Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Excellence & Innovation Awards, P&I and the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association are recognizing DC plan executives for their efforts to improve the retirement security of participants.

Meet the 2021 winners

Doing a lot and doing it all at once was the dominant theme of executives improving their defined contribution plans for the latest annual Excellence & Innovation awards sponsored by Pensions & Investments and the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association.

“The time was right. We had the vision. The need was there. We didn’t want to wait for the post-COVID world,” said Paul M. Colonna, president and CIO of Lockheed Martin Investment Co., Bethesda, Md.

Noted Jeremy Yonan, former senior director, total rewards at Crate & Barrel Holdings Inc., Northbrook, Ill.: “It didn’t make sense to do it incrementally,” reflecting a sentiment and strategy of several others honored for DC plan improvements.

Mr. Colonna, Mr. Yonan and other winners had common challenges in trying to create and/or enhance retirement programs for participants with different financial knowledge, technical skills, demographics and retirement needs.

Acting on many things at once was only the tip of the plan-design iceberg. Executives took many months — even years — to develop, execute and communicate their strategies. Judges remarked at the efficiency and comprehensiveness of communication for these diverse, ambitious efforts.

“It takes plan sponsors who are willing to lead in order to realize the full potential of the retirement savings system and drive positive retirement security outcomes for America’s workers,” said Lew Minsky, the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based president and CEO of DCIIA.

“As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Excellence & Innovation Awards, I’m truly humbled by what we’ve been able to do with this program in partnership with Pensions & Investments,” Mr. Minsky said.

“With all that we’ve been through over the past two years, this year’s nominations were particularly gratifying to see that, even in challenging times, it is critically important that we have creative and thoughtful plan sponsors that remain focused on the long term and are doing innovative things to drive better outcomes for their participants,” he said.

Pensions & Investments Executive Editor Julie Tatge said she hopes that by showcasing the efforts of these plan sponsors, others will be inspired to move forward with their own efforts to bolster the retirement security and financial wellness of participants.

“It’s gratifying to see the steps our 2021 winners have taken to improve retirement outcomes,” she said, adding that P&I’s compilation of winners over the past 10 years provides a bevy of information on cutting-edge plan design and enhancements.

Enhancing best practices

At Crate & Barrel, for example, Mr. Yonan had to communicate plan changes to employees who work in storefronts or distribution centers, many of whom don’t have daily access to a computer. They were encouraged to register on the company 401(k) plan website and complete a personal profile with information such as an email address, telephone and the name of a beneficiary.

Among the $300 million plan’s many changes were a reduction of loans to one from three, establishing per capita fees instead of revenue sharing for certain mutual funds and adding three ESG funds.

The plan also has a new qualified default investment alternative in which a traditional target-date series turns into a custom managed account when a participant turns 45. This hybrid approach to a QDIA creates a personalized retirement strategy, Mr. Yonan said.

“In addition to numerous plan design best practices being implemented or enhanced, adding three ESG funds to the investment lineup is both forward-thinking and potentially influential for other plan sponsors considering ESG funds,” one judge wrote.

At Lockheed Investment Management Co., which manages investments for Lockheed Martin Corp., Mr. Colonna restructured an investment lineup that covered seven DC plans with combined assets of about $50.2 billion, serving about 82,500 active participants. It took about two years to go from the idea stage to the launch in March 2021.

The strategy included removing eight little-used investments and adding an actively managed core-plus bond fund, which provides greater exposure to several segments of the bond market. Mr. Colonna also revised the plans’ customized target-date series, in collaboration with AllianceBernstein LP. He added three underlying investments — global equity, defensive equity and private real estate — to improve performance, enhance diversification and offer greater risk-adjusted opportunities.

“This was very impressive — a great effort in redesigning the target-date fund and investment menu,” one judge wrote. “The redesign of the target-date fund and investment menu and the focus on retaining assets is great for all employees as well as for retirees.”

Public plan design changes

At the Illinois State Board of Investment, Champaign, Johara Farhadieh, the executive director and CIO, implemented a new state law that allows auto enrollment for new employees in the state’s $5.7 billion deferred compensation plan.

Work on the auto-enrollment policy started in 2019, a communication campaign was launched in the spring of 2020 and the program went live in July 2020.

There were other changes during this period, including folding a money market fund into a stable value fund and establishing a white-label strategy. The former decision was based on choosing a better risk-return profile and the latter focused on giving participants a better understanding of long-term asset allocation, she said.

White labeling required new accounts, custom fact sheets and a communication strategy to help participants understand the changes, said her application to the Excellence & Innovation Awards.

“This demonstrated a commitment to excellence,” one judge wrote. “Even though many of the concepts or changes made aren’t new themselves, they are newer to a state plan. There were lots of complexities getting everything up and going.”

The Illinois State Universities Retirement System, Champaign, Ill., under the guidance of Suzanne Mayer, chief benefits officer and interim executive director, enacted a series of plan design and investment menu changes, tied to replacing two record keepers and hiring a new one for its $3.7 billion 401(a) plan.

That lead to a trimming of the investment lineup to 16 choices from 29 and a cutting of record-keeping fees. The lineup features open architecture rather than the emphasis on proprietary products from the previous two record keepers.

Ms. Mayer said she wanted to do the lineup change concurrently with the new record keeper, Voya Financial Inc., because Voya helped SURS incorporate a new feature to enhance the plan’s qualified default investment alternative called the SURS Lifetime Income Strategy. Developed by AllianceBernstein, the lifetime income strategy is incorporated into a customized target-date series that automatically adjusts as participants reach age 50, moving their assets into a lifetime income option.

Previously, participants’ only option was to annuitize their entire account balance, and approximately 60% of DC plan retirees chose to take a lump sum rather than take the annuity. Although the annuity remains available to participants, Ms. Mayer said the new policy gives participants more flexibility and more control over their accounts. SURS officials spent six months reviewing proposals from six record keepers and from 20 providers of retirement income solutions.

“I liked that they allowed for more distribution options with the redesign and didn’t have to rely on the prior options of limiting members to either use their total balance to purchase an annuity or take a lump sum,” one judge wrote.

“This is a really thoughtful solution to plan participants with specific needs — including lack of access to Social Security and previously limited distribution options that could have suboptimal outcomes for employees,” another judge wrote.

One size doesn’t fit all

Not every award winner did everything at once.

The Southern Co., Atlanta, did take an incremental approach via a five-week education campaign in April that coincided with National Literacy Month. It was called myMoney Challenge. Each week, it offered participants information on different financial health issues. In fact, the campaign’s theme was “step-by-step.”

In addition to efforts to improve employees’ well-being, the campaign also aimed to familiarize employees with the tools and resources that Southern offers, including its $8 billion 401(k) Employee Savings Plan.

The program was designed to “provide employees with information about small steps they can take each week to improve their financial well-being,” said Robert Beideman, the director of retirement and financial well-being.

One judge hailed the incremental approach for a campaign “that had really clear themes, but allowed for employees to find relevant content whatever their age and life stage.” By offering different information in each of five weekly segments, “this gave participants specifically chosen content laid out in a logical progression to build confidence and gain trust in investing,” wrote another judge.

Acknowledging that one size doesn’t fit all, Algretta Hatcher, the senior director of retirement for RWJ Barnabas Health, supervised a multiprong communication approach for her organization’s $2.2 billion 401(k) plan and $1.3 billion 403(b) plan.

In partnership with Capital Group Cos. Inc., she launched an intranet site called MyRetirement that focused on the needs and interests of three participant groups — “avoiders,” “late bloomers” and “motivated savers.”
The site features quizzes, articles, videos and other information tailored to each group. Using consumer behavior strategies, plan executives “nudge” members of each group, in different ways, to improve their saving for retirement.

“The concept of increasing participation rates and contributions is something all plans are familiar with, but the way this plan attacked the problem was fresh, as it was uniquely custom for their specific needs at a specific point in time,” one judge wrote.

“They knew that time was at even more of a premium, and wanted to maximize the impact of the message while minimizing the effort needed of their participants to receive that message,” the judge added.

The judges also awarded an honorable mention to Ravindra Deo, executive director of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, Washington.

Starting in October 2020, new participants in the Thrift Savings Plan Washington, were automatically enrolled at a 5% deferral rate of annual salary — compared to the previous 3% rate — which entitled them to receive a full match from their employer. Plan executives started working on the strategy in June 2017.

“Trying to do something for a plan this big is quite an accomplishment and has tremendous impact on savings for such a large group of people,” one judge wrote of the $744 billion Thrift Savings Plan. “By itself, an increase in the auto-default savings rate wouldn’t be that remarkable for a corporate plan, but for it to happen here and be so well-planned and long-planned-for is remarkable.”

+ Read More

Excellence & Innovation Award Winners

Excellence & Innovation

Robert Beideman

Director of retirement and financial well-being
Southern Company

Financial wellness is built step-by-step and needn’t involve drastic changes.

That was the thinking behind Southern Co.’s myMoney Challenge engagement campaign that won Robert Beideman, the company’s Atlanta, Ga.-based director of retirement and financial well-being, a 2021 Excellence & Innovation award.

The five-week campaign, which launched in April to coincide with National Financial Literacy Month, was designed to “provide employees with information about small steps they can take each week to improve their financial well-being,” Mr. Beideman said.

Each April for the past three years, the gas and electric utility holding company has run a myMoney Challenge campaign tied to National Financial Literacy Month with this year’s theme being “step-by-step,” a reference to the idea that financial health is incremental.

In addition to encouraging employees to take a step-by-step approach to their financial well-being, the campaign also aimed to familiarize employees with the tools and resources that Southern offers, including its $8 billion 401(k) Employee Savings Plan.

“We have a lot of resources and programs available to our employees, and we want to make sure that they are utilizing those resources to their advantage,” Mr. Beideman said.

This year’s winning myMoney Challenge campaign covered broad topics that challenged participants to take actions in support of their financial well-being each week over a five-week period. In week one, for instance, participants were asked to assess where they were financially by using the Merrill Lynch financial wellness tracker. They were given a choice of action steps or “challenges” to take, such as reading articles or watching videos, upon which they were quizzed and entered into a contest for gift cards.

To drive engagement, employees who completed a quiz were added to a leaderboard, which raised employee competitiveness, said Kimberly Lovingood, Southern Company’s Atlanta, Ga.-based retirement manager who reports to Mr. Beideman and was involved in the campaign.

This year’s campaign included a podcast series, with topics ranging from maximizing 401(k) plan investments to planning for long-term care, which Ms. Lovingood said received both “good downloads” and “good feedback.”

“We’re excited to use another form of communication,” she said.

Judges praised the campaign for its innovative use of podcasts, quizzes and prizes, with one judge calling it a “great all-around effort.”

Participation in the campaign, however, was off from the previous year, a reflection of people worn out by pandemic-induced “email and Zoom fatigue,” Ms. Lovingood said. Some 1,602 employees engaged with the campaign this year, down from 3,624 in 2020, she said.

However, there was a silver lining as the people who participated in the myMoney Challenge engaged with it to a greater degree. The myMoney Challenge site, for instance, logged 41,663 page views, up from 25,675 page views the year before.

More than half of those who engaged with the campaign (52.6%) completed a weekly challenge, up from 28% in 2020.

Participants also spent much more time on the website than they did last year, spending an average of 9:54 minutes per session, up from 6:09 minutes in 2020.

“This year people stayed on the site for about 10 minutes, and so they didn’t just go and click around and then try to get on the board to win a gift card,” Ms. Lovingood said. “It seems like they were really engaged in trying to figure out what might help them.”

―By Margarida Correia

+ Read More

Watch our interview with Kimberly and Bob

Photo by Jennifer Bishop
Excellence & Innovation

Paul M. Colonna

President, CIO
Lockheed Martin Investment Co.

Photo by

Using a strategy of “less is more,” Paul M. Colonna supervised the restructuring of investment lineups of the seven defined contribution plans run by Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md.

“Our pitch (to top management) was talent attraction and retention,” said Mr. Colonna, president and CIO, Lockheed Martin Investment Co., Bethesda, Md., which manages the plans’ investments. “We started the conversation that we are going to improve our employee experience.”

The “less” part of Mr. Colonna’s strategy included removing eight stand-alone investment options that accounted for less than 10% of total DC assets, which reached $50.2 billion by late April 2021.

There also was a “more” part to his restructuring effort, too. He added an actively managed core-plus bond fund, providing participants with greater exposure to several segments of the bond market.

Another “more” component was a revision of the plans’ customized target-date series, in collaboration with AllianceBernstein LP. He added three underlying investments — global equity, defensive equity and private real estate — to improve performance, enhance diversification and offer greater risk-adjusted opportunities.

In addition, Mr. Colonna changed some core funds’ underlying investments and rebranded actively managed core funds as white-label products.

“This was a very thoughtful and methodical approach,” one judge wrote in endorsing Mr. Colonna for an Excellence & Innovation Award. “The material they sent people was comprehensive.”

The communication strategy focused not only on what was new but also on what advantages the Lockheed Martin menu had vs. retail investment options.

“If you’re thinking of moving your retirement account option, be sure to compare fees,” said the brochure that described the changes.

“We spent a lot of time on communication,” said Mr. Colonna, describing the 22-page brochure. “We wanted to make it in a clear and visual manner.

The communication effort was a success as two-thirds of active employees — about 55,000 people — responded by resetting the amount of future contributions “or affirmatively declaring that they want them to stay unchanged,” according to his application to the Excellence & Innovation Awards.

“We delivered on what my vision was initially,” he said.

Achieving Mr. Colonna’s vision took about two years of planning and communicating before the restructuring took place in March 2021.

In addition to internal staff, he enlisted Callan LLC to assist in the review process with Lockheed Martin benefits staff to assess how the many plan changes would be received by participants.

Mr. Colonna acknowledged that the success of the Lockheed Martin Investment Management Co. effort was due to a staff of 45 investment specialists, attorneys and operations personnel — a commitment that may be hard to match by many companies.

Still, he encouraged other corporate investment managers to step up their efforts. “The industry underinvests” in their internal investment management, he said. Without greater internal investment, “they can’t innovate and do transformative projects.”

Despite the many changes at Lockheed, Mr. Colonna said his team needs to do more research on issues like retirement income. He is willing to look at options that feature embedded annuities or guaranteed withdrawal benefits, “but we just don’t know what it will be.”

The same goes for alternative investments in the DC plans such as private equity, hedge funds and private real estate. Lockheed Martin uses alternatives in its six defined benefit plans, which were unaffected by the changes for the DC plans.

“We believe this is a robust investment, but it has to be thoughtful,” he said, noting that fees and fiduciary duties are at the top of the list in deciding if ­— or when — alternatives belong in defined contribution plans.

“We know there will be a Lockheed Martin 2.0 and maybe a 3.0,” Mr. Colonna said.

―By Robert Steyer

+ Read More

Watch our interview with Paul

Photo by Joshua Albanese
Excellence & Innovation

Johara Farhadieh

Executive director, chief investment officer
Illinois State Board of Investment

Auto enrollment is common among corporate 401(k) plans, but in the public deferred compensation plan world, it’s a different story.

Wage garnishment laws and other legal roadblocks mean that 25 states prevent auto enrollment for deferred compensation plans, nine allow it and 16 allow some auto enrollment for these plans, according to the National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators.

Illinois is a member of the group of 16 thanks to a 2019 state law. Acting under that law, Johara Farhadieh, executive director and chief investment officer of the Illinois State Board of Investment, Chicago, implemented an auto-enrollment policy for some employees in the $5.7 billion State of Illinois Deferred Compensation Plan. She also made some concurrent plan design changes, and these efforts earned her an Excellence & Innovation Award.

More communication and less bureaucracy were essential in implementing the law, which affects people who were hired after July 1, 2020. The deferred compensation plan is a supplement to employees and retirees who are also covered by three state pension plans, whose assets are managed by ISBI.

Illinois had to deal with “existing procedures for enrollment, deferrals, and beneficiary designations across 23 payroll agencies, requiring custom programming by some,” according to Ms. Farhadieh’s application to the Excellence & Innovation Awards.

“Legacy processes relied on each agency to provide forms to new employees,” while salary deferrals were sent to the appropriate payroll agency, and investment elections were sent to the plan’s record keeper, the application said.

“We focused on the timing and on the steps, process and key dates to ensure new hires knew auto enrollment was in place, when payroll deductions would start, how the process works, and the key dates to make any changes if they so choose,” Ms. Farhadieh said in an email.

“Once auto-enrolled, participants are sent a postcard to remind the participant of the initial default investment in stable value and the impending transition to the age-appropriate target retirement fund,” she added.

During the first 12 months of auto enrollment, 92.3% of eligible employees — those who were auto-enrolled and those who chose their own deferral rates — participated. Among this group, 87.6% were auto-enrolled at the 3% default rate.

“I believe this aspect is noteworthy in terms of impact on the industry, if other state legislatures follow suit,” one judge wrote.

Auto enrollment took effect while Ms. Farhadieh was supervising other plan design changes.

She merged the plan’s money market fund into a stable value fund. “We undertook an analysis of the lineup which showed the risk-return profile of the stable return fund which was better suited for the plan while achieving capital preservation objectives,” she said.

As of Dec. 31, 2019, the money market fund accounted for 1.4% of the plan’s asset allocation and the stable value fund represented 12.4%. By June 30, 2021, the stable value fund — including the merged money market fund — accounted for 13.2% of the deferred compensation plan’s assets, she said.

Equities continue to dominate the plan — 84% in June 2021 vs. 82.4% in December 2019 — thanks to strong stock market performance, she added.

The plan also provided white labels to investment choices. “The communication strategy used for the investment lineup changes and to use white-label names was intended to help participants understand the changes and encourage participants to continue to take a long-term view on their asset allocations,” Ms. Farhadieh said.

―By Robert Steyer

+ Read More

Watch our interview with Johara

Photo by Ciara Cusseaux
Excellence & Innovation

Algretta Hatcher

Senior director of retirement
RWJBarnabas Health

Photo by Ciara Cusseaux

Personalization is the way to a plan participant’s heart.

That’s what Algretta Hatcher learned as she struggled to get participants to engage with the 401(k) and 403(b) plans she and her team developed for some 33,000 employees of RWJBarnabas Health, a health-care provider in New Jersey.

“We took a lot of time working on our plan design,” she said, “but we just didn’t have the level of participant engagement that we knew we could have.”

After extensive surveys showed that employees were “totally lost” when it came to navigating the company’s $2.2 billion 401(k) plan and $1.3 billion 403(b) plan, Ms. Hatcher and RWJBH’s executive leadership team partnered with Capital Group to launch an intranet site called MyRetirement that is personalized to match the needs of three employee groups the organization identified as “avoiders,” “late bloomers” and “motivated savers.”

The site features quizzes, articles, videos and fun facts that are specific to the three “personas” that emerged from RWJBH’s research, said Ms. Hatcher, the organization’s Somerset, N.J.-based senior director of retirement and winner of a 2021 Excellence & Innovation Award.

“It’s fun. It’s very geared to this century,” Ms. Hatcher said of the MyRetirement site, adding that participants can “like” articles and post them to Facebook and Instagram.

RWJBH doubles down on the site by sending participants quarterly email nudges specific to each of the three groups. Late bloomers — those identified as nearing retirement who are either catching up on their savings or seeking answers to critical questions — for example, might receive an email nudge containing articles on why “it’s not too late to still save some money,” Ms. Hatcher said.

Motivated savers — participants under 50 juggling multiple competing priorities — on the other hand, might receive nudges on how to prioritize their finances, while the “avoiders” — disengaged participants who persist at the auto-enrollment contribution rate of 3% — might receive information explaining the advantages of pre-tax contributions.

“A lot of our avoiders are mainly the younger generation who don’t understand what pre-tax means,” Ms. Hatcher said, adding that participants can now click on links in the email and access the record keeper’s website directly to make a change to their contribution rates.

In previous engagement campaigns to boost employee contribution rates, employees reported not knowing where to go to up their contributions, Ms. Hatcher said. “There were just too many clicks,” she said.

The new MyRetirement intranet site provides “easy, one-click access” to Fidelity Investments, the record keeper for each of RWJBH’s two retirement plans, an improvement that Ms. Hatcher says employees welcomed.

The site-driven engagement campaign, which launched Jan. 11, has produced strong results for RWJBH. During the first 100 days of the campaign, 2,025 participants increased their contributions, up 54% from the 1,314 participants who boosted their contributions during the same time period in 2020. In addition, average contributions rates jumped to 14% from 9% before the campaign started.

For those who engaged with the intranet site, the results were encouraging. Fourteen percent of participants who visited the site increased their contributions, double the uptake of those who didn’t check out the site.

Among the disengaged avoiders, the site made an especially strong impression, with 6.95% of those who visited the site increasing their contributions, more than three times the rate at which non-visiting avoiders raised theirs.

―By Margarida Correia

+ Read More
Photo by Brett Kramer
Excellence & Innovation

Suzanne Mayer

Chief benefits officer, interim executive director
Illinois State Universities Retirement System

Photo by Brett Kramer

More flexibility, more simplicity and more participant control over their retirement accounts were the highlights of multiple changes to a 401(a) plan at the Illinois State Universities Retirement System, Champaign, prompting judges to honor Suzanne Mayer, chief benefits officer and interim executive director, with an Excellence & Innovation Award.

SURS replaced two record keepers and hired a new record keeper. That helped cut the size of the investment lineup and reduce record-keeper fees.

The new record keeper, Voya Financial Inc., helped SURS offer a new default option called the SURS Lifetime Income Strategy, or SURS LIS, and is incorporated into a customized target-date fund series that automatically adjusts as participants reach age 50, moving participants’ assets into a lifetime income option. This lifetime income strategy was developed by AllianceBernstein LP.

“With SURS’ focus on a retirement income solution, most members and plan assets were defaulted to the SURS LIS, and these members are on the path to secure retirement income,” Ms. Mayer said.

As of Sept. 30, approximately 92% of plan members are invested in the SURS LIS and 85% of members have their total account balance in the SURS LIS, she added. The SURS LIS assets account for approximately 82% of all assets in the $3.7 billion plan.

Ms. Mayer and her team spent six months reviewing proposals from record keepers and from providers of retirement income solutions — six of the former and 20 of the latter. SURS chose Voya, effective in September 2020, replacing Fidelity Investments and TIAA-CREF.

SURS had been looking to replace its previous lifetime income strategy, which was an annuity. The fixed annuity required participants to annuitize their entire account balance. Approximately 60% of DC plan retirees chose to take a lump sum rather than take the annuity, a decision that could hurt some participants in the long run, she said. The traditional annuity option remains available.

But lifetime income was only part of the story as SURS sliced the number of investment options to 16 from 29. “A lot of this was duplication” caused by having two record keepers, Ms. Mayer explained. The 16 options “are everything participants need to build for long-term investments.”

The record-keeping revision enabled SURS to cut fees by 36% from one former record keeper and by 58% from the other. “We wanted to do this simultaneously,” said Ms. Mayer, referring to the hiring of Voya Financial, making plan design changes and choosing the lifetime income strategy. “We wanted to make sure a record keeper could do this.”

SURS also added a few stand-alone options — a high-yield bond fund and a multisector bond fund as well as an equity-based ESG fund and a fixed-income-based ESG fund.

The SURS plan uses a white-label strategy because “we got away from brand names,” Ms. Mayer said. Initially, plan executives were “a little concerned” about participants’ reactions, but there were few complaints, she said.

The restructured lineup contains investments from multiple asset managers as opposed to the proprietary products offered by Fidelity and TIAA. “Open architecture was very important for us,” she said.

All these changes were accompanied by SURS launching a deferred compensation plan, which began enrolling participants in February 2021. It has the same lineup as the 401(a) plan.

“It was good to see they consolidated record keepers, reduced fees and streamlined the lineup,” one judge wrote. “From the more innovative side, they seem to be changing their focus from accumulation to decumulation,” with an option that “allows members to retain control of their account balance and not forfeit any earned benefits that come with staying in the plan.”

―By Robert Steyer

+ Read More
Photo by Brett Kramer
Excellence & Innovation

Jeremy Yonan

Senior director, total rewards
Crate and Barrel Holdings Inc.

Photo by Brett Kramer

It took Jeremy Yonan and his team about 10 months to restructure the 401(k) plan at Crate and Barrel Holdings Inc., Northbrook, Ill., but they packed a lot of activity in less than a year governing the plan’s design and the investment menu.

“I noticed that pockets of people weren’t engaging” with the plan, said Mr. Yonan, former senior director for total rewards.

Among the changes, Mr. Yonan recast the $300 million plan’s qualified default investment alternative. He moved to a hybrid concept — a target-date series for younger employees, which morphs into a customized managed account when they reach age 45.

“I wanted to get the people better personalized advice,” Mr. Yonan said.

The custom managed account, offered through the plan’s adviser, Mesirow Financial, incorporates more than factoring in age for an investment strategy, according to Mr. Yonan’s Excellence & Innovation application. It looks at a participant’s lifetstyle, financial circumstances and goals “to create a strategy that is tailored to that individual,” the application said.

The strategy is constantly reviewed with the participant so that “appropriate adjustments” can be made. The number of employees using the advisory services rose to 3,249 in December 2020 from 136 in June 2019.

Among other changes, the plan reduced the number of active loans to one from three, added three ESG funds to the investment lineup and eliminated revenue sharing in favor of per capita fees.

Mr. Yonan’s application also pointed out that Crate and Barrel had to develop effective communications to reach the many employees who work in stores or distribution centers and who don’t have daily access to a computer. He encourages participants to register on the plan’s website and provide some personal contact information as well as information about beneficiaries and preference of receiving communications.

Catering to participants’ communication preferences, he added, should increase response rates and engagement.

Another new feature is a discretionary wellness credit, offered to participants who achieve certain financial goals outlined by the Crate and Barrel staff.

“Already a plan with strong features, I like the continuous improvements they are trying to make,” one judge wrote. The discretionary wellness credit “seems to be able to create a sense of need and urgency among participants,” the judge wrote.

―By Margarida Correia

+ Read More

Honorable Mention

Ravindra Deo, executive director, Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, Washington. New employees were automatically enrolled at a 5% deferral rate for the $644 billion Thrift Savings Plan vs. the 3% for existing employees, an ambitious and well-planned undertaking for the plan.  

Meet the 2021 judges

Defined contribution consultants, DC sponsors and investment consultants were among the judges who worked with representatives of Pensions & Investments and the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association to evaluate entries for the 2021 Excellence & Innovation Awards.

The external judges were:

  • Kerstin Aiello, senior benefits manager for Synopsys Inc., San Francisco.
  • Lisa Joe, director of retirement programs and services at the University System of Georgia, Atlanta.
  • Marla Kreindler, partner, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, Chicago
  • Christopher Lyon, principal, Rocaton Investment Advisors/Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Norwalk, Conn.
  • Jamie McAllister, senior vice president and defined contribution consultant, Callan LLC, Chicago.
  • Lavina Mehta, retirement plans manager, Bechtel Global Corp., Glendale, Ariz.
  • AJ Padilla, chairman, City of Austin Deferred Compensation Committee, Austin, Texas.
  • Lew Minsky, president and CEO of the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
  • Mikaylee C. O’Connor, senior consultant, principal and head of defined contribution solutions at RVK Inc., New York.
  • William Ryan, partner and head of North America DC multiasset solutions, Aon PLC, Chicago.
  • Megan Yost, vice president, engagement strategist at Segal Benz, Boston.
  • Karen Witham, vice president, communications and marketing, Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association, San Francisco.

Judges from Pensions & Investments were Julie Tatge, executive editor; Robert Steyer, reporter and Margarida Correia, reporter.

Excellence & Innovation Award Finalists

Sixteen sponsors were finalists for the 2021 Innovation & Excellence Awards: 

  • Erica Auguillard, regional head of human resources, Fugro NV.
  • Hunter Bethea, director of deferred compensation, Tennessee Department of the Treasury.
  • Kimberly Burch-Garcia, principal analyst, County of Los Angeles.
  • Teresa Epps, senior communications consultant, Kaiser Permanente.
  • Karen Halsted, vice president, corporate human resources, Genesis HealthCare.
  • Gretchen Jorbin, formerly director of benefits, Sunrun Inc. 
  • Kristina Keck, vice president, Woodruff Sawyer & Co. Inc. 
  • Michelle Kelley, director of retirement plan administration, Nevada System of Higher Education.
  • Joe Nedder, chief operations officer and chief human resources officer, Edelman Financial Engines.
  • Richard Poinsatte, vice president and treasurer, Steel Dynamics Inc. 
  • Shelly Schueller, deferred compensation director, Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds. 
  • Erin Swygert, formerly manager, benefits, PRA Health Sciences.
  • Tracy Tillery, vice president, total rewards and engagement, Westchester Medical Center Health Network. 
  • Paul Visconti, director of retirement programs and investments, AVANGRID Inc. 
  • Kelly Weatherly, senior director, total rewards, TriHealth.
  • Marita M. Yancey, senior director, benefits and wellness, Office of Human Resources, The University of Texas at Dallas.