It's hard to believe that we're celebrating the 10th year of the Excellence & Innovation Awards.
When Pensions & Investments launched the awards with the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association in 2012, we were focused on innovation, adding excellence awards the following year in order to broaden the program and allow us to recognize more plan sponsors. We wanted to both applaud those plan sponsors who were embracing best practices and also illuminate their good works so that other plan sponsors could learn from and perhaps emulate them.
To highlight and promote the importance of both efforts, P&I and DCIIA officially changed the name of the program in 2016 to the Excellence and Innovation Awards.
The first award winners were recognized for innovations, such as taking plan auto-escalation up to a 15% contribution, incorporating retirement income into the default investment alternative, creating leading-edge custom target-date funds, implementing a virtual retirement education fair and leveraging emerging technology, including gamification and text messaging. None of these innovations would be out of place in this year's nominations, showing just how forward-thinking those plan sponsors were at that time.
Reflecting back on DCIIA's early thought leadership from about that same time, several of our white papers focused on the importance of plan design and automatic features in boosting retirement savings for America's workers. Other topics we covered in our first couple of years included the institutionalization of DC plans, limiting plan leakage and the evolving landscape of custom target-date funds.
As an industry, we continue to discuss all of these topics — an illustration of the many issues plan sponsors are expected to stay on top of while also managing the day-to-day operational aspects of their plans. In order to facilitate plan sponsors connecting with and helping each other as they grapple with their many challenges and explore ways to enhance the retirement security of their workforces, DCIIA has created the Plan Sponsor Institute as a plan sponsor-only forum for learning, discussion and community that can connect with the broader DCIIA community, in order to turn these conversations into industrywide actions.
Recently our industry has been more focused on solving the retirement income puzzle and closing the retirement savings gap, with fresh (and needed) attention paid to the challenges faced by diverse segments of our society. In particular, the coronavirus pandemic has illustrated the need to ensure that the retirement savings system (and financial-wellness programs) work for all Americans. A related recent research report from DCIIA Retirement Research Center, Morningstar Inc., The Aspen Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago yielded important insights on Americans' financial security in the context of the pandemic. The DCIIA RRC's joint project with Commonwealth, "Saving Through a Crisis," has also highlighted key issues including the importance of emergency savings.
As we continue to manage through what we hope are the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's critical that we all remain focused on these important issues.
Typically, we see larger employers leading innovation in retirement plan design, thanks to their scale, bargaining power and access to professional resources. However, they have to navigate headwinds that may include intra-organizational challenges, scarce internal resources and the ongoing threat of litigation.
Smaller employers are also key to the defined contribution system and we know they strive to provide excellent retirement benefits. It is important to recognize their excellence and innovation as well.
I hope those plan sponsors who are pushing for innovation and excellence in their plans will keep the faith and consider nominating themselves for this year's awards.
The extended deadline for submitting 2021 award nominations is June 11.
I also challenge all of us in the industry to collectively keep advocating for the changes that will help us reach our shared goal of retirement security for America's workers.
Lew Minsky is the president and CEO of the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association and is based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. This content represents the views of the author. It was submitted and edited under Pensions & Investments guidelines, but is not a product of P&I's editorial team.