After attending a recent conference and thinking about the company culture we’re striving to build at Shepherd Financial, this quote from Richard Branson kept running through my head:
‘Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.’
It’s true. All the things we’re passionate about here (for our clients!) – creating financially healthy individuals, retirement-ready participants, and responsible plan fiduciaries – happen when we take care of our team first. While we are a young company, our growth has been rapid, and keeping this conversation about culture in the front of our minds is essential to our continued success.
Our leadership team at Shepherd has used the following questions to help guide our planning process. As you craft your own benefits package and design the structure of your retirement plan, consider asking yourself these same questions.
What is your company identity?
In other words: who are you? How did you get here? Why are you doing what you’re doing? If you can clearly articulate the answers to these questions, logical decisions about how to care for your team will follow.
What is the tie-in?
Benefits for your employees should align with what you’re trying to accomplish as a company. Consider your environment and what’s appropriate for your team – from a financial perspective, think about what you can afford, both right now and in the future. If your desire is to offer a more robust package over time, share that vision with your team.
Why do these benefits matter?
When selecting plan specifications (automatic features, vesting schedule, etc.), consider how they will be used to both recruit and retain your employees. Do your benefits meet the practical needs of the people you’ve hired? Are you putting your team members in a position to retire well? Is their hard work going to pay off in the future? How are you financially sharing corporate success with each person?
Ultimately, your retirement plan and benefits package need to reflect how you want to be seen by your employees and the community. Don’t segment your decisions – instead, consider how they impact the whole landscape of your employees’ lives. This process won’t happen overnight, but if you’re not deliberate, it won’t happen at all. Remember who comes first, and act accordingly.
The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been making waves, urging corporations to be – as you may have guessed – socially responsible. In other words, deliberately conducting business in a way that creates a positive impact in the community, environment, and society. The goals of CSR include the following:
- Developing innovative practices that create sustainability and minimize our carbon footprint
- Implementing fair and ethical practices with regard to our products, employees, and clients
- Caring for others through our philanthropic efforts, whether a donation of money, products, or services
As both consumers and prospective employees more highly prioritize the CSR of the businesses they choose, corporations would do well to develop relevant policies for their teams. However, CSR established merely as a public relations ploy will lack the heart needed to make a legitimate impact in the world.
But employees long to be engaged with things that matter; even smaller companies can begin to integrate CSR tenets within their culture. (Key to the conversation? A firm understanding of and commitment to the general purpose and values of the company itself.) Focus on making this concept of giving back, which can encompass all the goals of CSR, a regular part of conversations with your team.
For greater employee buy-in, ask individuals to identify businesses, causes, and projects that align with their personal interests. Highlight the importance of CSR by clearly communicating its value to your company. As an example, at Shepherd Financial, we have committed to serving together as a team every quarter, and our employees are provided with two paid days each year to volunteer where they choose.
While we are providing a benefit to someone else, these team service projects have also been a gift to us. We are able to step away from a fast-paced, demanding schedule, spend time together, and realign our priorities. Top of the list? Helping people. And whether it is through a service project, creating a plan to eliminate debt, or helping successfully usher someone into retirement, we know that genuine relationships matter. So we continue to emphasize the importance of investing in others and giving back.
Do we have room to grow in our CSR efforts? Absolutely. And we’re dedicated to continuously looking for ways we can help people, strengthen relationships, and positively impact our world.
Every group has its own lingo. When football coaches speak about designing receiver slants, hitting the A-gap, or running stunts, players quickly understand their roles. Likewise, as theater buffs converse about moving stage left, blocking, and striking, no one bats an eye. But if you’re not part of either group, it might just sound like gibberish.
The retirement industry has this problem, too. Advisors and plan sponsors use technically-correct language to describe company plans, features, and savings strategies, but the jargon is causing a disconnect. Research has revealed participants find their retirement plans to be confusing; their desire for clearer language should be a loud call for our attention. If they don’t understand their options, participants may be less likely to make appropriate decisions about their retirement plan account.
As mentioned in previous posts, different generations desire different benefits options, but they also have unique communication needs. This is true for not only how we communicate but what we communicate. A baby boomer may be looking for financial advice, while a millennial might prefer a financial coach or financial counseling.
Plan enrollment is a critical time to help employees see the big picture. Defined contribution is a somewhat clunky term – employees can be encouraged to participate in their workplace savings plan. And instead of talking about a deferral rate, employees might better understand phrases like the amount you contribute or the percentage of your paycheck that you put in the plan.
The employer match is also a point of confusion, but clarification is critical for increasing participants’ savings rates. Telling participants about free money and the ability to significantly increase their total amount of retirement savings resonates with their goals.1 After defining the company match, it’s important to explain how that money is vested – but very few employees have any idea what a vesting schedule is. They might, however, be very interested to hear about the rate of ownership for that free money.
Finally, it’s easy to quickly get in the weeds when it comes to investment terminology. Target date funds are the victims of plenty of industry jargon. A helpful explanation about their intent may include language about a customized strategy that is managed for you and designed to help achieve your goals.1 Talking about a glide path may illicit blank stares, while a risk-reduction path1 over the course of working years is easier to understand.
Ultimately, no language choice will be the perfect fit for all employees, but it remains essential for advisors to prioritize speaking in more understandable and relatable terms.
As discussed in last month’s blog, employers must rethink the formation of corporate benefits packages to better attract and retain high-quality employees. The key point was creating a benefits package with different and refreshed options (or even deconstructing it to allow for greater choice and flexibility), but an equally important piece of the puzzle is effectively communicating with employees.
Remember, multiple generations make up the modern workforce, and it’s important to understand their different communication needs. Regardless of their generation, each employee may have unique preferences; these should be attuned to and included as the benefits package is created, announced, and implemented.
While the retirement plan is one slice of the holistic benefits package, it comes with its own set of challenges. For example, employee enrollment and deferral eligibility may be different than eligibility to receive employer contributions. An 18-year-old employee just starting their first job may not understand any of those terms, while a 60-year-old transitioning to a new employer might be full of questions about rollovers, in-service distributions, and more.
Will these employees learn best at a group meeting? With customized resource sheets? Working with a financial advisor in a one-on-one setting? Watching a pre-recorded, customized enrollment video? Don’t limit the possibilities, because the answer is likely a combination of several of these options; each generation will desire a range of communication channels. Technology offers more, too – consider email, text messaging, company intranet, webinars, online tools, social media, and apps. Some employees may be content with one-time efforts; others will desire constant engagement and more frequent messaging.
While carrying different expectations for relationships with their employers, commonalities abound among the generations. Employees want fair treatment, to be acknowledged for a job well done, and trust they are working in the right place. Paying attention to these desires, as well as incorporating a flexible benefits package with a healthy variety of communication channels, is ultimately a win for everyone.
Employees really do want to understand their benefits, and as an employer, it is your responsibility to effectively communicate with them. If your current methods aren’t measuring up, call the Shepherd Financial team. We’re here to help.
Attracting and retaining high quality employees is not a new challenge, but the benefits landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, particularly since millennials entered the workforce. And now that this generation is today’s largest workforce demographic (hint: it’s your employees who are anywhere from 23 to 38 right now), employers must rethink the construction of the overall benefits package. As you consider how to add value for employees and help your company grow, do you understand what millennials actually want?
The answer is twofold: different options than previous generations required, and the ability to create a customized benefits experience.
Don’t bristle at these desires – especially because of technology, today’s workplace is fundamentally different than it was 20 years ago. It makes sense your employees have new expectations, too. (Speaking of technology, it should be standard to have always-accessible employee benefit information, often through a secure online portal.)
Aside from health insurance and retirement plans, benefit options might include the ability to work remotely, flexibility in work schedules, student loan repayment plans, opportunities for professional development, lifestyle solutions like onsite child care, and corporate investment in wellness initiatives. While some of these options require creative thinking and scheduling, the positive results speak for themselves in overall employee wellbeing and productivity.
Regarding the customized benefits experience, it is becoming increasingly popular – and practical – to offer an à la carte solution. In short, employees receive a fixed amount of money as part of the benefits offering and may decide how to allocate their employer’s contribution. Closer to retirement, a baby boomer might select a higher contribution rate to the company retirement plan and a full suite of health insurance, life insurance, and long-term care insurance; a millennial employee may earmark less money for their retirement plan but include student loan repayment and extra parental leave.
Every company is unique, and so are your employees. Employers certainly have many decisions to make about the options to include, as well as how to structure the benefits program to meet compliance regulations. To discuss ways to better attract and retain employees through the benefits program, call the Shepherd Financial team.
Did the recent 35-day partial government shutdown affect you or someone you know? It’s quite possible, considering it forced 800,000 federal workers to miss paychecks and hurt many small businesses. And since the three-week spending bill expires soon, there could be even more financial repercussions.
These recent circumstances certainly give reason to pause and wonder: are you prepared for a financial shutdown in your life? If that question feels too broad, what about this one: if you were in a serious accident and had to miss work, how long would your current financial situation carry you? 35 days? 6 months?
This is about more than just creating an emergency fund – though you should, since it’s widely touted 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency. And it’s not just about having proper insurance coverage, though that’s certainly important, too. The bigger issue is thoughtfully creating a financial plan and knowing where to turn if the bottom falls out.
As a plan sponsor, you might feel the pieces in your plan are well-aligned. That’s positive news! But can the same be said for your employees? If they can’t currently address a $400 bill, how would they handle a total shutdown if it occurred? You can help prepare your team by proactively providing education and wellness opportunities, offering useful resources that speak to real situations, and taking the fear out of financial conversations.
Employees don’t get off the hook that easily, though – everyone is ultimately responsible for themselves. Consider the last time you gave yourself a financial checkup. Start with a budget you’ll actually follow, build up your emergency fund, and pay off debt. Then push deeper – ask for help to balance college funding, utilize a health savings account, max out your retirement account options, and optimize tax strategies.
The Shepherd Financial team is always only a phone call away. Whether you’re currently in a financial crisis or want to create a plan to see you through one, we want to help.
The new year always seems like a great time to overhaul everything in our lives. Why not? It’s a clean slate. A chance for something different. The perfect opportunity to try and correct mistakes from the past year.
It can be enticing to do the same thing for your investment portfolio – turn it over, dump everything out, and try again. This may feel especially tempting during seasons of market volatility. But unless something has changed with your investment time horizon, objectives, or risk tolerance, there’s really no good reason to do it.
The market experienced an unusually long period of low volatility, so even seasoned investors may feel unsettled with recent drops. Keep in mind, though, volatility is a normal part of market cycles. As we head into a new year, it’s helpful to approach your portfolio and resolutions with a similar attitude:
Maintain perspective. Uncertainty is a constant, and downturns happen frequently. Unforeseen circumstances pop up, so sustaining new behaviors isn’t always realistic. Take a breath and keep moving forward.
Stay disciplined and set realistic expectations. Implementing a quick fix that doesn’t make sense for your long-term goals is similar to trying to time the market. It can be extremely challenging and could end up costing you in the long run. For example, on December 24, 2018, the Dow Jones dropped 653 points – its worst-ever performance on Christmas Eve. Just two days later on the 26th, however, the Dow added over 1,080 points – its biggest points gain in history.
Ask for help. Utilizing an advisor may help ensure your investment strategy aligns with your long-term goals, timeline, and risk tolerance. As with other goals in your life, this level of accountability can help prevent you from making emotional investing decisions.
Despite rising interest rates and worries about trade wars between China and the US, the US economy remains strong: growth is healthy, unemployment is low, the number of people working is rising steadily, and wages are up. As long as you maintain a strategy consistent with your needs and preferences, there is no compelling reason to change your investment discipline.
But it doesn’t hurt to check in on your financial goals and current circumstances – call the Shepherd Financial team to schedule your next review.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a widely-watched index of 30 American stocks thought to represent the pulse of the American economy and markets. Investors cannot invest directly in an index.
A special year-end note from Leah, partner and Director of Retirement Plan Services at Shepherd Financial:
I should preface this by saying I am not at all a blogger – my degree is in Mathematics, so I don’t claim to have a way with words. But I am obsessed with people who do – my newsfeed is full of great writers talking about the things I love – like food, fashion, and Notre Dame football, just to name a few! So I hope I do the blogging world justice with this post, because I have something important to say.
Our industry moves fast, and our team at Shepherd is constantly running at breakneck speed to stay ahead of the curve. It seems as if each year goes faster than the one before, and December feels like it’s gone as soon as it starts – between work deadlines, holiday parties, and a million errands, I often find my head spinning. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a joyful time, full of celebrations and things to be happy about. But because of our frenetic pace, I sometimes have to force myself to pause and reflect on the past year.
And when I do, I am just in awe. 2018 was a really big year, both personally and professionally. I have some wonderful trophies to remember the year by – I was published and made partner – and I am so grateful for them! But the biggest accomplishments, in my mind, are the relationships I have built or deepened this year.
I have been here since the beginning and gotten to see Shepherd Financial grow right in front of my eyes. We still have a long way to go and are always trying to innovate, but we are doing so many things well. The level of service we are able to offer to our clients has increased exponentially. The success stories we hear from helping plan sponsors and participants show we’re making positive contributions, and I’m so proud to be part of those experiences.
This was a pivotal year for our team – we adopted a new branch and have experienced the growing pains that come along with opening our arms to more people. We are still in process as we figure out how to improve, learn, and grow together. While we have good and bad days, I believe we will ultimately come out better than before.
And that’s largely due to the fact that I am blessed to be surrounded by really good and extremely talented people. The makeup of our team is so unique, and I am consistently impressed by each person. I believe I am part of a truly special group, and if we’ve come this far in four years, there’s no telling what we can accomplish in the future. In the grand scheme of things, we’re really only in the beginning of our story.
So from the bottom of my heart, whether you are a client, service partner, or one of my team members, thank you for sharing in this with me. I’m in awe and so, so grateful.
No matter our job titles here at Shepherd Financial, we are all nerds. Every last one of us. Case in point: every year, the IRS announces new contribution limits for retirement savings.
Because it’s vital information for how we operate, timeliness is essential – so at a meeting several weeks ago, I jokingly suggested there would be a prize for the team member that conveyed the new information to me first. Perhaps the IRS caught wind of our challenge; instead of releasing the limits mid-October, as they traditionally have, we waited with bated breath until November 1st.
(I’m completely serious when I tell you one team member set her Twitter account to alert her every time the IRS tweeted. She still didn’t win.)
In brief, the new limits: in 401(k), 403(b), and most 457 plans, the contribution limit was raised from $18,500 to $19,000. Not a huge jump, and the limit tends to increase by about that much every year. Significantly, though, the IRS has increased the contribution limit for traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs) for the first time since 2013 (the limit is now $6,000).
But what’s the big deal, you might be asking? Essentially, the government has enabled Americans to save more. Larger retirement contributions can mean lower tax bills and more income in retirement. And if you happen to be an American with a late start on your retirement savings, this is good news. If you’re over age 50, between your 401(k), IRA, and catch up contributions, you could save $32,000 in 2019. That doesn’t even take into account an employer match or integrating a health savings account in your retirement investment strategy.
And that’s where saving smarter comes in. All these investment vehicles play a unique role in your overall retirement savings strategy. If you’re not sure about how to best utilize each one, call our team at Shepherd Financial. We nerds have a great time figuring this out every day.
But that’s not typical of the majority of America.
No, most Americans have regret about past financial decisions, are embarrassed about their current financial situation, and worry about their financial future. You certainly wouldn’t know it to look at them. Social media perpetuates the myth that all is well, but consider these scenarios:
What you see: A couple strolling through a perfectly-filtered Italian vista.
Reality: A non-budgeted Italian vacation adding to a mountain of credit card debt.
What you see: A sweet fall montage of the family, including a blooper picture where the dog pokes his head out of a pile of leaves.
Reality: A stressed-out couple that doesn’t know how to pay for their kids’ college educations, fund their own retirements, or care for their parents in the coming years.
What you see: A series of self-affirmations suggesting the world is an oyster and positivity is the greatest force of nature.
Reality: A 24-year-old who has no ability to pay off their student loans or get off their parents’ insurance in the foreseeable future.
Reality rarely matches the highlight reel we see online. As we head toward Halloween, I’d urge you to consider taking off the mask and removing your own financial filters. Have you admitted the struggle is real? Is the cost of transparency greater than the actual cost of your financial burden? It’s difficult to get support if people aren’t aware of your real circumstances.