2020 PLAN SPONSOR OF THE YEAR
Public Defined Contribution (DC)

University System of Georgia

FINALIST
Lisa Joe
Director of Retirement Programs and Services
Jason Culp
Retirement Plan Manager
  • Plan(s)
    403(b); 457(b); 401(a)
  • Total Plan Assets
    $6.2B
  • Number of Participants
    38,884
  • Participation Rate
    100% for 401(a); 13% for 403(b); 4.95% for 457(b)
  • Average Deferral Rate
    6% for 401(a); 10.6% for 403(b); 9.0% for 457(b)
  • Default Deferral Rate
    Not applicable
  • Default Investment
    Vanguard Target Retirement Funds
  • Automatic Enrollment
    No
  • Automatic Escalation
    No
  • Employer Contribution
    9.24% of pay to 401(a)
  • Provider(s)
    Recordkeepers, TIAA, Fidelity Investments, AIG; Adviser: CAPTRUST
  • Financial Wellness Educator(s)
    TIAA, Fidelity and AIG for all plans


Employees who contribute to at least one of the voluntary plans, besides to the mandatory 401(a), average annual total contributions—between employee and employer—of 24.25% through 25.84%.

When Lisa Joe joined the University System of Georgia (USG) in Atlanta as director of retirement programs and services in 2014, she inherited a complex setup. “I came from the private sector, and I was used to having one recordkeeper and a very streamlined investment menu,” she says. USG had 78 voluntary retirement plans, 13 recordkeepers among the 78 plans, and hundreds of investment options.

“It was very challenging for us at the system office and for our [human resources (HR)] practitioners on campuses,” Joe says. “The plans had different features, so participants often didn’t know what they could and couldn’t do. It made it frustrating for employees, and for our [HR] practitioners, because there was no easy way for them to access the information they needed.”

But USG embarked on its Retirement Plans Modernization Project and made some big changes. Last year, the 78 voluntary plans merged into one systemwide 403(b) plan and one 457(b) plan. USG consolidated the number of plan providers from 13 to three, simplified and tiered the investment menu, and reduced participant fees by $7 million while also increasing transparency.

The plethora of plans, recordkeepers and investments had evolved over many years. Each campus had one or more of its own plans, and plan sponsors on each campus got to select recordkeepers and make additions to the investment menu as they saw fit. “Historically, our population has always felt they needed to have a multitude of choices,” Joe says.

But the wide array of options likely dissuaded some employees from participating in their voluntary plan, Joe says. “Oftentimes, when employees have a magnitude of choices, the reality is that they make no choice at all.” So she and her colleagues spent several years getting buy-in for sweeping changes from a large group of stakeholders, ranging from the president and HR department on each campus to the state legislature. “Our whole explanation that we talked about was to create a better employee experience,” she says.

After the plan consolidation, last May, the new online-enrollment process went live, in July. “When we got close to the actual consolidation, we did our ‘implementation roadshow,’ where we went to 42 USG locations and did seminars,” Joe says. “We talked about what changes were happening, when they were occurring, and the impact the changes would have on the [participants].” The roadshow took three months.

The $7 million in participant fee savings comes both from consolidating recordkeepers and investment changes, says USG Retirement Plan Manager Jason Culp. “We looked at all of the funds in terms of their share class and looked for where we could transfer into a lower-fee share class,” he says of the investment shifts.

USG used to offer about 600 different investment options, between all of the voluntary plans. That has been narrowed down to four tiers: an active-management and a passive-management tier, each of which has about two-dozen options; a target-date fund (TDF) tier; and a self-directed brokerage tier. “Target-date funds have the highest percentage of assets—about 70%—because most employees want to ‘set it and forget it,’” Culp says.

The system also implemented an asset-based, explicit participant administrative fee and eliminated all use of revenue sharing. USG did an analysis of how a flat fee vs. an asset-based fee would impact participants, focusing especially on the more than 50% who have a balance between $25,000 and $75,000. “We wanted to make this as equitable as we could,” Culp says. “And when we did the fee assessment, the flat-fee structure was the best option for the majority of participants.”

—Judy Ward

E_NOTICE Error in file single-awards.php at line 22: Undefined variable: pid