Viability: Connecting Employers with Employees

Viability from MassMutual shows employers—chief financial officers (CFOs) in particular—the value of promoting employee retirement readiness.

QUESTION: What was the challenge you were facing in working with employers on retirement plans?

A few years ago, I realized there can often be a disconnect between the CFO and Human Resources (HR) regarding the company’s retirement plan. Working in sales at MassMutual, I would notice how, when talking to plan sponsors about the retirement plan—its design, investments and participant information, the CFO was simply not engaged in how that could potentially affect the company’s bottom line.

Applying findings from academic studies, we tried to determine how to fully engage the CFO. By showing the impact on a company’s business when the objectives of their defined contribution (DC) plan fell short of meeting its objectives, we fascinated the chief executive officer (CEO), executive director and HR staff but really did nothing to invigorate that CFO or finance person.

After my departure from MassMutual, I embarked on my own mission, meeting with CFOs and speaking at conferences in hopes of getting to the bottom of the problem. Ultimately, I found it. It became very clear that CFOs often did not correlate a successful employer-sponsored retirement plan and a healthy financial statement and balance sheet. Working with my son, academics and consultants, I set out to find a way to help individuals make that connection.

QUESTION: How did you develop a tool and a story that CFOs were interested in?

Rather than using numerals in academic studies to explain financial statements, my team and I then began to utilize employer data figures, including date-of-birth, date-of-hire, account balance, deferral rates and Social Security integration. We found that words and academic studies were not the means by which CFOs make decisions; they wanted to see the numbers. We built our patent-pending Viability analysis tool to help highlight and quantify the impact that a lack of employee retirement readiness can potentially have on an employer’s bottom line—and to provide advisers with a simple and effective way to help make this connection clear for CFOs. Viability is all about providing CFOs with an unexpected “A-ha!” moment.

Viability helps evaluate an employee population in terms of its current retirement readiness, and how that may correlate to a potential liability of a work force that is financially unprepared for retirement on each individual employee’s own terms.  Employers understand that workers who are fully engaged are well worth continuing their employment due to the leadership and knowledge they bring to the employer and other employees. Viability can help pinpoint the costs of ineffective retirement benefit programs, so that benefits brokers and other advisers can help prescribe improvements.   A Retirement Readiness Report is applied to each employee’s data, and all data are then rolled up to show an overview at the employer level. Therefore, the readiness report of the population is shown by age band to help improve the data available for the broker and other advisers to prescribe improvements to benefit programs.

QUESTION: How does Viability work?

Once the report is generated for an employer, we look at two distinct populations—those ages 62 and above and those age 25 to 50—according to wage, health care and workers’ compensation premium costs. The groups are analyzed, and marginal differences in those specified costs between the two populations are calculated. We compare the average costs of employees from the 62 and above population to the average costs of employees from the 25- to 50-year-old population. This total marginal difference, other data inputs and model assumptions are used to project the employer’s potential costs of associated with delayed retirements—meaning the potential liability of an employer’s population for the next 50 years. This is the method used to estimate how many employees will not be prepared to retire on their own terms at the age of their choosing and may instead need to remain at work for financial reasons. We believe that both the employee and the employer benefit when workers are in a position to choose when they want to retire, and that is possible if they are taking the right steps throughout their working years. Viability is designed to help educate employers on the value of an effective retirement savings plan and benefits package, enhance overall financial wellness, and help more employees retire on their own terms.

QUESTION: What does Viability mean to Employees?

Another issue we found is the need to make the case with CFOs about employees’ financial needs and the value of “financial wellness.”  Living paycheck to paycheck can lead to distraction or potentially affect productivity in the workplace. Our Viability analysis helps to engage the CFO to better understand how retirement plan health and the health of their business can be inextricably linked.

For workers, engagement from a CFO is the ultimate benefit of Viability. Some potential plan design features under consideration by the plan sponsor and its experienced advisers, such as employer matching contributions, automatic enrollment, and automatic deferral increases, may be deployed as a result of the plan sponsor and its CFO having better insight into the relative value that increased retirement plan health can provide. It’s not like the CFOs don’t love their employees; they do, and they “get” the value of them. They just may not necessarily be convinced about the value of financial wellness and how it affects the financial statement of the employer.  Their adviser can potentially show through their clients’ own numbers what they think is the best alignment of employee benefit program enhancements that are in the employees best interest and the financial future of the organization. 

Recently, I joined MassMutual again and we’ve been able to integrate the company’s strong resources to bring the Viability analysis to many more advisers.

QUESTION: So How Does Viability fit into the whole Retirement Plan Design Discussion?

There are really three lenses to all of this. One is Viability and the data provided for analytics. The second piece, called prescriptive solutions, is the relationship between the adviser and the sponsor and the techniques utilized to help meet desired participant outcomes and mitigate potential future employer costs related to a financially unprepared workforce. Using Viability as an educational tool, plan advisers and sponsors can decide on better methods for plan design recommendations.

The third lens—called fulfillment—is the service provider, MassMutual. At MassMutual, we feel confident that we have the resources and technology to assist employers seeking improved participant outcomes, through educational guidance tools that can help plan sponsors, along with their experienced advisers, identify opportunities for plan design enhancement.

Ultimately, the purpose of Viability is to engage employers—particularly CFOs—and align all the decision-makers on the underlying value of retirement savings plans that help promote financial wellness, as well as identifying the potential cost to companies when employees are financially unprepared to retire on their own terms. 


For more information about Viability, please visit



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