SURVEY SAYS – Should We List the Match Cuts?

March 5, 2009 ( - There's little question in my mind that we need to continue to report on situations where these matching contributions are being suspended

It’s still news, after all (see  IMHO: Trend Spotting ) – but I was also very much aware of the reality that that constant news stream might create a certain sense of “inevitability” in the trend.   Not that I think employers are rushing to make those decisions, but I’ve worried about contributing to the trend, rather than merely reporting on it.

To that end, I have put off officially accumulating a list of those suspension situations – visually, I think a list of companies that have made the decision would be “compelling”, even though it might actually be only a minority.  

Besides, not only does some of our coverage include those references, all you have to do is search for “match” on , and you could always make your own.  

Still, I continue to get the requests – and we’re all about trying to make YOUR jobs easier, while enhancing your access to pertinent information.   Consequently, I was curious to see what YOUR sense was on the issue.

Interestingly enough, the results were about as equal a split as you could have;  37.8% said we should compile such a list - and 37.8% said we shouldn't, because it would just be adding fuel to the "fire."  

That's right - split right down the middle (who says your single vote wouldn't make a difference?).

The mathematicians in the audience will realize, of course, that that doesn't equal 100%.   The rest of the vote went as follows; 14.1% said it wouldn't matter - and the rest...weren't sure.

There were, as you might expect, some wonderful insights from respondents this week.   Here are some of my favorites:

"Plan Sponsors should make this very difficult decision based on the facts and budget within their company, not based on what others are doing. No one ever knows the full story regarding the "others"

"By advertising this you will just have employers jumping on the band wagon without doing the analysis that they need. In today's climate, many employers are just reacting with the "me too" without actually thinking through the entire issue."  

"The list should represent the Companies that HAVEN'T changed. The negative press is scaring everybody-worldwide."

"I assume companies that are doing this are doing this for a good reason. What I'd like to see are companies that are being more creative - such as a company that is hurting with a 3% match that opts to cut salaries by 3% by retain the match ... or instead of a layoff, requiring unpaid time off, and the like."

"It will make the network news shows when the first company who has frozen a DB plan in favor of a 401(k) also suspends the company match . . . ."

"I prefer to be an ostrich with my head in the sand trying to pretend things aren't really this bad and don't want to provide any ammunition to eliminate a match when I think we should be increasing it, according to (probably now defunct) benchmarking data. Having said that, though, I don't think many of us would chose layoffs over giving up a match."

"Let the world and particularly the politicians know the trouble they have caused."

"OK, as long as the percentage of plans not deciding to reduce their match is included in the text to give some perspective."

"It would be helpful to see the types and scope in specific industries."

"Not necessary -- we get the idea."

"Daily, hourly, moment by moment we are bombarded with this information, which creates panic and reaction without considerable thought. We are, in many ways, our own worst enemies. Please don't add any more "fuel to the fire". It is already burning at an extremely rapid pace."

"I'd be interested in hearing if those companies who did suspend their match saw a noticeable decrease in the their ADP. If so, maybe this may give some pause to those still considering a suspension. Just my 2 cents (before taxes)."

"The only reason to publish a list like that is for those that need moral support to convince a Board of Directors or they don't know how to make their own decision and will follow the group. Neither is a good reason to publish. Besides, you already tell us each week those that have made the decision. Thanks."

"I would like to see a scorecard. It will make me even more appreciative of my employer, who has kept the match intact."

"Here is an opportunity to exercise your editorial license. You can put whatever spin on the situation you wish (something at which the present-day media has become quite adept). If you want to sway opinion to suspending the match publish only a list of those companies that have suspended or plan to suspend. Conversely, if you want to go the other direction...And if you want to maintain the APPEARANCE of fairness while still putting a spin on opinion you can publish both lists, just be sure to make the one you want to promote much longer than the other. I am NOT implying you are into the spin business, I'm just observing the way our modern media functions."

"I would quit reporting who is dropping their match altogether. It just gives the idea to other companies that it is the trend to follow. Like any other benefit, once it is done away with, it will be hard to get back."

"I would hope it doesn't matter. Personally, I would only use the list in the event that we reduced or eliminated our match as a last resort and I needed to show our employees that we aren't the only ones doing this. However, I would not use the list as proof or part of my strategy to make the decision in the first place."  

"But, we'd like to see it anyway. For whatever it's worth, we'll want to have available something to show employees that indeed it's wide-spread and not just a (local) monkey-see monkey-do."  

"Why not compile/maintain a list of plans that have made the decision NOT to suspend their match in 2009 - to put a damper the fire instead of fueling it?"

"You should also compile an equal list of companies are not changing the match."

"We're not a follower in regards to what other companies do."

"Please compile a list of those companies who are holding in there and continuing to fund their retirement plan contributions. (Maybe even highlighting those who have increased their contributions to offset the losses that we have faced.) By concentrating on the ones who have stopped it--this has led to other companies throwing in the towel much too soon or using it as an excuse to cut this benefit. Thank you."

"I don't know that I would publish a complete list for fear it would serve to "justify" others to make the same. Poor decision."

"If you do compile a list, please note whether or not the company also has a defined benefit plan. For some us, 401(k) is all we have."

"It's great information to have as a selling tool for your company's benefits if you are in fact a company like ours that will not suspend or lower its 401k match."  

"There are so many companies that haven't done anything that reporting each individual cutback is giving other employers the idea that "everyone else is doing it". That didn't work when I tried it on my parents. Maybe we should also report some of the employers that are not changing the match."

"I know it's not practical, but how about a list of companies that have vowed not to cut/suspend the match?"

"It would be very useful for you to track how many companies are doing this.   If it comes to this for us then we can easily and truthfully say   that   XXX companies   have done/are doing the same thing."

"Compile a list of plans that have NOT suspended the match."

"We should compile and maintain a list of those who aren't changing their match! Way too much attention is being paid to the doom and gloom."  

"Please do this, I'm killing a lot of trees printing out all of the articles on 401(k) match suspensions."

But this week's Editor's Choice goes to the reader who observed, "I'm not opposed to such a listing, we can use it to remind our employees how fortunate they are."

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!

As for what we're going to do....I'll let you know Monday...

THANKS, as always - for your interest and support! 

Any additional thoughts/comments/responses welcome  -