Monday, August 24, 2009

The DB(k): Pension of the Future

When hiring picks up again, this blend of defined benefit and 401(k) features will help snag top talent.

By Joan Pryde, Senior Tax Editor, the Kiplinger letters

August 19, 2009

An attractive new option for employer sponsored retirement plans becomes available next year. The “DB(k)” offers businesses with 500 or fewer employees an opportunity to provide a strong retirement plan for their employees with fewer hassles and less financial drain than a traditional pension plan.

The DB(k) melds a 401(k) savings plan with a small guaranteed income stream. … The key elements of the plan:

  • A defined benefit equal to 1% of final average pay for each year of the employee’s service, up to 20 years.
  • An automatic enrollment feature for the 401(k) portion. Unless an employee specifically opts out or changes the contribution level, 4% of pay is automatically shunted into 401(k) savings.
  • An employer match of at least 50% of employee 401(k) contributions, with a maximum required match of 2% of pay.

To induce employers to participate: An exemption from “top-heavy” rules … . In addition, the paperwork burden is much lighter for a DB(k) plan than if a company operates separate pension and 401(k) plans, says Martella Turner-Joseph, a pension actuary and a member of the board of the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries. With the DB(k), a company need have only one plan document and file one Form 5500 -- the annual information return for benefit plans -- even though it is essentially operating two plans.

The DB(k), authorized by Congress as part of the 2006 Pension Protection Act, is designed to repair a flaw in the current retirement system. The 401(k), originally conceived as a supplement to employer paid pensions, has become many people’s primary source of retirement income. … Indeed, for a majority of workers with no pension plan, the lump sum 401(k) distribution they receive at retirement, even if managed well, may not last. So Washington policymakers set out to encourage a comeback in pensions, … . The much more limited size is intended to ensure that employers won’t find their plan in need of considerable new funds, as so many pension plan sponsors have in the past several years.

But we expect the concept to pick up steam as the economy strengthens and competition for good workers again becomes keen. Indeed, there is already discussion among pension industry officials about pushing Congress to make DB(k)s available to larger companies, too.

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click here.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

How many investment options are too many?

fi360 Blog

Last week we received a call from an AIF designee who was working with a plan that had over 75 investment options available for participants to choose from. He knew it was too many, but asked for our help in putting together a compelling case as to why too many options is not a good thing and what a reasonable number might be. …

First, a study from the Journal of Finance found investors tended to choose a small number of funds to invest in, no matter how many were offered, and that they tend to invest roughly equal amounts in each of the funds they select. So, at least in this one study, a large number of options does not correspond in participants taking advantage of them.

So what's the harm in making a large number of options available? … A study from Columbia University found that when the number of investment options went up, enrollment went down, all the way to just 60% participation when the number of investment options approached 60. (This study and others are cited in an Executive Summary from Vanguard on the subject).

… One study from AllianceBernstein shows that as the number of investment options go up, so does the conservative nature of the funds chosen. The only factor that should be influencing selection should be which options help the beneficiary achieve their end goal.

… In a review of its own state employee retirement system plan, the state of Missouri found that offering too many similar options was contributing to overlap and therefore improper diversification. It also found that by decreasing the number of options available and introducing target-date funds, it would be able to save on management fees and, potentially, administrative costs to the plan.

But perhaps the best case study I found demonstrating an effective and thorough process for selecting asset classes and investment options came from an investment option review by the Federal Thrift Savings Plan. The review found the plan to be comparable to peer plans with 10 available options. The TSP review also includes great insight into their evaluation of investment options and why the individual asset classes either were or were not included among available options, and why some asset classes had only one option versus multiple options. You may find the 80+ page report excessive to reproduce for your own needs, but it demonstrates the type of thought process and documentation that a plan should be considering when building a prudently built portfolio of fund options that suits the goals and objectives of the end beneficiaries.

Other Resources:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

3 Technologies to Help You Take Advantage of the Economic Recovery


08-17-2009 04:38 PM

By smallbiztrends smallbiztrends

Twenty-seven economists polled by the Wall Street Journal said that the Great Recession is over*. …

I don't know whether these economists are right or wrong.

But I do know this: ALL recessions eventually end. At some point I assure you there will be an end ... and customer demand will pick up. …

When the recovery happens, you want to be ready to jump on opportunities. If the recession's been tough on your business, consider the recovery a time for a reboot. With that in mind, here are 3 tools that can help your small business sell more and do so profitably, as the recovery takes hold:

1) CRM Software

CRM stands for "customer relationship management." … The real question is, what does customer relationship management add to your bottom line? How important is it?

Let me drive the point home in dollars and cents. It's a lot cheaper to retain existing customers and sell more to them, than it is to go out and find new customers. According to Brent Leary, Principal of CRM Essentials*: "Even in good economic conditions it can be 10 times more expensive to bring on new customers as it is to keep the ones we have. Small businesses are turning to CRM applications to help extend relationships with current customers, while increasing opportunities to connect with prospects more efficiently."

One of the key metrics I urge you to start tracking if you don't already, is "customer acquisition cost." Know what it costs you to get a new customer. When you start tracking that metric, you will begin to appreciate the dollars-and-cents value of CRM.

2) Email Marketing Solution

Email marketing is a fantastic way to market to existing customers - at one-fifth or less of the cost of direct mail (snail mail). …

There are many email marketing software solutions on the market today that automate the entire process -- from signup, through managing your list database, to designing and sending bulk emails. A key advantage of using an email marketing software solution is that it saves a lot of time and labor, versus sending out emails on your own, managing your subscriber list manually through a spreadsheet, etc. …

However, I caution you not to assume that email marketing is right for every situation. Paper direct mail still is a far better way to get NEW customers. … Prospecting for new customers is one situation when email marketing has not replaced paper direct mail - here are some other situations*.

3) Website Analytics

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that putting up a website is a one-time event. …

Websites are living breathing organisms. In fact, today you can think of your Web presence as an ecosystem. You have a presence in microcommunities (i.e., other websites, including social media sites) and those presences work together with your website. And then there are the search engines, which index your website's pages for various keywords, and bring potential customers to your virtual door when they search for those keywords. It's all dynamic and constantly changing and evolving.

It is crucial to know about your website traffic, if you want your website to help get sales. Because if you don't know what's happening on your website, how can you know what to improve?

Install a good analytics package. Google Analytics is free and is a solution that many small businesses start with. Examine the data it generates, regularly. It's a goldmine!

(1) It tells you where your traffic is coming from. You will see which sites or search engines are sending visitors; which keywords or search terms people used to get there; the links they clicked on. This can tell if you need to develop more inbound links, or do a better job with content for more relevant search terms, and so on.

(2) It tells you information about your visitors. You'll learn which countries they come from; which days and times they like to visit; which browsers they use; even what screen resolution they have. This tells you who you are appealing to, and provides design considerations for your website.

(3) It tells you what's working in your website - and what isn't. You will see how long people stay, which pages they abandon, or whether they are converting to paying customers from particular online ads but not others. This will help you improve your website, your graphics and content, and your online ad campaigns. Sometimes a small change (moving a graphic from one spot to another, or a change in wording) makes a big improvement.

In conclusion, the above 3 tools are not the only ones, but they are worth their weight in gold. They will not only help you sell more, but do so cost effectively and efficiently.

*This hyperlink goes to a non-governmental web site.

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IMHO: “To Do” List


Being a plan fiduciary is a tough job—and one that, it’s probably fair to say—is underappreciated, if not undercompensated.

In my experience, most who find themselves in that role (see "IMHO: Duty Bound") I think do an admirable job of living up to the spirit, if not the letter, of their responsibilities.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of areas in which we could do a better job, and the purpose of this column—and the one will follow it next week—is to focus on those issues that come up regularly in my discussions with plan sponsors, advisers, and industry experts.

…This is a list compiled based on three decades of experience working with retirement plans; numerous conversations with providers, plan sponsors, regulators and advisers; as well as a review of documented compliance shortfalls.

… This listing is a combination of the things that you must do and things that you do not have to do—but that, if done, would keep you and your plan(s) in good stead. …

1. Not having a plan/plan investment committee

ERISA only requires that the named fiduciary … make decisions regarding the plan that are in the best interests of plan participants and beneficiaries, and that are the types of decisions that a prudent expert would make about such matters. ERISA … requires that, if you lack the requisite expertise, you enlist the support of those who do have it.…

… Make sure your committee members add value to the process. (Hint: Once they discover that ERISA has a personal liability clause, casual participants generally drop out quickly.)

2. Not HAVING committee meetings

Having a committee and not having committee meetings is potentially worse than not having a committee at all. … [But] if there is a group charged with overseeing the activities of the plan, and that group doesn't convene, then one might well assume that the plan is not being properly managed, or that the plan’s activities and providers are not prudently managed and monitored, as the law requires.

3. Not keeping minutes of committee meetings

… [A] written record of the activities of your plan committee(s) is an essential ingredient in validating not only the results, but also the thought process behind those deliberations.

More significantly, those minutes can provide committee members—both past and future—with a sense of the environment at the time decisions were made, the alternatives presented, and the rationale offered for each, as well as what those decisions were. They also can be an invaluable tool in reassessing those decisions at the appropriate time and making adjustments as warranted—properly documented, of course.

4. Not having an investment policy statement

… [The] reality is that the law does not require one…. Of course, if the law does not specifically require a written investment policy statement (IPS)—… ERISA nonetheless basically anticipates that plan fiduciaries will conduct themselves as though they had one in place. And, generally speaking, you should find it easier to conduct the plan's investment business in accordance with a set of established, prudent standards ….

It is worth noting that, though it is not legally required, Labor Department auditors routinely ask for a copy of the plan’s IPS as one of their first requests. … [If] there is one thing worse than not having an investment policy statement, it is having an investment policy statement—in writing—that is not followed.

5. Not removing “bad” funds from your plan menu.

Whether or not you have an official IPS, you are expected to conduct a review of the plan’s investment options as though you do. Sooner or later, that review will turn up a fund (or two) that no longer meets the criteria established for the plan. That’s when you will find the true “mettle” of your investment policy; do you have the discipline to do the right thing and drop the fund(s), or will you succumb to the very human temptation to leave it on the menu (though perhaps discouraging or even preventing future investment)? … [How] can leaving an inappropriate fund on your menu—and allowing participants to invest in it—be a good thing?

Next week - the rest of the list…

Nevin E. Adams

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

5 Personal Core Competencies for the 21st Century


By Sean Silverthorne

August 13th, 2009 @ 5:32 am

Every epoch requires people and organizations to develop core competencies or skills needed to be successful. …

What are the core competencies needed in this century? Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Helen Haste has identified five that we should begin teaching our students. We business managers should also consider how to bring these skills to our companies and careers.

  • Managing Ambiguity. “Managing ambiguity is that tension between rushing to the clear, the concrete, and managing this ambiguous fuzzy area in the middle. … Because we have to counter the story of a single linear solution.”
  • Agency and Responsibility. “We have to be able to take responsibility and know what that means. Being an effective agent means being able to approach one’s environment, social or physical, with a confidence that one actually will be able to deal with it.”
  • Finding and Sustaining Community. “Managing community is partly about that multitasking of connecting and interacting. …”
  • Managing Emotion. “Really it’s about getting away from the idea that emotion and reason are separate…”
  • Managing Technological Change. “When we have a new tool, we first use it for what we are already doing, just doing it a bit better. But gradually, the new tool changes the way we do things. It changes our social practices.”

See her video Five Competences for Adapting to a Changing World. (Sorry, no direct link available.)

What’s missing from this list? What personal core competencies would you add that are necessary to be successful in our new century?

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

IMHO: Duty Call?


When it comes to qualified retirement plans, there are three kinds of people: people who are fiduciaries and know it, people who aren’t fiduciaries and know it, and people who are fiduciaries and don’t know it.

Now, for the most part, those in the first category are in pretty good shape. Oh, there are a plethora of ways in which a fiduciary can fail to uphold his or her responsibilities under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)—but, in my experience, if you're at least trying to do the right thing(s), and taking the time to document that effort, you're in good shape. …

The second category mostly tends to include those folks or firms that provide services to the retirement plan fiduciaries. Most enjoy that status because they don't technically have any authority to do anything on their own; they just help those who do know what to do. Of course, there are some who think they are in the second category—who are actually in the third category.

As for that third category—well, here are seven things that, IMHO, every plan sponsor should know about being a fiduciary:

(1) If you're a plan sponsor, you're a fiduciary.

Fiduciary status is based on your responsibilities with the plan, not your title. If you have discretion in administering and managing the plan, or if you control the plan's assets (such as choosing the investment options or choosing the firm that chooses those options), you are a fiduciary to the extent of that discretion or control. …

Note that every plan must have at least one fiduciary (either a person or an entity) specifically named in the written plan document, a "named fiduciary" that is either identified by office or by name.

Of course, if there is a title less well-understood than "fiduciary," it may well be "plan sponsor."

(2) For the very most part, you can’t offload or outsource your fiduciary responsibility.

ERISA has a couple of very specific exceptions; more precisely, ways in which you can limit—but not eliminate—your fiduciary obligations. One exception has to do with the specific decisions made by a qualified investment manager—and, regardless, you remain responsible for the prudent selection and monitoring of that investment manager’s activities on behalf of the plan. The second exception has to do with specific investment decisions made by properly informed and empowered individual participants in accordance with ERISA’s 404(c). Here also, even if your plan meets the 404(c) criteria (and it is by no means certain it will)—you remain responsible for the prudent selection and monitoring of the options on the investment menu from which they are selecting (1).

Outside of these two exceptions, you’re essentially responsible for the quality of the investments of the plan—including those that participants make.

Once You're a Fiduciary...

(3) If you're responsible for selecting those who are on the committee(s) that administer the plan, you're a fiduciary. If you are able to hire a fiduciary, you’re (probably) a fiduciary.

The power to put others in a position of power regarding plan assets is as critical as the ability to make decisions regarding those investments directly.

(4) Hiring a co-fiduciary doesn’t keep you from being a fiduciary.

Moreover, all fiduciaries have potential liability for the actions of their co-fiduciaries. …

(5) You have personal liability as an ERISA fiduciary.

That’s right, the legal liability is personal (you can, however, buy insurance to protect against that personal liability—but that’s not the fiduciary liability insurance you may already have in place).

You may be required to restore any losses to the plan or to restore any profits gained through improper use of plan assets. …

(6) Once you’re a fiduciary, you can’t just quit and walk away.

The Department of Labor cautions that "fiduciaries who no longer want to serve in that role cannot simply walk away from their responsibilities, even if the plan has other fiduciaries. They need to follow plan procedures and make sure that another fiduciary is carrying out the responsibilities left behind. It is critical that a plan has fiduciaries in place so that it can continue operations and participants have a way to interact with the plan."

If You Need Help...

(7) You're expected to be an expert—or to hire help that is.

ERISA’s Prudent Man rule is a standard of care, and when fiduciaries act for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits, they must act at the level of a hypothetical knowledgeable person and must reach informed and reasoned decisions consistent with that standard. None other than the Department of Labor itself notes that "[l]acking that expertise, a fiduciary will want to hire someone with that professional knowledge to carry out the investment and other functions."

As a plan fiduciary, it’s never too late to start doing the right things the right way. But doing the right things means understanding what is expected of you—and appreciating the implications.

For more information, see Fiduciary Fundamentals

See also:

Nevin E. Adams

(1) With the enactment of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA), fiduciaries who automatically enroll participants in accordance with the provisions of the automatic enrollment safe harbor into a qualified default investment alternative (QDIA) get the protections of 404(c ) for those balances. However, the plan fiduciary remains responsible for the prudent selection and monitoring of the QDIA itself.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Executives Finds Morale and Trust Low


Survey of Executives Finds Morale and Trust Low

August 10, 2009 ( - The most recent Executive Quiz by The Korn/Ferry Institute reveals job dissatisfaction and a lack of trust for corporate leadership.

Nearly half (47%) of employed executives indicated they are either somewhat or very dissatisfied with their current position. According to a press release, when asked what best describes employee morale within their company, 45% of employed executives said either "fair" or "poor," while 42% said "good," and only 13% said "outstanding."

The survey also found 31% of executives stated they do not trust their boss. However, three-quarters gave their bosses favorable performance ratings: excellent (19%), above average (35%) or average (22%]. …

More than half (56%) of executives indicated they aspire to be CEO, 16% said "maybe," 12% said "no," and 15% already are or have been a CEO. The majority of executives said they aspire to have their boss's position (67%), while the other 33% do not.

"The global recession has left fewer employees to do more work, often for less pay. Stress levels are high and some executives are getting burnt out. However, irrespective of the business cyclicality, companies must take proactive steps to keep key employees engaged if they want to retain them for the long term and be seen as an employer of choice," said Ana Dutra, president and CEO of Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting, in the press release.

The Korn/Ferry International Executive Quiz is based on a global survey of executives registered within the firm's online Executive Center, Respondents from 70 countries, representing a wide spectrum of industries and functional areas, participated in the most recent Executive Quiz in May-June 2009.

Rebecca Moore

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Most Small Business Owners Expect Rebound Soon


August 3, 2009 ( – Though the economy still tops their list of concerns, the majority of small business owners surveyed said they expect an economic turnaround this year or next.

According to Administaff, one sign of this is that 60% of owners and managers it surveyed said they are maintaining current staffing levels, while 23% are adding new positions, up from the 18% in the survey conducted three months ago. …

The survey also revealed that 68% of participants expect to maintain employee compensation at current levels for the remainder of this year; 10% plan increases; 6% expect decreases; and 16% were unsure.

According to a press release on the survey, more than 58% of small business owners expect an economic turnaround in 2010, while 14% anticipate a rebound by the end of 2009. …

The economy was listed by 83% of business owners as their biggest concern for 2009, followed by government health care reform (53%), controlling operating costs (44%), and rising health care costs (33%). However, for 2010 and later, concern about the overall state of the economy fell to fourth place.

In the survey conducted late last month, 60% of owners and managers surveyed said they are either meeting or exceeding their 2009 performance plans, with the remaining 40% reporting that they are doing worse than expected.

Rebecca Moore

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