2016 PLAN SPONSOR OF THE YEAR
Corporate 401(k) $15MM - <$25MM

Walsh Duffield Companies, Inc.

FINALIST

HEADQUARTERS: Buffalo, New York

TOTAL PLAN ASSETS/PARTICIPANTS: 15,980,160 /84

PARTICIPATION RATE: 97.1%

AVG. DEFERRAL RATE: 12.2% (including non-participants)

DEFAULT DEFERRAL RATE: 6%

DEFAULT INVESTMENT: Principal LifeTime Target Date Funds

EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION: 7% contribution

ADDITIONAL PLANS: Not Applicable

Walsh Duffield is a family-owned independent insurance agency, as well as a retirement plan advisory service, that takes pride in putting its employees first. An emphasis on employee wellness is clear from the moment you walk into the company’s Buffalo, New York offices.

According to Kim Hall, director of relationship management at the Principal Financial Group, “bikes are lined up in the lobby, available for employees to use during lunchtime, and the receptionist is at a stand-up desk.” 

It’s not just health wellness either: Employees at Walsh Duffield are in a partnership with the company from day one regarding their financial health. Edward F. Walsh, Jr., the president and chief operating officer says, “We tell younger employees that we’re going to meet them halfway on saving for retirement.” The company has a 7% non-elective contribution and auto-enrolls participants at 6%.   

Walsh says employees are told, as long as “you don’t borrow it, and you diversify, and you stay on that path, you will get to the end of your career with us and be able to afford your retirement.” The messaging appears to have resonated. On average, Walsh Duffield employees have contributions to their plan of 19.2%, including the employer contribution.

Why does the company contribute a generous 7% to all employees? The company had been contributing 4% to a defined benefit plan that they closed and 3% to their 401(k) plan. Walsh says “As the defined contribution plan started to grow, and we saw the importance of having participants save, we looked at some the safe harbor rules and regulations, and we decided to guarantee that amount. We decided that we didn’t need it to be matching.” 

Chris Kempton, director of employee benefits services, adds “We see this business as more than just the Walsh family but the individual and the spouse that an employee may have at home. Making this contribution means that our bottom line is a couple of percentage points lower than the best performers, but a lot of it is a conscious decision we’re making for our employees.”

In the last several years, the agency has worked closely with recordkeeper Principal Financial to be strategic about getting different groups of employees together for retirement savings education based on career stage.

Last fall, those early in their career learned about the Retirement Wellness Score and how to get started and stay on track. The mid-career employees attended a session on financial goals and spending plans. Those nearing retirement learned about Social Security and tax implications.   

Hall says “We’re very focused and we know what we did the prior year and so we start where we left off. These group meetings are typically annual. “

“We top off education by offering one-on-one planning assessment services as well,” Walsh says. “Employees have an opportunity to meet with an adviser for a half hour on their own or with their spouse and they can look at their retirement plan in conjunction with other savings as a family.”

According to Tricia Deibel, director of human resources and associate vice president of finance, it’s not uncommon to hear people in the lunchroom chatting about what they learned in a meeting—they become very knowledgeable about the plan and retirement planning.   

Additionally, on an annual basis, the plan-level rate of return is shared with participants alongside their personal rate of return so that participants can compare their individual rate of return to the plan as a whole. For those who are outliers, it allows a point of consideration as to why that might be.    

Using Principal’s Retirement Wellness Score, 70% of the plan’s participants have a predicted retirement income replacement ratio of 70% or greater, and 23% and 7% of the remaining participants are at replacement ratios of 50-69% and <49%, respectively.  —Judy Faust Hartnett 

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