10 Questions for Church Leaders: Barbara Boigegrain

boigegrain, barbara_300pxBarbara Boigegrain is someone that people in The United Methodist Church need to trust. Since 1994, Boigegrain has served as the General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of The United Methodist Church. In a very real way the well being of over 91,000 clergy and lay employees of the UMC is in her hands, with her overseeing some $18 billion in assets. It’s a very important job, and by most accounts she has served well in protecting the future for many while being a good steward of the church’s resources.

Boigegrain has a bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from Trinity University, and has done graduate work in business at both the University of Chicago and UCLA. Originally from Colorado, Boigegrain is a lifelong member of The United Methodist Church, and enjoys skiing, hiking, reading, and spending time with her husband and three children.

Recently UMR’s Mike Baughman sat down to ask Barbara Boigegrain to answer 10 questions.


 

How did you end up the General Secretary for the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits?

Eighteen years ago, I was working for an international consulting firm and was contacted by an executive head hunter. I had no intention of leaving San Diego, and only took the call because I was born in The United Methodist Church. My dad was a pastor in the Rocky Mountain conference and I attended La Mesa United Methodist Church with my husband. The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is a Methodist ministry. I wanted to be a part of it.

 

“General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits” is a mouthful. Do you call it something shorter in the office?

We call it the General Board around the office. We know there are other general agencies out there so we use the full name outside of the building.

 

Why should clergy invest their retirement money in the United Methodist Personal Investment Plan (UMPIP) instead of places outside the church?

First, we perform at least as well, and much of the time better than, comparable mutual funds. Our Multiple Asset Fund has outperformed 95% of similar multi-asset mutual funds based on data compiled by Lipper [a widely-recognized mutual fund performance service].

Secondly, people that invest with a not-for-profit are going to get more returns that they can keep in their pension fund because they’re paying lower fees. We don’t charge broker’s fees, transaction fees and other costs that for-profit funds will deduct from your retirement.

Third, we strive to invest in alignment with United Methodist values and the Social Principles, as they are approved by General Conference. We screen out funds that would support companies whose primary business is pornography, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, munitions and private prisons. We also work with other strategic partners to use our funds to influence companies to align with the values we share.

 

Are there examples of ways that GBP&HB have influenced corporations?

We have worked extensively with Hershey to address issues of child labor, pesticide exposure and under-education, leading them to commit to sourcing cocoa for their chocolate brands from worker-safe suppliers, and invest $10 million to improve farmer standards of living by 2020.

In addition, we’ve been very involved with Wal Mart on creating sustainability reports, large agricultural companies on waste water management and Nike on labor practices to name a few. We’re currently talking with large pharmaceutical companies about low-cost medicine, especially in Africa for treating HIV/AIDs.

 

The retirement plans for most clergy were cut from 1.25% to 1% at the last General Conference. What accounts for the change?

In light of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, we called together financial officers from across the denomination and were able to get much more information than we ever had before. In light of their data, coupled with an aging church, the current cost structure wasn’t sustainable. That impacts everything—apportionments, benefits, local churches and the conference’s ability to pay down debts. Our part is the benefit component and what we did is say, ‘we need to roll up our sleeves and rather than wait for a crisis or default, we need to scale this back right now so that we can move into the future, continuing to provide sustainable benefits.

However, these changes don’t fix all of the financial issues facing the Church.

 

Are you hopeful that there will be a change to guaranteed appointments at General Conference 2016?

I don’t know if anyone will be willing to tilt at that particular windmill again, but I do not believe that guaranteed appointments are a sustainable employment strategy for the church. I just don’t see, if you don’t have enough spaces to put people, how it can be in the church’s best interest to put people in appointments that are too small to support them.

 

Will the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as “Obamacare” have an impact on the church?

This is a massive shift in the way health care is provided for some and not for others—it’s hard to tell who falls into which group yet. The Affordable Care Act offers “exchanges” which allow for some individuals to receive significant health insurance subsidies from the federal government toward the purchase of individual exchange policies.

Ultimately, the impact on the Church may depend on whether the local church or the annual conference is determined to be the “employer” of clergy with regard to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rule, also known as the “employer mandate.”

An additional consideration, however, are spouse’s salaries. If the local church employs a pastor and that pastor’s spouse doesn’t make a lot of money, then the exchanges may be able to offer health insurance at a fraction of what the local church now pays. Our higher paid clergy, or those whose spouses earn significant income, will still need an employer-provided health plan similar to what we provide now.

I’m sure this is clear as mud, but take it one step further:

Imagine a church with an unmarried pastor who qualifies for the ACA health insurance subsidy, saving that congregation thousands of dollars each year in health care costs. Then the next year the bishop wants to appoint a new pastor who is married and whose household income precludes him or her from qualifying for the federal subsidy. That could certainly impact how the church welcomes the newly appointed clergy.

 

Who determines whether the local church or the Annual Conference employs the pastor?

For the purpose of the ACA’s employer mandate, the Internal Revenue Service will decide that.  However, even if the IRS settles on the local church, a conference can still require local churches to cover clergy in the conference plan.  We are expecting that because the ACA subsidies will be so significant for people that there will be many local churches that could save a LOT of money by acting as an independent employer that they will put pressure on the Annual Conferences.

Are there any exciting projects or initiatives that GBP&HB is working on?

We have lots of excitement around here. I’m really happy with the Central Conference Pension Initiative. We have gone from no pension in many central conferences to now offering a pension plan to every eligible clergy in the UMC.

In October, we have an event for young clergy that a group of young clergy helped us to design, called “Rev it Up.” Young people don’t think about retirement and you can understand why but it’s becoming more and more important that people do save, especially beginning when they are young

I’m always excited about our positive social purpose investing in low income housing, microfinance programs around the world, support for Native American populations, charter schools and more. I know that this is part of why many of our employees get up in the morning—they get to come to work and help make a real difference.

 

In the past six months, we witnessed the city of Detroit declaring bankruptcy and pensioners left without support. Are there guarantees to protect United Methodist pension plans if the UMC goes bankrupt?

The short answer is no. We have to trust the leaders of an institution to make smart decisions with the trust given to them. Yes, there are Detroits out there, but there are a lot of other institutions and governments that have gone through tremendous financial distress and haven’t declared bankruptcy and have found ways to take care of their pensioners. We need good leaders who can make the good, hard decisions necessary to support the populations they serve.

 

Mike Baughman, UMR Correspondent

UMR’s Rev. Mike Baughman is the community curator for Union, a new kind of coffee shop in Dallas, TX that exists to care for the needs of its neighborhood. He is an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.

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