Part III of III: Over 4.2 Million Cold Cases Still to be Solved
An unclaimed retirement fund benefit is a cold case.
COLD CASE: An unsolved investigation which remains open pending the discovery of new evidence.
NEW EVIDENCE: You hold the evidence. These are your clues.
AND YOU ARE: Sherlock Holmes or Jessica Fletcher depending on which character you prefer.
YOUR TASK: To solve the Cold Case. Follow the Steps (only TWO) to uncover a potential unclaimed benefit due to you or your deceased loved one. Use the New Evidence you have gathered to approach the Targets.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: The older the case, the more challenging this will be.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: Your Share of Fund in R47 billion* of unclaimed retirement fund benefits.
In this final article of a three-part series, we focus on the steps to take to discover any unclaimed retirement fund benefits. Hopefully with this information to guide you, you will find the killer, or rather … an unclaimed benefit.
Context of words used: ‘Benefit’ – An unclaimed retirement fund benefit
‘Administrator’ – A retirement fund administrator
‘Fund’ – Retirement fund or unclaimed benefit fund
‘Company’ is synonymous with ‘Employer’
‘Employee’ is synonymous with ‘Member’
Step 1: Gather information or Clues (New Evidence)
You will need to gather as much information as possible before you begin your Task:
- Names, initials, and surname of the person who may have a Benefit
- Any previous names and surnames
- Date of birth
- Identity number
- Death certificate for a deceased loved one
- Names of all employers, including any prior or new names
- Names of any holding company
- Periods of service – dates you worked for the employer
- Funds you belonged to – names of where your contributions were paid
- Administrators who administered the retirement funds you belonged to
- Contact details of any of the above employers
- Benefit statements or any communication relating to the above
- Payslips from employers showing deductions of contributions
- Any other information that will help you in your Task
Prelude to Step 2: Every person’s situation is unique and will require an entirely different approach. Approaching the Targets is designed to you give insight to the avenues you can probe for any Benefits.
Step 2: Approaching the Targets
The following Targets can be probed to identify any Benefit:
FSCA’s Centralised Unclaimed Benefits Search Engine: The Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) launched a functionality on their website in 2017 which allows people to search in one place for a Benefit. It is called the FSCA ‘Unclaimed Benefits Search Engine’, which taps into a consolidation of member data received from all Administrators administering unclaimed retirement benefits. This functionality is a starting point, but it should not be the last in search for a Benefit.
The member data provided to the FSCA for their search engine can be older than two decades and may lack critical information about an employee who contributed to a Fund, such as an employee’s full and correct surname, names, initials, date of birth, identity number etc. As mentioned in the second article in this series, this is mainly due to the incomplete and sometimes incorrect member data provided by employers prior to the enactment of Regulation 33 in 2001. This Regulation placed an onus on employers and Administrators going forward to ensure that contributions were supported with sufficient information to uniquely identify a member contributing to a Fund.
Due to the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI Act), the FSCA has recently ‘refined’ their search functionality allowing for only four combinations of searches, namely: 1) Identity number / passport, or 2) Surname and date of birth, or 3) Surname and Fund name, or 4) Surname and employer name.
With the absence of identity numbers, dates of birth or full and correct surnames in the FSCA’s centralised database, there is less likely to be a match between what is inserted in the search criteria, and the member data in the back end. In addition, if you insert the employer’s name or Fund name, the exact spelling needs to be inserted as it reflects in the database, for any successful search to be returned.
If the information inserted in the search criteria matches the exact details in the database, a result will populate showing the Fund and Administrator to contact.
This search functionality is not as effective as it used to be when it first launched in 2017. Prior to 2022, a number of searches and ‘what if’ scenarios could be placed in the search criteria. For example, an employer name could be inserted and a list of members with Benefits would be returned which could be sifted through to find a Benefit.
The search for a Benefit should not end after using this functionality on the FSCA’s website as it relies wholly on the member data in the database, at no fault of the FSCA – but this is still worth a try.
The FSCA have also availed an SMS facility, a call centre, and walk-in clients, should individuals want to use these avenues which will tap into the same centralised database of member data. These details can be found on the FSCA’s website www.fsca.co.za.
Administrators: Contact the Administrators directly once you know who they are.
A good starting point would be to have kept a retirement fund benefit statement with the Administrator’s details, or a pay slip showing a deduction for a retirement contribution, and hopefully a retirement fund or Administrator name. However, people rarely keep records from years or even decades prior.
Once you have identified all the employers you worked for, find out what Funds you contributed to whilst working for that employer, this should lead to the Administrators, who can be probed with further questions around these Benefits.
The FSCA website has lists of active and de-registered retirement funds, as well as active and de-registered employers. The Administrators of the Funds will be listed when searching for either of these details.
If the Administrators do not exist or if they no longer administer the Fund, they should have record of where these Benefits were transferred to, or who the new Administrator is.
Many Administrators have set up search functionalities on their websites to help people do a search of a Benefit administered by them. Administrators will have strict protocols in place to protect the privacy of personal data and record those enquiring about these Benefits. You may need to phone in or send an e-mail in addition to any online searches available on their websites for Benefits.
Your search should not end when a call centre agent at an Administrator says, “There are no unclaimed benefits for you”. If you have never claimed your retirement fund, further probing will need to be done with the Administrator, the Fund, Trustees or Principal Officer, to find the trail of what happened to the unclaimed Benefits.
Retirement Funds: If you know the Fund you belonged to, this should lead you to the Administrator. If you do not know which Fund you contributed to, or you do not know what happened to the Fund, approach the employer you worked for, any previous work colleagues, or search on the FSCA’s website in the lists of registered and de-registered funds (and employers).
With the many changes that have taken place over the years in the retirement fund industry (from stand alone to umbrella, defined benefit to defined contribution, provident to pension etc.), your Benefit may have passed by several Administrators, Advisory Firms, Funds etc. Your Benefit should still be there, especially if you have not claimed.
Employers: Contact your previous employers if they still exist to find out any information about your Benefit and who you can contact. They may refer you to an Administrator, Employee Benefits Advisory Firm, Trustee, Principal Officer etc. If the employer no longer exists, ask whether they were bought over, by who, and what happened to the Fund you belonged to and what happened with the unclaimed benefits.
An unclaimed benefit may still be sitting in the employer’s retirement fund, or these may have been transferred to an unclaimed benefit fund, which is separate from the employer’s retirement fund.
Approaching the employer is an option and can provide further leads. The key is to find the current Administrator of a Benefit.
Employee Benefits Advisory Firm: This is a company that provides advisory services to an employer’s retirement fund and their related benefits. The employer may refer you here, however, their knowledge of the history is limited to the individuals who know the history of the Fund and Benefits. Again, all information presents a lead to get you to where you want to be, and that is in direct contact with the entity holding your unclaimed benefits – the right Administrator.
Industry Professionals: You can approach a professional who subscribes to a Code of Conduct and Ethics. They will need to have an in-depth understanding of these Benefits, know where and what to look for and be able to ask the right questions to tackle the Task for you.
Executors of Deceased Estates: It is unfortunate that executors and administrators of a deceased person’s estate do not search for these Benefits while winding up a deceased estate. This is mainly because these Benefits have not been linked to or claimed by the deceased. However, if there is an identity number on the Administrator’s database, this should be picked up by the estate administration’s systems when searching for assets of a deceased person.
You should also be able to tackle this Task for your deceased loved ones, but you will need to gather all the information in Step 1 to help you. This may be more difficult than searching for your own Benefit, as Funds and Administrators use POPIA to protect the information they hold.
Looming Law: Conduct of Financial Institutions (COFI) Bill and the One Pot of Benefits
In 2004, a proposal was made to establish a central unclaimed benefit fund which was met with resistance from the industry and was never established. In the recent second draft of the Conduct of Financial Institutions (COFI) Bill, there was mention again of this central unclaimed benefit fund.
Should the proposed central unclaimed benefit fund be approved, Administrators will be required to transfer all the unclaimed retirement fund benefits into one pot of unclaimed retirement fund benefits which will then be administered by Administrators appointed by National Treasury and the Government, and it is believed, to continue to be regulated by the FSCA.
The search should not end after approaching a single Target, especially if you know you have not claimed a retirement benefit from any Fund you contributed to while working for an employer – And even if did, there may still be additional Benefits due to you as a result of ‘agterskots’ or surplus distributions.
Although Funds and Administrators are tracing the rightful owners, the wheel turns slowly and the older these cold cases get, the more difficult it will become.
As for many unclaimed monies older than thirty-years which eventually gets forfeited to the State, it is envisaged that this one Pot is the doorway for these Benefits to land up the same way. Before and if it ever gets to this, there is something that can be done pro-actively – knowing what to do and probing – Probing the Administrators, Funds, Employers, Trustees etc. to solve the Cold Cases.
This may be a daunting Task, but we all need a little more extra cash for retirement.
* According to the FSCA’s 2020/1 annual report. This amount is a moving target and may not include Fund interest on benefits. It is expected for this amount to be exponentially greater.
Created by: Carol Lenzi CFP®
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