Corporate DC <$25MM

Forward Bank

Plansponsor of the year winner icon WINNER
Marshfield, Wisconsin
Gwen Schnitzler
Assistant Vice President / Human Resources Director
  • Plan
  • Total Plan Assets
  • Number of Participants
  • Participation Rate
  • Average Deferral Rate
  • Default Deferral Rate
  • Default Investment
    BlackRock LifePath Index Target-Date Funds
  • Automatic Enrollment
  • Automatic Escalation
  • Employer Contribution
    50% of 6% + 3% safe harbor contribution + possible profit sharing
  • Providers
    Recordkeeper: Fidelity Investments; Adviser: Cetera Financial Institutions
  • Financial Wellness Educators
    Cetera for investment education and/or advice; Forward Bank for support with enrollment, investments and financial planning

Forward Bank, headquartered in Marshfield, Wisconsin, puts moving its community forward at the center of its mission. The consumer-oriented bank provides home loans, home improvement loans, consumer loans and a variety of commercial and agricultural loans. This is all in addition to offering checking accounts and a range of savings programs.

But to serve community businesses and nonprofits is not all the bank is committed to. It works to keep its employees engaged and committed to its mission, offering a generous retirement plan along with additional, creative benefits to show those workers that the leadership cares.

“We are a firm believer that if you take care of the employees, they will take care of the rest,” says Gwen Schnitzler, assistant vice president and human resources director at Forward Bank. “They take care of our customers, because they know that they’re supported and they feel well-taken-care-of as employees.”

The plan features a match of 50% of up to 6% of a worker’s earnings and provides a safe harbor contribution of 3%. Additionally, the plan has also offered discretionary profit sharing and boasts a 96% participation rate, along with an average employee deferral rate of 7.9%.

“We’ve had a profit-sharing contribution 10 years running and have been averaging around 3% to 4%, except in the last two years,” Schnitzler says. “The pandemic was very interesting in the banking world, because we did really well throughout. There were a lot of factors that provided opportunities for banking to do well. Therefore, in the 2020 plan year, our profit-sharing contribution was 5.7%, and in 2021 it was 5%.”

In an effort to increase plan participation so that “everybody wins,” the company lowered the minimum participation age from 21 to 18 and now extends eligibility for full-time benefits to its part-time workers after their first six months on the job, Schnitzler says.

During the pandemic, the bank explored what it could do internally to help employees guard their plan savings, Schnitzler notes. It now offers several in-house benefits that avail employees of other funds if they need emergency money. For example, the company runs a completely confidential “pay it forward” program that provides employees with in-house support, in a crisis. The program has helped an employee cover a major medical expense for a family member and another employee pay for storm damage when a tree fell through that person’s roof. To fund the program, the bank matches dollar-for-dollar the amount employees contribute to this internal fund. It has also hosted a series of fundraisers and raffles, raising the $40,000-plus currently in the fund account.

Jeff Janechek, a Cetera adviser who has been working with the bank for about 15 months, commends it for its commitment to the retirement plan.

“[Forward] has a very knowledgeable investment committee, made up of various people within the banking organization,” he explains. “There are different skill sets and levels of knowledge within the committee. You know, some people have really solid investment backgrounds while others have more of a human resources background. It has a really good mixture of committed people on the committee.”

As the bank began to look for other ways to expand its benefit offerings, it introduced a student loan repayment program that pays $100 a month for up to 60 months. It also provides a 529 college-savings-plan match program that matches up to $50 a month for 100 months, Schnitzler says. To help employees through the process of setting up their account, the bank gives them access to one of its financial advisers.

“This is one of the great things about working for a financial institution that has a full-time staff of advisers on board,” says Scott Wucherpfennig, vice president of investment services at Forward Bank. “Every employee has access to a financial adviser who will meet with them. We offer financial planning for every one of our staff at no charge.”

The bank also has a program it calls “An Evening on Us,” which reimburses employees for doing something enjoyable with family or friends outside of work, Schnitzler says.

“The idea is that we talk a lot about work-life balance, and we really want our staff to have a good work-life balance,” she adds. “Every employee can be reimbursed up to $50 once a year for dinner with your spouse; taking your family for pizza and a movie, whatever is meaningful to you, to connect with the people in your life who are important to you outside of work. We do this because, if you have good relationships at home, that mindset will carry over into work.”

DJ Shaw

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