Joseph F. Ready, senior vice president of the Charlotte, N.C., banking company's benefit services group. "For the pension market, that meant combining the powers of the defined contribution and defined benefit markets."
Mr. Ready said Comprehensive Pension Resources is a "soup to nuts" product that will let customers pick and choose in an "a la carte fashion" what suits their needs. The product is available for defined benefit, cash balance, and other hybrid plans with at least $5 million in assets that come under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. It features enhanced statements, instant online defined benefit retirement projections, and an online retirement planning tool kit.
Customers will be able to gain access to their accounts through First Union's Web site, www.firstunion.com. From the site they will be able to look at their statements using the company's online database, which also lets customers do "what if" modeling by varying salary increases, retirement dates, and payment options.
Beyond the online capabilities, the new service offers a 24-hour, toll-free voice response system for participants and retirees, Mr. Ready said. It is expected to improve the banking company's retention rate by offering more one-stop shopping.
First Union, which has $24 billion of assets under administration in 850 defined benefit plans, is to manage the plans' investments. Portfolio strategists will choose from among funds offered by the company's proprietary Evergreen family of mutual funds and from MassMutual institutional funds.
Mr. Ready said that the partnership with MassMutual, which already offers similar online and telephone services to the 500,000 participants in its retirement services plans, lets First Union focus on customers instead of technological developments and operational support.
The next step is to further broaden the options for customers within First Union's retirement plans, Mr. Ready said. "We need to continue to expand the nonqualified plan market," he said. "If we can offer nonqualified plans, 401(k) plans, and a unique defined benefits plan, [and] integrate everything from a voice and Internet standpoint, then we truly have the one-stop total picture, and that leads to reduced costs for everyone."