Ryan Whitehead
Senior Benefits Manager
  • Plan(s)
    401(k)
  • Total Plan Assets
    $2B
  • Number of Participants
    9,475
  • Participation Rate
    98%
  • Average Deferral Rate
    11%
  • Default Deferral Rate
    6%
  • Default Investment
    State Street Target Retirement Funds
  • Automatic Enrollment
  • Automatic Escalation
  • Employer Contribution
    100% of 6%
  • Provider(s)
    Recordkeeper, Fidelity Investments; Adviser, Compass Financial Partners
  • Financial Wellness Educator(s)
    Fidelity, Financial Engines, Prudential, Compass Financial Partners, Bright Horizons, Cigna


Last year, the plan averaged 94% of participants maximizing the 100% of 6% match.

Plan design choices, combined with a 100% of 6% match, make it easier for employees at Lenovo, with main offices in Morrisville, North Carolina, to reach 20% total annual contributions to their 401(k) within four years of enrollment.

Lenovo’s recordkeeper, Fidelity Investments, has recommended that Americans need to save at least 15% a year for retirement, notes Senior Benefits Manager Ryan Whitehead. “Our goal is to go beyond that and get people up to 20%,” between the employee and employer contributions, he says. “Our plan design essentially gets them there in four years. There is an issue in this country with people not saving enough to be ready to retire. So we thought, ‘Why not?’” Employees can change their deferral at any time, he adds.

Lenovo produces technology including laptop computers, tablets and smartphones. After acquiring Motorola Mobility in 2014, Lenovo launched a “harmonization project” for its benefits plans, Whitehead says. “That project allowed us to look at every feature of the 401(k) and to say, ‘What do we really want this plan to be?’”

Effective January 2016, the plan doubled its default deferral rate, from 3% to 6%. The plan previously had done automatic escalation at 1%, but increased it to 2%, with a ceiling of 14%. “At 1%, it takes a while to get participants up to where they should be,” Whitehead observes. “So we said, ‘Let’s make this a little faster.’”

Further, in 2017, the plan did a re-enrollment of existing employees at 6%. The plan has a 100% of 6% match, so the default deferral maximizes the match. “In the three years before the re-enrollment, we were already at about a 96% participation rate,” Whitehead says. “But we had some newer employees who’d been auto-enrolled at 3% in the past few years and were only contributing 3%, 4% or 5%. We figured, ‘Let’s try it and see what happens.’” Of the 130 nonparticipating employees re-enrolled, about 50% stayed at a 6% deferral, one-third opted out of making a deferral, and the rest chose to defer between 1% and 5%.

Approximately 400 participants who previously had been deferring between 1% and 5% also got re-enrolled. “About 75% ended up at the 6% deferral or even higher,” Whitehead says. “Some people took the opportunity to select a percentage that was higher than the default rate.”

Asked how Lenovo communicated about the re-enrollment, Whitehead says, “We explained it to employees as, ‘If you are saving 3% or 4%, that’s too low, and it’s not going to get you to where you need to be.’ And we explained that they weren’t getting the full match.”

With 401(k) participation now at 98% and an 11% average deferral, Lenovo has taken more action on employees’ holistic wellness in the past couple of years. “We are not just looking at our retirement plan in a silo,” Senior Benefits Manager Karen Adams says.

To help its benefits messaging better speak to employees, Lenovo brought together all of its benefits providers for a one-and-a-half-day summit, in 2018, and for a half-day summit last year. “It’s important to get all our partners in the same room,” Adams says. “We talk about how we can create an optimal way for our employees to engage with their benefits programs. We are challenging them to put themselves in our employees’ shoes.”

Some actionable ideas have come out of the summits. For example, Lenovo now does a monthly vendor-partner call centered on employee communication, Adams says. “We’ve been able to align on different themes for each month, across our benefits,” she says. “That way, we’re not bombarding employees with information throughout the year on different themes.”

Judy Ward

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