They could be your clients. They work with retirement advisors.But besides that -- what do these three retirement plan sponsors have in common?

  • Matthew is a plan sponsor for a nonprofit medical associationwith 110 employees.

  • Katie is a plan sponsor for a beverage retailer with 8,000employees.

  • Gloria is a plan sponsor for a nonprofit association forspecialist nurses.

The answer is, all three want to give employees more flexibilitywith their benefits and make it easy for them to take advantage ofretirement plan offerings.

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And on one day in March, they sat in front of a packed audienceof advisors at the 2017 NAPA 401(k) Summit and offered their viewfrom the 401(k) trenches.

Trends

What’s really happening with employees and retirement plans?Here are some trends they're seeing:

  1. What’s in it for me? Increasingly more commonis a “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality among employees of all ages,said Matthew Gertzog, Deputy Exec. Director of the American Societyof Hematology. “Which means we need to figure out what exactly ISin it for them.”

  2. The mixing of generations. “We have fourgenerations working at AORN,” said Gloria McCamley, Director HumanResources, Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN).“We have to cater to millennials who want games and 70-year-olds whowant to pick up the phone and talk. Then we have the sandwichgeneration with kids going to college and parents who are ailing.We have a broad spectrum of wages too.”

  3. Decision-making based on stories. Perhapsbecause of the rise of the sharing culture on Facebook and othersocial media, employees are making decisions based on theircoworkers’ and friends’ opinions and stories, rather than acceptingexperts’ advice outright. “The power of word of mouth has justexploded,” Gertzog said. “You hear that Steve had a meeting withhis advisor and he told a friend over lunch and that friend wantsit too now.”

  4. How retirement information is presented. Theincreasing creativity of vendors, as well as the influence of videogames and social media, has raised employee expectations aboutbenefits and retirement tools being interactive and fun. And theywant their retirement information packaged and presented in avariety of ways, Gertzog added: “Multiple learning formats, one onone, group meetings, online, gamification, employeechallenges.”

  5. A plethora of plans. The changingmerger-and-acquisition scene brings benefits baggage, creating apatchwork of plans to deal with (“we have 3 separate 401(k) plansand 2 pension plans,” said Katie Drayo, Director of Benefits, CottCorporation).

Benefits philosophy

Challenges and trends are similar from organization toorganization. But how employers view their retirement “obligation”or philosophy can be very different.

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Related: Whose job is it to get 401(k) participantsready for retirement?

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Holistic. Gertzog’s nonprofit medical societyis in the most competitive of nonprofit markets – Washington, D.C.“So we need to have a strong benefits package.”

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The society takes a holistic strategy to retirement benefits.“I’ve realized that financial planning is for everyone. It justbecomes a question of when they realize they need to do it,” hesaid. “The whole life concept is important as employees makedecisions from factors you haven’t even thought about.”

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Still, he said, some employees feel that an employer offeringhelp or oversight with finances is “a conflict of interest, ‘whydoes my employer care about my retirement?’”

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Hands-off. Drayo’s 8,000-employee beverageretailing company has moved in a more hands-off direction. “We havestopped auto-enroll and auto-increase. Our philosophy is, we’lltell you what to do but you have to do it.”

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Paternalistic. McCamley’s nonprofit nursingassociation is hiring a big chunk of its workforce from for-profitcompanies, “so we have to make benefits top notch.” The association“didn’t want to have a paternalistic view” at first. But it hasmoved in that direction, setting goals to increase participationand deferral rates, and adding auto-enrollment and a monthlydeferral change period. “Our committee had a hard time taking 3percent out of someone’s paycheck who’s making 12 dollars an hour.But I’ve been working with our investment advisor and they’ve beeninstrumental in convincing the committee that we need to do this,”she said, adding that the advisor’s persistence over a period oftwo years finally resulted in the committee deciding to do that.And of course, employee opt-out is still an option.

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Financial literacy is key

Another thing all three plan sponsors have in common is theirorganizations offer financial literacy programs to employees.

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Related: 8 money problems financial education couldhave avoided

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“Our biggest struggle is we have employees who have tochoose between retirement savings or gas in the car,” Drayo said.Her employer realized employees needed tools to help them figureout their finances.

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Still, there are missing pieces of information, she says. “Doour associates understand finances? I don’t know. We don’t have thedata. I have 401(k) data, I know what the balances are, but I don’tknow if it’s all of one person’s savings or just a part of it.”

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Financial literacy is a way “to help our employees balance theneed to plan for retirement with the way they want to live,”Gertzog said. “You help them understand that there are very fewchoices in life that are either A or B. There’s a gradation.”

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Offering a financial literacy program seemed a bit toopaternalistic at first, McCamley said. “But we’ve come around. Infact we just launched a smart dollar program through Dave Ramsey.It’s been widely received.” The organization offers small monetaryincentives to employees for such things as logging on to theprogram. “We are going to continue to give incentives forengagement in that program. We feel it rounds out retirement. Ithelps them create a budget, they can look at it on theirsmartphones.”

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