Richard Takahashi
former Benefits Manager
  • Plan(s)
  • Total Plan Assets
  • Participants
  • Participation Rate
  • Average Deferral Rate
  • Default Deferral Rate
  • Default Investment
    BlackRock LifePath funds
  • Automatic Enrollment
  • Automatic Escalation
  • Employer Contribution
    100% of 5% + profit-sharing
  • Provider(s)
    Recordkeeper, Empower Retirement; Adviser, Pensionmark
  • Financial Wellness Educator(s)
    Empower Retirement

Employees who make payments on their student loan debt or contribute to their 401(k)—or do both—can receive a company match totaling up to 5% of eligible compensation.

A general contractor with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and several other California cities, Webcor Builders, Inc., hires many engineers straight out of college. Therefore, many of these workers are focused on paying down student loans, not on saving for retirement, says Richard Takahashi, former benefits manager at the company.  

Last year, along with its recordkeeper, Empower Retirement, Webcor launched an initiative aimed at helping employees put earnings toward both. Webcor would match 100% of up to 5% of pay when an employee put that money toward paying off his student loan. However, many of these employees then couldn’t afford to defer 5% of their salary to the 401(k).

The solution? Letting employees defer 5% to either a lender’s student loan account or its own 401(k), or to divide the percentage between them. For example, some employees allot 3% to student debt and 2% to retirement, Takahashi notes. All employees who defer a total 5% receive Webcor’s match.

“They can accelerate their student loan debt payments and be matched that 5%, so nobody at Webcor will be without a [savings] benefit,” Takahashi says.

Aside from providing the student loan debt solution, Webcor also gives a profit-sharing contribution. At the close of each year, the company’s board of directors will calculate bonus checks, which include a cut of Webcor’s profits. Based on the employee’s eligible salary, 1% or 2% will be added to an individual account attached to his 401(k) account.

To keep up with a growing workforce trend, the company replaced its six-year vesting schedule with a three-year schedule. “The workforce tends to be transient, so six years is a long time to wait,” Takahashi says. Currently, employees are vested at 33% each year.

The company made two other significant changes, as well. When Takahashi started at Webcor, in 2016, he set a goal of strengthening the retirement plan. And after issuing a request for proposals (RFP), the company changed investment advisers, switching to Pensionmark. “They came out on top,” Takahashi says. “We’ve been with them for a little over two years, and we’re very happy with them.”

Webcor has Pensionmark bring in representatives, annually, to provide educational seminars and one-on-one consulting in each of its three main locations. Recently, the company went through an investment conversion—changing all funds but one—reducing its fees by half. “In doing so, we got a better set of investments that are [less expensive],” he says.

Looking forward, the company hopes to set up more educational meetings on financial wellness, as it continues to see a growing response to the training it offers. “What we found is that about half the people who attend general sessions will sign up for a one-on-one, and almost 80% to 90% end up making a change in their retirement account,” Takahashi says. “We’re looking to get to a 100% participation rate, if we can, and just to make sure everybody feels well-informed—and, most importantly, that workers appreciate their benefits and what we’re doing for [their] retirement.”

—Amanda Umpierrez

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