2019 Plan Sponsor of the Year
Nonprofit DC <$250MM

Cobleskill Regional Hospital

FINALIST

Total Plan Assets:  $6.3 million
Total Plan Participants:  1,295
Participation Rate:  95%
Average Deferral Rate:  4.5%
Automatic Enrollment:  Yes
Automatic Escalation:  Yes
Default Investment:  TIAA Lifecycle Passive Institutional Share Class Suite
Default Deferral Rate:   1%
Employer Contribution:  Varies by employee’s total W-2 wages—3% of wages this year

Like many small 403(b) plan sponsors, Cobleskill Regional Hospital (CRH) lacks a dedicated benefits department. Christine M. Pirri, vice president, nonclinical operations at Cobleskill, is responsible for all nonclinical functions. “Everything that is not direct patient care, in some way, shape or form, I’m involved with,” she says.

Fortunately for the employees of the 25-bed, not-for-profit critical access hospital, Pirri has a passion for retirement planning, she says. She also attributes the hospital’s retirement benefit success to a great team, including recordkeeper TIAA, adviser HANYS [Hospital Association of New York State] Benefits Services, the human resources (HR) staff and the hospital’s information technology (IT) department.

Pirri focused on one step at a time when considering ways to improve the plan. “It was imperative that CRH find a way to increase the participation rate. Automatic enrollment had been implemented years before I started with CRH, in 2013, but only those employed after the implementation date were auto-enrolled. Many of our tenured employees were overlooked,” she says. “This is why we implemented an auto-re-enroll program in 2018 and achieved a 95% participation rate—an increase of 25%.”

Secondly, Pirri wanted to implement a way to increase contribution rates. However, Cobleskill is a rural facility in upstate New York with many low-wage earners. “Our auto-enrollment default rate is 1% because a higher rate would take a chunk of employees’ money that they would notice, and they might be inclined to opt-out,” she says. The maximum for auto-escalation was set at 80% of compensation. “We didn’t want to cap it at 10% or 15% because we have long-tenured employees,” Pirri explains.

“The CRH goal is to get folks participating and keep them participating. I’d rather them have a little bit [saved for retirement] than nothing,” she adds.

A third goal was to eliminate the plan feature that allowed employees to contribute a flat dollar amount rather than a percentage of pay. “To ensure we had a plan that fostered retirement readiness, we needed to eliminate the flat dollar feature—which is a diminishing contribution rate over time,” she says. A comprehensive communication plan that included emails and one-on-one meetings with employees was implemented. Employees who contributed a flat dollar amount were helped to establish an equivalent deferral percentage. As a result of the communications effort, every employee switched to contributing a percentage of pay.

Pirri and her staff also wanted to create efficiencies for the hospital. In partnership with TIAA, CRH utilized technology to save on retirement planning costs. To manage their accounts, participants began to use TIAA online resources such as plan enrollment, salary deferral selection, management of deferral increases, investment allocation selection and beneficiary designations.

TIAA has also automated CRH’s compliance limits monitoring, which the hospital had previously done manually.

CRH’s final update, effective this past December 21, was a significant investment lineup change to share classes and funds, which affected 56% of the lineup. The qualified default investment alternative (QDIA) was changed to TIAA-CREF Lifecycle Index Institutional Class Suite, and an in-plan managed account was added to the lineup.

One notable difference between Cobleskill’s 403(b) plan and the majority of employer-sponsored retirement plans is all employees—full-time, part-time and per diem—are allowed to participate. In addition, the age requirement of 21 was removed. “Why would you limit someone from participating in the plan?” Pirri says. “If not participating, it’s easy to continue to not participate.

“At CRH, our goal is for every employee to have the opportunity to be retirement ready, and we take the steps needed to adequately prepare every member of our team for that,” she concludes. —Rebecca Moore

 

 

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