“Employees who have worked hard for their retirement benefits deserve clear information about what is happening with their retirement plan’s assets,” said Michael Hachey, a research analyst of UNITE HERE International Union. “Athene’s pension transactions should be carefully scrutinized. When plan assets are put into complex financial engineering arrangements outside the governance of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), we need to ask tough questions. Are existing state insurance regulations and protections enough to protect retirees?”
Athene, a Bermuda-based insurance company with a complex relationship to private equity giant Apollo Global Management, began taking over pension plan assets and obligations in 2017. In March, Athene entered into an agreement for an annuity buyout of JCPenney’s pension plan as JCPenney is emerging from bankruptcy.
After a typical annuity buyout, if an insurance provider becomes insolvent and is unable to meet its obligations, beneficiaries’ primary protection for recovering unpaid benefits would be the patchwork system of State Guaranty Associations. Some states would only cover $250,000 per annuitant.
As Athene takes control of pension plan assets, it seeks to profit by earning more from investment returns than it is required to pay out to recipients. Athene uses Bermuda-based reinsurance subsidiaries to reinsure most deposits. Apollo manages most of Athene’s assets in exchange for fees. Apollo invests some of Athene’s assets in loans and structured debt products originated or securitized by Apollo affiliates.
Apollo Global Management created Athene in 2009 and has managed its assets since its inception. On March 8, Apollo announced its plan to acquire and merge with Athene.
UNITE HERE’s new website will provide information and resources to the beneficiaries of plans taken over by Athene. It includes facts about the recent JCPenney transaction, links to reporting on Athene’s investment practices, and contact information for relevant regulatory agencies. Beneficiaries can use the site to sign up for updates.
UNITE HERE is a labor organization that represents workers throughout the United States and Canada. www.unitehere.org