Paved the Way for Pension Reform: Daniel M. McGill, GRW’47, Professor

The undisputed “dean” of the pension industry, Professor Dan McGill’s pioneering research raised serious questions about the soundness of many of the nation’s private pension programs — work that pointed the way to the reforms of the landmark 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

McGill, a Wharton PhD, was recruited from a teaching post to direct the School’s newly created Pension Research Center (PRC) in 1952. An offshoot of Wharton’s Insurance Department, the PRC sprang up to study the growing corporate practice of providing retirement benefits as a part of an employee’s wage package.

McGill brought to light this entirely new business of pensions as well as creating acceptable standards of performance. His influential textbook, Fundamentals of Private Pensions was first published in 1964 and — now in its eighth edition — remains the pension industry’s authoritative text.

McGill’s capstone work for the PRC, “Fulfilling Pension Expectations,” revealed a series of serious legal and financial problems and recommended reforms to shore up the pension business. Congress and a presidential commission took note and McGill was hired as a consultant, and they ultimately agreed with the PRC’s findings and wrote many of its recommendations into ERISA.

McGill remained the pension industry’s voice of reason well into his 70s. In 1993, for instance, he was tapped by the New Jersey Superior Court to assist in the rehabilitation of Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company, seized by federal regulators after a run by policy holders. And the pension business, with the 2006 Pension Reform Act signed into law last year and as record numbers of companies freeze pension plan benefits, remains as complex and controversial as ever.

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