Barbara Kontje, director of global retirement and smart saving for American Express' 401(k) plan, talks about the decision to produce virtual education for the 5,000 employees who work off-site. Register for Innovators at pionline.com/innovator2013. View more in this series

5 'gutsy' DC plan execs are honored with Innovator Awards

New P&I/DCIIA award lauds defined contribution plan executives for thinking outside the box

The five Innovator Award recipients ranged from those creating programs that sound like case studies of the awards' purpose — to drive successful outcomes for plan participants — to those proving that innovation is found in context as well as in content.

The five winners are:

  • Dan Holupchinski, manager of retirement plans for Deluxe Corp., Shoreview, Minn., who won in the plan design category;
  • Kevin Hanney, director of non-U.S. pensions and savings plans at United Technologies Corp., Hartford, Conn., winner in the retirement income category;
  • Carol Cypert, manager of the City and County of San Francisco Employees Retirement System's deferred compensation program;
  • Barbara Kontje, director of global retirement and smart saving for American Express Co., one of two new media winners; and
  • Bernie Knobbe, senior director, global benefits and global mobility for Yahoo! Inc., the other new media winner.

The Innovator Awards are sponsored by Pensions & Investments and the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association. The inaugural awards were presented on Nov. 5 at P&I's West Coast Defined Contribution conference in San Francisco.

"DCIIA partnered with P&I to develop this new award to recognize those willing to be ahead of the herd and take steps designed to improve participants' retirement income security," said Lew Minsky, executive director of DCIIA, Washington. "We are really excited about the inaugural group of innovators, and we are hoping that recognizing their efforts will help encourage others to adopt similar approaches."

P&I Editor Nancy K. Webman agreed, adding: "We wanted to find people who took gutsy, creative approaches, and we did."

Mr. Holupchinski won for both guts and creativity. The goal was to achieve a 90% income replacement rate at retirement for participants in Deluxe's $1.2 billion 401(k) plan. The path to get there included creating an auto-deferral structure that caps at 15% of compensation, well above the 10% safe harbor for anti-discrimination tests.

Mr. Hanney's award was for using a lifetime income option backed by multiple insurers and embedded in target-date funds offered in UTC's 401(k) plans for salaried and union workers. UTC's plans, with combined assets of $15.9 billion, are the largest to adopt such an approach.

Other innovators proved applying existing ideas or technology in new settings can be just as powerful as the eureka moment of an invention.

Ms. Cypert was honored for her role in adding custom target-date funds — popular among corporate plans but rare among public ones — to San Francisco's $3.4 billion deferred compensation plan's investment menu. The funds include some alternative investments, not the norm yet among corporate plans, let alone public funds.

No award for innovation would be complete without some gee-whiz technology; thus, the new media category had two winners.

Because American Express has many employees working in remote locations, they can't attend meetings on financial education and the $3.6 billion defined contribution plan. So Ms. Kontje and her team developed an Internet-based campaign that included a virtual financial fair.

Mr. Knobbe oversaw development of what Yahoo's consultant, Towers Watson & Co., called a "guerilla benefits awareness campaign" for the company's $750 million 401(k) plan. It was filled with multiple uses of technology, including a mobile phone text-messaging-based game to improve learning about benefits and wellness.

In addition to naming five winners, the Innovator judges also picked six finalists.

  • Delbert Johnson, administrator, Adventist Retirement Plans, Silver Spring, Md., oversaw the launch of a custom target-date portfolio with a glidepath tailored to participants who typically have "fiscally modest goals," a conservative investing style, and seek to have "just enough" in retirement, rather than "maximum wealth accumulation," according to the nomination form.
  • Lisa Sanders, director of compensation and benefits, McCarthy Building Cos., St. Louis, won for a program that rewards employees with a $50 reduction in their medical insurance premiums for every retirement education webinar they attend. She also was instrumental in adding auto-escalation and auto-rebalancing features.
  • Gina Zoevelt, senior benefits consultant, Motorola Solutions Inc., Schaumburg, Ill., re-enrolled participants 60 and older who weren't using advisory services. Although re-enrollment isn't new, one judge applauded the "new wrinkle of targeting a certain group of at-risk employees and providing one-on-one consultation."
  • Judith Seitz, interim director of compensation and benefits, Holy Spirit Health System, Camp Hill, Pa., created an education policy statement. One judges said such a statement is "a great way to provide a structured process to think strategically and develop a comprehensive communication and education plan."
  • Sabrina Ruderer, vice president, total awards, HCA Healthcare, Nashville, introduced a program to roll over participants' assets into the HCA plan from previous employers' retirement plans. That "could definitely help (participants) avoid the easy way out — cashing out their former plan accounts," one judge said.
  • Bill Easterbrook, president, Adventist HealthCare Retirement Plans, Roseville, Calif., was cited for offering an in-plan retirement income option for the 403(b) and 401(a) plans. The option — a customized guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit — has not been used much in the not-for-profit market, judges noted.

This article originally appeared in the November 12, 2012 print issue as, "5 "gutsy' approaches are honored".