Better Data, Better Outcomes:
Introducing the Public Retirement Research Lab
Defined Contribution Database

In 2020, NAGDCA and the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) will launch the Public Retirement Research Lab (PRRL). This collaborative project will create a first-of-its-kind database for public sector defined contribution retirement plan information, which will be used as a primary source of information for cutting-edge retirement research.

NAGDCA has compiled reference information to share with your Board or Committee to help communicate the concept of the PRRL.
Click below to download the flyer. 

PRRL Talking Points

Why is it Better?

How It Works

Click on each step to learn more.

Plan Sponsor Benefits

Click each benefit to learn more.

FREE to Participating Plans

PRRL Security

Click the button below for an in-depth look at the PRRL’s security features.

PRRL Security in Detail

Improved Benchmarking – Because Outcomes Matter
Read the Table Below to See What We’ve Improved

Benchmarking Survey Challenges

PRRL Solutions

It provides useful, but incomplete information. NAGDCA’s goal is to provide information to help members make better decisions for their plan. The results of our survey often vary too much to give clear insights to drive action. The database at the core of the PRRL will maintain consistent data over time, allowing plan sponsors to confidently use the data to make decisions.
It’s too much work for plan sponsors. Our current survey takes each plan many hours over several days to complete. The database will be populated directly by the plan’s recordkeeper. We anticipate the plan sponsor being involved, especially in the first year, but the main coordination will happen between each recordkeeper and PRRL staff.
The sample size is too small. The time and effort involved in completing our current survey has prevented many plan sponsors from participating. The reduced workload is expected to increase participation among our members.  The database will also be able to support participation by non-NAGDCA member plans, creating an opportunity for future growth.
The questions are interpreted at the plan level. Each survey we receive is completed using the judgement of the individual plan sponsor. While we worked to simplify the questions over time, we could not ensure the individual interpretation was consistent for each plan. NAGDCA is engaging with recordkeepers at the corporate level to create consistent inputs and interpretation for each data point in the database.
The results can be inconsistent. The results of our current survey can vary widely year-to-year depending on which plans participate. While the data in the database is encrypted, the encryption remains consistent over time which ensures the data is consistently represented every year.
Individual plan insights are limited. Plan-level data can offer helpful comparisons, but does not provide understanding of plan dynamics beyond basic averages and medians. The database will consist of plan-level and participant-level data, opening an entirely new data set to allow plan sponsors to answer questions with much more depth than is possible today.
Industry-level understanding is limited. The inconsistent and limited nature of our survey results prevents NAGDCA from providing members with a definitive industry understanding. NAGDCA and EBRI will use the database to conduct research on industry-level questions to help plan sponsors understand the big picture of the public sector defined contribution industry.
NAGDCA legislative advocacy needs better data. NAGDCA is your voice at the federal level, and our efforts to improve legislation and prevent harmful provisions from being enacted rely on convincing data. The current survey results offer limited help in pushing for legislative improvements. The database will provide a consistent, clear picture of the current and changing state of public sector retirement. This will allow us to focus our advocacy on the industry’s most pressing issues, and to truly be your voice.

FAQs

NAGDCA is partnering with the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) to build a public sector defined contribution database and research center. The database will only contain investment and demographic data from 457(b), 401(a), 403(b), and government 401(k) plans. No private sector data will be included. The database will serve as the primary data resource for the public sector retirement industry, and the PRRL will generate industry-level research.

As a participant you receive the benefits listed in the “Plan Sponsor Benefits” section above. You will also have access to a wealth of information and research to improve your plan’s performance. Finally, you will contribute to helping NAGDCA advocate for your interests at the federal level.

EBRI — a nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization — was created in 1978 for the purpose of contributing to sound employee benefit programs and public policy through independent, objective, fact-based research and education. To learn more about them, please click here.

For decades, EBRI has successfully maintained a secure database containing over half of all national 401(k) data. The industry has used this data to conduct research to create better outcomes for private sector participants. NAGDCA is partnering with EBRI to leverage this experience, and create a primary data resource for public sector plans.

We have two goals with this project. The first is to provide our members with the highest quality benchmarking data and research available so you can make informed decisions to improve your plan. The second is to reduce the workload from plan sponsors and their staff during this process.

NAGDCA will send communications in early January asking you to authorize your recordkeeper to provide your plan’s data directly to the database. For an expanded description, please see the “How it Works” section above.

Your data security is our top priority. Your plan’s data will be completely encrypted by your record keeper before it is sent to the database. This will ensure total security for your plan.

For the transfer itself, only encrypted data will be sent to the database, and no personally identifiable information will be sent. This includes social security numbers, employee ID numbers, names, birthdates, job titles, address, location, or any other piece of information that can be used to identify any individual. 

The following is a detailed description of the data transfer process:

Phase 1: at Third Party provider

  • Generate encryption key
  • Distribute encryption key to data provider
  • Details:
    • Third Party generates encryption key on secure, dedicated system
    • The key is sent from Third Party to the data provider via secure method using an encrypted file
    • At no point, does Third Party receive any data
    • The encryption key never goes to EBRI or NAGDCA

Phase 2: at Data Provider

  • Implements hash algorithm – extracts data files
  • Transfers data file to database
  • Details:
    • Decrypts package from Third Party to extract encryption key
    • Implements masking protocol: runs real ssn value through HMAC-SHA256 algorithm and encryption key, resulting in 64 character hash value
    • Combines 64 character hash value with data files
    • Real ssn value, along with any personally identifiable data is deleted from data files before it is sent to the PRRL
    • The encryption key never goes to EBRI or NAGDCA – Third Party available for implementation support
    • The data files are transferred from data provider to PRRL via secure method. FTP transfer of encrypted file is preferred method

Phase 3: at PRRL

  • Manipulates final data files
  • Produces analytic deliverables
  • Details:
    • Decrypts package from data provider to extract data files containing standard 64 character hashed id
    • Re-encrypts hashed value with an EBRI proprietary key
    • Manipulate data and process analytical results on segregated & secure system
    • At no point, does PRRL receive encryption key used by providers

While participant-level data will not be directly accessible for security purposes, plan-level data will still be available to participating plans through the NAGDCA secure data portal. Furthermore, participant-level insights will be available to participating plans through reports and analysis as described in the “Plan Sponsor Benefits” section above.

Unlike our benchmarking survey, both participant-level and plan-level data will be collected in this database. To understand why this is a significant improvement from our previous benchmarking efforts, please see the table above.

The following is a preliminary list of variables the PRRL will seek (subject to availability):

Participant Level Data:

Most Recent Demographic Information

    1. age
    2. gender
    3. tenure (if available)
    4. salary (if available)

Fund Information

    1. fund-specific information on asset allocation for current year contributions
    2. fund specific information on asset allocation for aggregate account balances for beginning and end of plan year
    3. loan balance and withdrawal activity

Defined Contribution Plan Level Data:

Plan design information — this would include qualitative plan information on:

    1. Automatic Enrollment & Escalation
    2. Default investments
    3. Effective dates
    4. Time periods for escalation
    5. Match rate
    6. Maximum amount of compensation matched
    7. Plan limits on deferrals
    8. Non-elective contributions
    9. Plan inception date
    10. Roth provisions
    11. Employer match formula
    12. Loan provisions
    13. Early fund withdrawal provisions
    14. Other defined contribution plan information

In January, NAGDCA will send communication to government members with detailed instructions for authorizing the transfer of data from your recordkeeper to the PRRL database.

The PRRL will produce an annual report on the “State of Public Sector Defined Contribution Plans”. NAGDCA and EBRI will also produce independent and combined research throughout the year.

NAGDCA has housed plan-level survey results from it Benchmarking Survey in an online portal since 2016. The purpose of the portal is to offer an interactive platform for plan sponsors to have the opportunity to compare their plan-level data to their peers directly. The portal allows for comparisons based on dozens of plan-level characteristics that can be combined in any way the sponsor chooses. The portal cannot be used to see the data from a single plan other than your own, as any search resulting in the aggregation of data from less than five plans shows “Insignificant Data”.

In the new process, PRRL researchers will securely export plan-level data directly to the portal, replacing the current Benchmarking Survey format.

The “You v. Universe” report is a detailed benchmarking report comparing your data to the universe of public sector defined contribution plans and a subset of your peers based on dozens of characteristics. The final format of this report is still being developed, and will be based on the feedback from our plan sponsor community.

Several recordkeepers in the government industry are actively working with NAGDCA and EBRI to develop the database. We are working with them to create a common format for the data requests so they are applied uniformly across recordkeeper systems. The data will be reviewed, cleaned, and organized by dedicated PRRL staff once it is received.

Your authorization will be required for participation in this project. If you need to discuss the project with your board, committee, or other approval authority to receive the necessary approval, we recommend starting those discussions soon. Please see the “PRRL Talking Points” button at the top of this page for a summary of points to share with your committee or board.

Please send all inquiries to mpetersen@nagdca.org.