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.
Are you a procrastinator? Do you get a rush from delaying things until their final deadlines? You’re certainly not alone. Many people will sheepishly admit to sometimes pushing work to the last minute. But it could be a problem if you’re part of the 20% of the population known as chronic procrastinators, whose delays create havoc and undermine goals in multiple areas of their lives.
At the halfway point of 2018, we have to ask: where do you fall on the spectrum? And is your procrastination affecting others? As a plan sponsor, it’s your fiduciary duty to prioritize your company’s retirement plan and participants. So those financial wellness goals you set in January? Pretty important. The pending decisions about plan design? Critical and time sensitive.
First, remind yourself of the priority items for this year. If this was never a discussion with your advisor, schedule a review meeting right now. You need to have a clear picture of where you’re going to determine the steps you should be taking along the way. Analyze what adjustments might need to be made to those goals since a great deal of change can occur over the course of six months.
With regard to financial wellness, consider your employee population and anything you’ve learned about them. Do you know their communication preferences? It may be helpful to integrate those attributes and desires in your overall delivery strategy. Examine the type and frequency of participant meetings. Are your employees engaged? Do they have access to appropriate resources? If the answer to either question is no, consider the changes needed to help your employees retire well. You should also think about how you currently measure the success of your financial wellness program – what are your metrics? What results have you seen so far this year?
Perhaps you want to implement a safe harbor contribution provision in your plan design. Well, don’t delay – missing the deadline can be costly. To obtain the safe harbor exemption from ADP and ACP testing for the remainder of the year and ensure an active safe harbor plan by January 1st, the setup process should begin no later than September 15th. Since you must provide notices to your employees at least 30 days (but no more than 90 days) before the beginning of the plan year, notices should be delivered by December 1st.
So even if you’re infamous for your procrastinating ways, here’s your gentle reminder: your deadline is now. Do the things you’ve been delaying – at least when it comes to your company’s retirement plan.
Because we’re passionate about staying at the forefront of industry trends and regulations, Shepherd Financial recently sent a team to the National Association of Plan Advisors (NAPA) 401(k) Summit. This national conference allows industry experts to interact and share relevant, best-practice strategies for serving retirement plans. Our team highlighted the following topics as key difference makers in the retirement industry, plan administration, benefits collaboration, and plan participant financial wellness:
Industry News: Plan Litigation
The news continues to swirl with lawsuits against corporations, alleging their 401(k) plans have high fees harming employees. Such litigation has brought greater awareness to the fees being charged in plans, as well as a sense of urgency for retirement plan committees to take their fiduciary duties seriously. For example, the duty of exclusive benefit means fiduciaries must be aware of and fully understand all expenses paid from the plan – but it doesn’t end there. Expenses must also be deemed reasonable for the services provided. There is no obligation to choose providers or investments with the lowest costs; the best choice for a plan is unique to the plan’s objectives and characteristics. The most important elements for avoiding litigation over fees come in the form of a consistent process and thorough documentation.
Plan Administration: Committee Relationships
It can be beneficial to establish a committee to assist plan sponsors in the development of prudent processes for plan governance. It’s considered best practice to select a committee chair and establish a committee charter. Utilizing a committee charter to formally authorize the purpose and scope of the committee defines how committee members are selected or appointed, how often meetings occur, and the roles of any outside consultants. Understanding each party’s role, financial liability, fiduciary responsibility, and signing authority can help ease the administrative burden.
Benefits Collaboration: Health Savings Accounts
The buzz continues around health savings accounts (HSAs): they’re the link between health care and finance, but many employees still don’t understand their unique benefits. These savings vehicles provide triple tax-advantaged opportunities (tax-deductible contributions, tax-free earnings, and tax-free distributions), but few are taking advantage. Often confused with flexible savings accounts (FSAs) or health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) and their ‘use it or lose it’ rule, unused HSA funds from the current year roll over to the next year, so participants don’t have to worry about forfeiting their savings. Additionally, employees are often not saving enough to fully utilize the investing capabilities of the HSA – savings can be invested in mutual funds, stocks, or other investment vehicles to help achieve more growth in the account. Clearer education is needed to enable participants to fully engage in their whole suite of benefits.
Plan Participants: Watch Your Language!
The retirement plan experience can be extremely intimidating for participants, and language choices from both plan sponsors and advisors are important. Communication needs to be positive, reasonable, clear, and personal. Participants respond well to a process that is readily accessible, but they first need to hear why they’d want to participate. Using phrases like ‘a comfortable and enjoyable retirement’ and ‘an easy, cost-efficient, and satisfying path to retirement’ resonated well with employees. Each company has unique demographics, so plan sponsors should work closely with their advisor to determine the best language fit for their participants.
This list doesn’t need to be overwhelming – navigate each of these areas by working with your advisor to create a retirement plan strategy every year. Incorporate a formal process that includes regular plan cost benchmarking, a thoughtful examination of plan design, thorough documentation of committee policies and procedures, and honest conversations about how to better equip participants to retire well.
Valentine’s Day reminds us now is the perfect time for ‘the talk’ with that special someone in your life. And since this is a financial blog, I obviously mean the money talk. True, communication can be challenging, and the topic of money is a sore spot for many people. But the more you can speak honestly about money, the less fear and anxiety will be wrapped around it. The dialogue may look different based on your relationship status and life stage; regardless, it’s important to have the conversation now, as well as make room for future conversations.
You may benefit from making individual financial balance sheets, including all your debt and savings, before you begin talking. This way, you’ll have a better idea of your net worth. You may also compile a list of money questions or concerns you’d like to cover. It’s worthwhile to discuss your current financial situation, share values and long-term goals, and talk through spending and saving habits. Not being willing to talk about money can lead to big issues, both now and down the road. Open communication, though, gives the opportunity to create shared vision for the future, tackle problems as a team, and have accountability for your financial decisions.
Determine your own money values. This is where you’ll examine if you value saving or spending, as well as think about the various lifestyle standards you have. If you’re single and value the ability to travel, you’ll likely take that value into a relationship. Potential partners may discover conflicting values. Married couples may disagree about saving for college for their kids versus boosting their own retirement savings. It’s ok to disagree, but finding common ground is key. And keep the big picture in mind: creating safe space for ongoing dialogue about a positive financial future.
It’s also critical to come clean about your financial baggage. If you have student loan debt or a spending habit you’re having trouble kicking, hiding the issue will only compound it. (Literally – interest either hurts debtors or helps savers, but it doesn’t sit still.) Once you’ve talked about where you’ve been and where you are, look ahead. Are there any financial obstacles ahead? What are you hoping to do with your money in the future? Highlighting these can help you better see how to actually plan for the future.
Of course, not every money conversation needs to be so in-depth, but it helps to check in at least once a month to ensure you and your partner are on the same page, spot any problem areas quickly, and maintain momentum toward your goals. Your first financial talk together may be a little awkward, but with time, you’ll become fluent in a shared money language.
Sir Francis Bacon is often attributed with saying, “Knowledge is power.” While agreeing with the general sentiment, we have learned firsthand that knowledge is often not enough when it comes to personal finances. April is National Financial Literacy Month, and our team believes this is a critical and timely subject. Financial literacy is more than just a general knowledge of money: it is both the education and understanding of how money is made, spent, and saved, as well as acquiring the ability to manage one’s financial resources effectively.
In our industry, it is clear to see how a lack of financial literacy impacts both individuals and the companies for whom they work. It has been well-documented that financial stress increases absenteeism, decreases productivity, and negatively affects retirement and health care costs. So while the issue is personal, it seems naïve to believe employers should have no say in the matter. Considering its impact on physical health, financial wellness needs to have a natural place in the overall benefits package.
When it comes to retirement plan design, adding features like auto-enrollment and auto-escalation are important steps to help employees save (and save more). But plan sponsors should also consider how loans and withdrawals may cause plan leakage – when faced with financial difficulties, if employees can easily pull money back out of the plan, they probably will. However, simply focusing on increasing savings in the company retirement plan as the only financial goal could also be part of a two-fold problem – first, employees may have a variety of more pressing financial needs; second, improving financial well-being must begin with driving actual behavioral change. This involves communication, education, guidance, and resources that are customized for your employees.
Using plan and participant data (ages, current deferral rates, loan balances, etc.) can help dictate relevant strategies for your company. These targeted strategies can have a significant impact on long-term financial security. But keep in mind that creating financial literacy is not a one-time event. Instead, it must be developed over time – for example, learning how to set and achieve personal goals can positively change attitudes toward saving and spending, which can in turn help build a better budget that will actually be followed. It’s also important to engage with employees in ways that matter to them, perhaps by utilizing technology, gamifying financial behaviors, offering rewards, and incorporating overall wellness into the company culture at large.