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Excellence and Innovation Awards

7 honored for defined contribution excellence, innovation

Innovation winners, from left: Deborah Goldberg, Massachusetts treasurer; Sandy Blair, CalSTRS; and Katie Archer, Alexion Pharmaceuticals. Excellence winners: Aimee Dodson, Movement Mortgage; Cliff York, BP; Nora Alvarado, Texas ERS; and Kathleen Long, The Farfield Co.

When it comes to good ideas and practices for defined contribution plans, the 2017 Excellence & Innovation Awards showed a diversity of approaches for encouraging greater savings while recognizing that retirement security is the sum of many parts — including those outside of formal retirement plans.

"Reviewing the nominations every year provides a unique window into what plan sponsors that are at the leading edge of driving better outcomes for their participants are beginning to focus on," said Lew Minsky, the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based president and CEO of the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association.

Pensions & Investments and ​ DCIIA collaborate on the Excellence & Innovation Awards, now in its sixth year. Awards to the seven winners were presented Oct. 9 at the annual P&I West Coast Defined Contribution Conference in San Diego.

"The willingness of members of the plan sponsor community to take on initiative like the ones we are recognizing this year is so important," Mr. Minsky said.

Added Pensions & Investments Editor Amy Resnick: "We hope that highlighting the top-notch work of this year's award winners will spark ideas and conversations among other plan sponsors about what they, too, can do to improve the retirement security of participants."

The winners

The innovation award winners are:

Deborah Goldberg, treasurer and general receiver of Massachusetts, Boston;

Sandy Blair, director of retirement readiness, California State Teachers' Retirement System, West Sacramento; and

Katie Archer, director of global benefits, Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc., New Haven, Conn.

The excellence award winners are:

Aimee Dodson, thrive director, Movement Mortgage LLC, Indian Lands, S.C.;

Cliff York, head of pensions and benefits, Americas, at BP PLC, Houston;

Nora Alvarado, manager of health and welfare administration and deferred compensation, Employees Retirement System of Texas, Austin; and

Kathleen Long, vice president for human resources, The Farfield Co., Lititz, Pa.

Massachusetts focused on providing a greater opportunity to employees who have been left out of the institutional defined contribution system. In early October, it launched a program that allows employees of small non-profit organizations — those with 20 or fewer employees — to participate in a multiple employer 401(k) plan. The state is the MEP sponsor, the named fiduciary and the plan administrator — an onerous task if each small organization wanted to act on its own.

"This is a well-conceived program to an underserved market, very small employers," one judge wrote.

CalSTRS improved its unique effort to help 403(b) plan participants cope with the mass of information in a complex and crowded market — 58 vendors provide 169 products with more than 5,000 investment options for 403(b) plans.

It restructured its 403bCompare program to offer clearer information — not advice — about the many providers and products by updating and revising the 403bCompare website. By searching, a participant can find information about average expense ratios, fees and surrender periods for annuities, for example. The website also tells participants if a sales representative earns a commission.

"The complete compendium of investment options is a great way to help participants comparison shop across all of the available investment options," one judge wrote. "The fee comparisons are helpful, too."

Alexion Pharmaceuticals was recognized for tailoring a retirement readiness review that takes into consideration the different countries where company employees work. The review includes metrics such as employees' average life expectancy, average cost-of-living data, assumed outside savings rate and retirement income as a percentage of pre-retirement earnings adjusted to the different DC plans in the various countries.

"I think this is an important topic," one judge wrote. "It's one that many plan sponsors struggle with — both measuring whether participants are saving enough for retirement and if the plan design allows sufficient opportunity for them to be retirement ready."

Exhibiting excellence

Among the excellence award winners, judges were impressed by plans' efforts to go beyond retirement savings education to provide a more holistic approach to financial wellness.

For example, Movement Mortgage LLC, Indian Land, S.C., conducted a multimedia campaign aimed at convincing employees to reduce personal debt. The CEO, Casey Crawford, played a prominent role in drumming up support, and the campaign exceeded the company's expectations.

"Taking a holistic approach to financial wellness will drive overall wellness for retirement savings and reduced debt," one judge wrote.

From its Houston headquarters for U.S. retirement plans, BP PLC encouraged employees to save more by achieving goals such as meeting with a financial adviser and taking assorted courses on topics ranging from managing debt to using a health savings account. Meeting these goals allowed participants to build up points that could be used toward having a greater choice in selecting a company-sponsored health plan.

"The direct connection to the costs of the health benefits is innovative and, I expect, motivation for participants," one judge wrote.

The Employees Retirement System of Texas, Austin, decided to promote family values in its "Stay in the Family" education campaign. This was an appeal to consider the Texa$aver 401(k) and 457 plans as "family" that offered "values" to retirees who kept their money in the plan.

ERS targeted its communication to people aged 58 and 59 rather than wait until they were about to retire, and it also communicated with retirees about the benefits and services available to them through Texa$aver.

"A campaign about the benefits of staying in the plan after leaving employment with the sponsor is unique and commendable," one judge wrote.

Personal communication was crucial in communicating plan changes to the many construction sites operated by The Farfield Co., Lititz, Pa. Ms. Long said visiting the various sites were crucial in building trust, support and understanding of changes to plan design and investment options.

"I think the key to the project was the intensive one-on-one approach," one judge wrote.