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Lisa Montalvo, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Michelle Ryan, Los Alamos National Laboratory

‘Financial fitness boot camp’ puts troops on the right road to retirement

Lisa Montalvo, left, and Michelle Ryan covered a lot of ground with the ‘financial fitness boot camps.’

Retirement plan executives at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory liked the idea of a "financial fitness boot camp" so much, they did it again.

Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos have used these multiday campaigns to help participants improve long-term savings and reduce finance-related stress, the executives said.

The boot camps for both plans offered information tailored to people at different stages in employment – early career, midcareer and late career. Both featured speakers from respective record keepers, investment managers and benefits providers. Subjects included debt management, saving for retirement, home ownership and paying for college education.

"It's a lot of hard work" for participants, said Lisa Montalvo, the benefits division leader and plan administrator at Livermore, Calif.-based Lawrence Livermore, commenting on the challenges of planning for retirement while managing day-to-day expenses.

Lawrence Livermore has two 401(k) plans, with aggregate assets of $1.4 billion, covering 7,800 participants.

And it's also hard work for the Livermore executives, she said. "It took six months of planning with a lot of logistics," operating with a small budget to arrange the two-day event in August 2017, she said.

Lawrence Livermore employees are tucked into one square mile, and benefits officials held boot camp sessions at five sites. In 2017, 24 education sessions were offered, and more than 1,350 employees attended. (Lawrence Livermore also held the event in August this year and plans another boot camp next year).

Ms. Montalvo attended the 2016 financial fitness boot camp run by Los Alamos National Laboratory to get some ideas for a Lawrence Livermore boot camp.

The Los Alamos site is spread over 43 square miles, so officials provided taxi service to employees in remote areas to attend the sessions, said Michelle Ryan, investment program manager.

In 2016, Los Alamos held 65 educational sessions at six sites with more than 5,300 employees participating over the four-day event. The first Los Alamos boot camp was in 2014. Los Alamos has two 401(k) plans with aggregate assets of $1.58 billion, covering about 9,000 participants.

Ms. Montalvo and Ms. Ryan, who submitted a joint application to Pensions & Investments, won an Excellence Award.

"It was clever to focus on financial wellness and they and were able to do this program with limited resources," one judge wrote.

"Very well thought out execution of a robust financial wellness program," another judge wrote. "Great curriculum. Will be a good prototype for the industry."