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.
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.
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.
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.