Implementing a successful retirement plan is important for all corporations. It is necessary that all employees, from C-level executives to new-hires, understand the different plans and benefits available to them. Devyn Duex, VP of Client Services for Pensionmark®, oversees a team that provides retirement plan advisory services to a large group of clients across verticals. Devyn has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Women in Business by the Pacific Coast Business Times.
In the following interview with Devyn, she provides key insights into how to implement a retirement plan, ensure that employees are well informed, and build a process that is smooth and seamless for all participants.
Please tell us about your role as the VP of Client Services at Pensionmark Retirement Group.
As the VP- Client Services for Pensionmark my role includes overseeing the client service team as well as providing Advisory services to a group of clients. Additionally, part of my focus includes traveling across the nation speaking to clients, participants, and industry professionals about various retirement plan topics. My passion includes developing service deliverables that push and expand the industry while offering employers tools to manage their fiduciary responsibility and employees the ability to become more retirement ready.
What brought you to Pensionmark?
Having worked at another firm here in Santa Barbara, I was introduced to Pensionmark years ago when they were looking for a team member to focus specifically on their service model and building a scalable and efficient delivery of all the service components to a retirement plan client. The client centric focus of the practice coupled with the executive management, led by Troy Hammond, really attracted me to the firm. Having been with Pensionmark going on 8 years now, the decision to join the team was a turning point in my career, allowing me the ability to generate ideas and apply them toward the firm and industry at large to initiate a positive benefit to our clients and essentially the employees participating in the plans, which frankly are the most important client under these plans.
The refreshing part of working at Pensionmark is this energy has just continued to grow and strengthen now with a national presence of over 21 offices and 600+ retirement plan clients, making our work even more engaging and fulfilling. It’s nice to say that you enjoy coming to work every day, and when you are not there you miss it.
What do businesses need to know to implement a successful Retirement Plan for their employees?
There are so many factors within a successful retirement plan, but I think the key is working with the right team to determine the appropriate strategy for your organization and its demographics. Under ERISA it clearly states a plan sponsor is not required to be the expert in all areas, but to recognize when they are not and to work with those that are.
As an independent Advisor we take our role seriously to evaluate the demographics and needs of the organization to develop a strategy that will provide the foundation for success for employees. Inherently these strategies should factor in reasonable expenses, prudent investments with long term consistent performance, but the more pressing conversation in our industry currently is creative design utilizing automatic features such as automatic enrollment with an Auto escalation into a Qualified Default Investment Alternative, to drive results for employees and move their retirement account balance closer to their goal.
What’s the point of a retirement plan if no one is using it? This is the question we focus on most closely, and you hear about in our industry as Retirement Readiness. Our society is starting to realize we are facing a critical issue regarding our work force, as more people start retiring than are paying into our social services. The majority of Americans are ill prepared for retirement, and we have yet to experience on any measurable level the gravity of this type of landscape…but this becomes a social issue and falls back on the working population to figure out. Retirement plans that are sponsored by companies are primed, and if designed well, monitored, and challenged over time, may prove to help answer this question.
How do executives ensure that employees fully understand their retirement plan?
Understanding a retirement plan begins at time of hire and continues through an employee’s work life with that organization. Building a comprehensive education strategy utilizing a variety of distribution channels is key to engaging employees; what works with one employee may not work with another. At Pensionmark we recently rolled out our Financial Wellness Program, which incorporates six different strategies to educate, engage, and create positive results for employees. Our Wellness Program incorporates self-driven tools like the Personal Financial Portal, a tool designed to assist employees in understanding their financial picture by providing a secure site to track all their financial accounts in one place, and provides workshops to run projections on retirement planning and more. Plus, the Wellness Program includes electronic deliverables, an education center website, on-site education, social media, a Pensionmark staffed call center, and more.
Additionally, challenging the design of the plan to automate participation coupled with an education strategy is a perfect complement and catalyst for positive change. At Pensionmark we work closely with our clients to build an education policy statement and an annual action plan to implement the strategies as appropriate to that demographic. Each plan and its strategy are unique.
When a new plan is rolled out across a company, how do executives ensure a smooth transition?
A big part of a smooth transition includes the team involvement, thorough pre-planning, a detailed project plan, and excellent communication. It also includes clearly explaining the roles each party will play, having a game plan around the administrative requirements and education campaign/strategy with the employees. Typically transitions are entered into to enhance the plan, and that information should be provided to the employees to create and increase engagement in the plan.
In terms of the administrative process, it is usually a best practice to include proper pre-planning with the implementation team of the new Provider to ensure the services 'sold' are truly delivered in the manner expected: files, payroll, reporting, and more. Part of our service includes a transition specialist team to assist in this process and create efficiencies for the employer and globally during the transition.
How should a company prepare by an audit by the IRS or DOL?
Preparation begins in understanding the plan's overall governance and structure, roles and responsibilities of those involved- both fiduciary and non-fiduciary, setting up procedures and policies around each function of the plan, reviewing these policies consistently, and documenting. As part of our role as an Advisor, we work with each company to formalize their processes, discuss and review annually, or more, depending on the plan and client, and to assist with providing documentation to aide in meeting these requirements. Understanding industry and plan requirements are complex. Under ERISA, Plan Sponsors/Employers are given the encouragement to work with experts in the field, which should provide plan sponsors some relief that these fiduciary requirements can be managed.
The IRS and DOL focus on different perspectives, so it is equally important that employers address regulations from both DOL and IRS in their day to day practices, such as operational processes like contribution timing and eligibility/entry, and employee educational items such as complying with 404(c), notice requirements, SPD delivery, and more. Additionally, in light of fee disclosure regulations, employers should be certain they have received and reviewed fee disclosures and have determined reasonableness. If reasonableness is not determined, plan sponsors should show action; such as negotiating lower fees, increasing services, or going through a request for proposal (RFP). As part of our services we work with each of our employers to review and benchmark the expenses on the plan to assist them in answering the question regarding reasonable fees.
IRS audits and DOL investigations are part of the landscape of the industry, with each agency hiring more auditors/investigators to review retirement plans, the probability of an agency knocking on an employer’s door has been elevated. Taking a proactive approach, working with an expert to understand the plan requirements, clarify roles, design policies & processes, document, and consistently review/evaluate over time, should aide in the confidence a plan sponsor has around an agency reaching out to review their plan.
How do you spend your free time when you are not at the office?
As a genuinely positive person about life, I am thankful to have an amazing husband and two beautiful children to spend a lot of my free time with in our beautiful community. They are constantly opening my eyes and reminding me what is important in life; family and friends and enjoying our community are extremely important.
Additionally, I’m passionate about giving back to the community. I am on the Pensionmark charitable giving committee and a board member of the Pensionmark Make Your Mark Foundation, which strives to give back to charities locally and abroad. Last year I was fortunate to be on a team of four from Pensionmark to travel to Chile and work with the Free Wheelchair Mission, building and delivering wheelchairs and medical supplies to those in extreme poverty. That experience was life changing, and I feel thankful for the opportunity to provide service to those individuals in need.
Additionally, I am the Founder/President, and Artistic Director of Nebula Dance Lab, a 501(c)3 non-profit professional modern dance company in Santa Barbara, California. Nebula dance allows a professional company of choreographer(s), dancers, costume/lighting designers, and more the ability to push boundaries and create new language in dance by developing half-evening to evening-length original works premiered in Santa Barbara, and then toured around CA and more. The company also includes an outreach platform that provides workshops to teens and preschool children in the community; this program is an active focus of expansion for Nebula, working for inclusion in the Creative Kids Program with the Santa Barbara County Education Office, to provide dance arts to schools at an affordable rate.