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.
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.
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.
We are currently faced with a financial epidemic: many employees are on unstable footing due to debt challenges and a lack of emergency savings; others abruptly find themselves responsible for both their aging parents and dependent children. There’s no doubt about it – many employees are financially stressed.
These financial burdens can have negative effects at home and in the workplace, impacting health, relationships, and productivity. As an employer, this should concern you – aside from the possible adverse bearing on your company’s bottom line, it’s also discouraging to know financial stress can have the power to derail top employees.
In fact, 45% of employees say financial matters cause them the most stress in their lives. We believe it’s essential to closely and honestly examine the financial wellness programs currently in place within your company – are they adequately addressing your employees’ needs? Are they producing the behavioral changes necessary to improve employee well-being? If they’re not, consider the following:
Problem: More than a quarter of employees are using credit cards to pay for monthly necessities because they can’t afford them otherwise – and it’s an issue across all income levels.
Suggested courses of action: Host a budgeting and debt management course to help employees understand where their money is coming from, as well as where it’s going. Teach employees how to monitor their credit scores, emphasizing the power of compound interest and how it can either work for or against them.
Problem: Among employees with student loans, a large percentage indicate these are having a moderate to significant impact on their ability to meet other financial goals.
Suggested courses of action: Provide resources to educate employees about student loans and possible payment plans. Offer opportunities to learn about college savings plans to help ease future student loan burdens. Implement a student loan repayment benefit as part of your overall benefits package.
Problem: 47% of employees have less than $50,000 saved for retirement.
Suggested courses of action: Participants must understand the importance of starting early, how to take advantage of the company match, and what kind of gap they face between what’s saved and their retirement-ready futures. Make sure you’re providing sufficient education about your company’s retirement plan, how to enroll, your recordkeeper and their website, and where they can go with any kind of financial questions.
The Shepherd Financial team specializes in customized financial wellness programming, so we’d love to have a conversation about how we can improve your employees’ well-being. Connect with us today at 844.975.4015 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: pwc, Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 4.16
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.
‘I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news lately, but we live in contentious times,’ said [anyone at any given moment in history]. It seems to be the case that putting people near each other is the fastest way to guarantee discord of some kind. In our industry, that can play out in a number of ways; making major headlines these days, though, are lawsuits targeting 401(k) plans.
For the last decade, most of these lawsuits have been aimed at mega plans – those in the multibillion-dollar arena – and their service providers. But the past few years have seen this litigation creep down market and target plan sponsors for their lack of fiduciary prudence. So the question must be asked: as a plan sponsor, do you know how to help reduce the threat of litigation?
First, remember the point of the 401(k) plan is to help employees achieve desired retirement outcomes. In other words, your legal obligation is to ensure your plan’s administration and investment management decisions are in the best interest of the participants. Keeping that in mind, it’s useful to understand potential danger zones.
Inappropriate investment choices – ERISA puts the emphasis on a prudent decision-making and monitoring process in the selection of investments, rather than on the specific funds chosen. Creating an investment policy statement (IPS) is the best way to establish guidelines for making investment-related decisions in a prudent manner, but plan sponsors must be diligent in following its criteria and objectives. Once established, failure to follow an adopted IPS could be considered a demonstration of fiduciary imprudence.
Excessive fees – Again, ERISA requires a careful, prudent process to ensure no more than reasonable fees are paid for necessary services. High fees aren’t inherently bad, but they can become legally problematic if a plan sponsor can’t demonstrate their prudent decision-making. Understanding if fees are reasonable requires a thorough benchmarking process – fund fees should be compared to other funds with similar risk/return and asset class characteristics, and plan fees (recordkeeping, administration, advising, and any other recurring expenses) should be compared to peer plans.
Documentation is an important element here – formally demonstrate the process undertaken to select and regularly monitor investments, review fees charged and services received, and choose which benchmarks were used. Continue to monitor fees over time and consider how changes in the plan have affected those fees. (For example, as plan assets grow over time, the plan may become eligible for a lower cost share class.)
Committee members who both understand and properly execute their fiduciary roles and responsibilities are better equipped to serve their plan participants and avoid litigation. That’s a winning formula for everyone (except the litigation lawyers, I guess).
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.
Did you know Department of Labor investigations consistently find failures in over 70% of retirement plan audits? These findings could be anything from failing to monitor the plan to defects in plan administration to misinterpreting plan provisions. Since spring is now officially upon us, consider a few suggestions for cleaning up your retirement plan.
Review your plan documents
First of all, it’s pretty helpful to know where they are – an auditor would certainly want to. Plan documents include the adoption agreement, amendments, summary plan description, investment policy statement, and so on. If you don’t have a fiduciary file or secure online vault in which to store these documents, start one today. Request any missing documents from the appropriate parties. Next, verify your plan documents are compliant with laws and regulations; amend them as required. Most importantly, though, ensure you are adhering to them!
Know your roles
To be compliant, the people running your day-to-day operations need to understand both the plan documents and their fiduciary duties. Define roles and clarify responsibilities. Don’t forget to document these assignments, as well as the processes to implement them – it may be beneficial to utilize a committee charter, fiduciary acceptance and acknowledgement letters, or a retirement plan internal controls policy. It’s important to be aware of all the fiduciaries serving your plan, because you have potential liability for their actions. And even if you have delegated certain fiduciary duties to others, you still retain fiduciary responsibility for prudently monitoring their performance.
Monitor the contribution process
The most common ERISA violation is making delinquent contributions and loan repayments. No matter who is responsible for remitting contributions, you must know your plan’s reasonable standard and understand the overall remittance process. Take care to monitor the responsible parties so you are attuned to issues as they arise; if they do, work with an advisor to determine how you should correct late payments, as well as report delinquent payments on your Form 5500.
Schedule your audit
If you haven’t done so already, schedule your plan’s required audit. Take care as you select your auditor: an auditor plays an important role in the health of your plan, so be sure to ask clarifying questions regarding their capabilities, workload, credentials, etc. Exhibit due diligence by documenting your selection process.
Clear the clutter
You also have a fiduciary responsibility to monitor the assets held in your plan and prudently act on your participants’ behalf. This includes terminated participants with account balances in the plan. And that’s not all. Those terminated participants are also required to receive benefit statements and plan disclosures. Depending on your service agreements, you may be paying a per-participant fee to maintain these terminated account balances. Discuss with your advisor if it would be beneficial to initiate a force-out campaign – following the terms of your plan document, of course!
You have three quarters left to achieve the goals initially set for 2018. Preparing participants for retirement might be high on the list (we sure hope so!), but have you put plans in place to make it happen? Pull out your calendar and prioritize time for your employees – schedule enrollment and engagement meetings to increase their financial wellness. Equip them with the tools they need to succeed. Determine the metrics you’ll use to track their progress, then decide next steps based on that data.
Being a plan fiduciary is not a duty to take lightly – there are many administrative and compliance-related tasks to perform. But we do believe you should take pride in being a good steward of your company’s retirement plan assets, because it means you are better equipping your employees for retirement. After all, the primary purpose of a retirement plan is to provide benefits for plan participants and beneficiaries. So roll up your sleeves and take time to polish your plan.