2021
Corporate 401(k) >$1B

Sony Corporation of America

Plansponsor of the year winner icon WINNER
Judy Leung
Benefits Manager
  • Plan(s)
    401(k)
  • Total Plan Assets
    $4.6B
  • Number of Participants
    23,861
  • Participation Rate
    93.4%
  • Average Deferral Rate
    9.6%
  • Default Deferral Rate
    6%
  • Default Investment
    The Sony Target-Date Funds (from BlackRock)
  • Automatic Enrollment
  • Automatic Escalation
  • Employer Contribution
    100% of 3% + 50% of next 3%
  • Providers
    Recordkeeper: T. Rowe Price; Adviser: Mercer
  • Financial Wellness Educator
    T. Rowe Price

Sony Corporation of America’s 401(k) plan has everything a good 401(k) should. So notes Sony Benefits Manager Judy Leung, at the company’s headquarters in New York City. She points to the multiple types of savings accounts, automatic features, and white label funds, which simplify investing; participants also receive continuing education about saving for retirement and investment advice.

“We have all the bells and whistles and make it easy to participate and save in the plan. I think this is why we have good participation and deferral rates,” she says.

Prior to 2012, Sony divisions in the U.S. had separate plans; then Sony merged them. That helps explain why the plan offers after-tax savings accounts: Some divisions’ plans already had them. “We promote [them] as another way to save for retirement,” Leung says. “[They] offer flexibility for savings, and if a participant reaches the IRS limit for pre-tax deferrals, savings amounts are automatically moved to the after-tax account.”

The company assesses participant reactions to each initiative it implements for its 401(k). Citing last May’s educational campaign about investing, Leung says, “We measured engagement with the communications—open rates for emails, attendance at webinars. We also surveyed participants about what they felt about the content and presenters and what actions they were planning to take. Then we measured the actions they actually took.”

Sony uses such information to decide whether to offer a campaign again, or whether to make improvements. The company also asks participants what they’d like to learn about. “It helps us structure our education calendar,” Leung says. “We develop one each year. For example, this year, at least twice a quarter, there will be webinars about various topics, with some based on participant feedback.”

According to Virginia Holden, executive relationship management vice president at T. Rowe Price Group, Sony has a deep desire to analyze its data for what it can learn, then use this to spark ideas. “They pay close attention to what’s actually happening with participants,” she says. “They do it with overall plan metrics, but what is unique to Sony is there’s a dedicated meeting with a team that handles webinars and written and online communications. They make sure that, with every campaign executed, they’ve analyzed results. What was the participation? What were the questions asked? And they use [the results] to inform the next strategy.”

She says she associates three “i”s with the company. For one, Sony is inquiring—when the T. Rowe Price representative provides it with data-driven analytics, Sony is eager to review those with him and make them actionable, she says.

Sony is also an innovator. “It doesn’t just want to communicate with participants; it wants to come up with ‘delighters,’” Holden says. “It has had two award-winning campaigns since we’ve worked with it.” She recalls her first interaction with Sony, in 2019, in connection with one of them. The company was in the process of moving over to T. Rowe Price and was creating a conversion education microsite to elucidate the transition. “Sony called it ‘The Amazing Voyage.’ It was colorful, very graphic and engaging. It was very Sony-like, with a lot of pizzazz,” she says.

The company also has an innate desire to improve—its products and itself, Holden says. “Those three ‘i’s’—inquire, innovate, improve—drive everything we do with the Sony retirement plan.”

For all who work with the 401(k), staying up to date is key, and every other week there are calls with eight representatives from T. Rowe Price and 10 from Sony—i.e., from Sony Corporation, Sony Pictures, Sony Entertainment, Sony Interactive and Sony music, as well as from the company’s legal team, benefits team and investment group. “There’s a diverse group that works collaboratively on the plan,” Holden says.

To enhance the plan, the recordkeeper took Sony on a T. Rowe Price “product road-map tour,” Holden says. Sony was shown the range of plan features and service offerings that the provider had available, along with the product and service solutions it was designing and planned to launch. “And we tried to align some of those with participants’ needs—student loan help and financial wellness help, for example.”

Sony, in turn, regularly evaluates its plan in terms of best practices used, products and services, and peer benchmarks. It asks, “‘Is our plan design state-of-the-art, and what can we do to continually improve?’” Holden says. “Commitment to quality is part of Sony’s culture, and it ties in to what they do with the retirement program,” she says in sum. “How Sony treats its customers is how it treats employees.”

Holden’s praise of Sony’s culture also extends to its training. She experienced this training during the recordkeeper change. Sony taught the T. Rowe Price reps who would serve the plan about the culture of each Sony division, so they could speak with participants “in their voice,” she says. “We’ve developed our own training based on the culture training they had with us. That was their idea, because they want us to communicate in a way that really resonates with their employees.”

Beyond retirement planning, Sony offers various kinds of help with student loans. For eligible participants, it sends monthly contributions to the borrower’s loan servicer; it also offers financial wellness tools that can aid with loan refinancing and tools that help employees get loans for their children’s schooling. Several of Sony’s U.S. divisions work with tuition.io or SoFi—resources that help with loan repayment.

Another way Sony addresses participant needs is by providing T. Rowe Price’s Visualize Retirement education. “We were one of their first clients to offer it to participants,” Leung says. “Much of retirement education focuses on numbers, but this focuses on whether participants are ready to retire, emotionally. It covers what retirement will look like, where participants will live, whom they’ll spend time with and the activities they’ll want to pursue. These are things they should also be thinking about because these will determine how much money they’ll need. The education answers the question, ‘What are you saving for?’”

This year, however, in the wake of the pandemic, “We’re looking at the terminated participant population and what our strategy should be for these people, such as products for addressing the drawdown of assets in retirement,” Leung says.

—Rebecca Moore

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