Jenny Low
Accounting Manager and Primary Plan Administrator
  • Plan(s)
    401(k); ESOP
  • Total Plan Assets
    $83.2MM in 401(k); $36.4MM in ESOP
  • Number of Participants
    617 in the 401(k); 439 in the ESOP
  • Participation Rate
    85.28% in the 401(k)
  • Average Deferral Rate
  • Default Deferral Rate
    Not applicable
  • Default Investment
    TIAA-CREF Lifecycle Index Funds
  • Automatic Enrollment
  • Automatic Escalation
  • Employer Contribution
    100% of 5% + discretionary performance contribution to 401(k) + variable ESOP contribution
  • Provider(s)
    Recordkeeper, Principal Financial Group; Adviser, The Hampson Group of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management
  • Financial Wellness Educator(s)
    Principal Financial Group, The Hampson Group of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

The average tenure of active ESOP participants at Anvil is 9.5 years, while 21% have 15 or more years of service there.

There’s a strategy behind Anvil Corporation’s goal to contribute at least 10% of employees’ compensation annually to their retirement savings—a threshold the company regularly exceeds.

As a midsize engineering firm, with headquarters in Bellingham, Washington, and other offices in Alaska, California, Colorado and Montana, Anvil has intense competition for talent. “I think that 10% target is a result of wanting to create a goal that sets us aside a bit from our competition,” Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Dan Lewis says of Anvil. “We’re always looking at how to keep good employees and encourage longevity at the company. It helps especially for our clients to know they’ll keep working with the employees they’ve been working with on projects, so there’s continuity.” Anvil matches 100% of 5% deferred, makes an additional discretionary “performance contribution” to the 401(k), and provides an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) contribution.

Anvil became a partial ESOP company in 1996 and by 2010 had transitioned to 100% ESOP. “I think it was the ultimate goal of the company to become 100% ESOP,” Lewis says. “There was a time of conversion, of repurchasing shares, so it took a number of years.”

Employees become eligible for the ESOP after their first 12 consecutive months of employment and 1,000 or more hours worked in a plan year. Every year, each employee receives a contribution of shares—the amount, which is variable, is partially pro rata and partially based on the employee’s wage level.

In addition, Anvil gives workers “starter shares” in the ESOP during their first three years of employment, to help give them a sense of ownership in the company. “Each new participant receives additional shares, so that builds up their balance from the start,” says Accounting Manager Jenny Low. A new employee gets a fixed amount of starter shares in each of the three years.

To help employees understand their retirement benefits and outlook, plan adviser The Hampson Group of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management comes to each of Anvil’s five locations every year to meet with employees. And recordkeeper Principal Financial Group supplies targeted education to different participant groups.

Anvil converted to its current 401(k) match formula in 2018. “We used to have a six-tier match structure,” Low says. “The 401(k) ‘performance contribution’ used to be a higher piece of the total contribution, so we decided to reduce that and increase the match. That was to help us recruit quality talent, because it’s much easier to explain the match.”

The employer contribution timing also changed. “The other part of that is we used to do our 401(k) contribution once a year,” Lewis says. “Now, by doing the match every pay period, that money can be put in participants’ accounts, and the market, right away.”

Anvil also once had a separate profit-sharing plan, but merged it with the 401(k) in 2016. The overall employer contribution has remained the same, Low says, but more money has been shifted to the 401(k) match. “We did that because of the communications piece: being able to simplify the benefit to create a better understanding with our employees and also to simplify the administration of our retirement benefit,” she says.

One aspect of the profit-sharing plan has been incorporated into the 401(k), however: The company’s board decides every year on the amount of the additional “performance contribution” to employees’ 401(k) accounts. This contribution has similar eligibility criteria to the ESOP. “That amount is based on our company’s profitability, so it varies,” Low says.

Judy Ward

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