In a recent PLANSPONSOR article, Rick Irace, chief operating officer (COO) for Ascensus’ Retirement line of business, talked about the importance of clean participant data when it comes to maintaining a healthy retirement plan. He notes that educating participants about why it’s important to keep their own data up to date is crucial to keeping data clean. He also discusses systems that Ascensus has in place to ensure that data is submitted accurately and points out that having clean data also reduces the risk of cybersecurity threats.
Firms Continue to Build on More Than Two Decades of Collaboration
Mutual of Omaha Retirement Services recently announced its decision to extend its longstanding relationship with Ascensus as its small- and mid-market retirement recordkeeping and administration services provider.
Mutual of Omaha began its relationship with Ascensus in 1997. Since that time, its retirement plan business has grown to more than 2,000 plans representing over 80,000 plan participants, with approximately $3.6 billion in assets under administration. Mutual of Omaha and Ascensus have developed a uniquely supportive and collaborative service model, with a 98% Overall Satisfaction rating. Ascensus also continues to be recognized for its retirement expertise and technology, receiving the most PLANSPONSOR “Best in Class” Awards among all providers in the under $50 million plan segment.
“We continue to be impressed by the strategic growth opportunities presented by Ascensus. We are excited to continue to explore opportunities to collaborate on strategic initiatives going forward,” says Laura Huscroft, VP of 401(k) with Mutual of Omaha Retirement Services.
Mutual of Omaha Retirement Services has been in the retirement services business for more than 45 years, providing a 401(k) solution for plan sponsors that’s easy to understand and simple to administer. And for plan advisors, whether they are new to the 401(k) business or seasoned veterans, Mutual of Omaha offers support from pre-sale prospecting through plan onboarding and everything in between.
“The success of our long-standing partnership with Mutual of Omaha has been largely founded in our shared principles,” states Kevin Cox, president of Retirement at Ascensus. “Mutual of Omaha’s commitment to quality, innovation, and their clients’ best interests aligns extremely well with our noble purpose of helping people save for what matters.”
“We’re pleased to have the opportunity to continue to support the Mutual of Omaha Retirement Services organization and the business owners and employees who depend on them for their retirement planning needs,” concludes Cox.
Most recently, Mutual of Omaha introduced an Ascensus-developed retirement mobile app, READYSAVETM, to its clients to help improve retirement outcomes. Driven by data and backed by behavioral science, READYSAVE helps participants get—and stay—on track to retirement readiness.
“We value the deep roots we’ve established in our longstanding relationship with Mutual of Omaha and look forward to helping them continue to grow their business in the retirement plan marketplace, gain efficiencies, and enhance service delivery to their retirement plan clients,” adds David Musto, president and CEO of Ascensus.
Based on a rating of five, six, or seven on a seven-point scale. These ratings are considered “best-in-class” by Chatham Partners, a market research firm specializing in financial services. Chatham’s proprietary industry benchmark includes 10 major plan providers. Mutual of Omaha commissioned Chatham Partners to conduct a client satisfaction survey among customers of United of Omaha Life Insurance Company and Companion Life Insurance Company, which was conducted in May 2019 with a response rate of 23%. Survey results are limited to those expressing an opinion. Chatham Partners is an independent research firm and is not affiliated with Mutual of Omaha or any of its affiliated entities.
PLANSPONSOR, 2019 Defined Contribution Survey, January 2020
Ascensus helps millions of people save for what matters—retirement, education, and healthcare. Through co-branded, private-labeled, and other governmental partnerships, our technology, market insights, and business knowledge enhance the growth and success of our partners, their clients, and savers. Ascensus is the largest independent recordkeeping services provider, third-party administrator, and government savings facilitator in the United States. For more information, visit ascensus.com.
Get the latest trends and insights based on our proprietary data from more than 115,500 retirement plans, 6.2 million 529 accounts, 405,000 health savings accounts, and 22 ABLE plans.* Inside America’s Savings Plans highlights average savings levels across these tax-advantaged accounts and showcases plan features that drive participation and growth. The State of Savings report outlines how plan contribution and withdrawal behaviors have shifted over the course of 2020 and since the passage of the CARES Act.
*As of June 30, 2020.
About Mutual of Omaha
Founded in 1909, Mutual of Omaha is a highly-rated, Fortune 500 organization offering a variety of insurance and financial products for individuals, businesses and groups throughout the United States. As a mutual company, Mutual of Omaha is owned by its policyholders and committed to providing outstanding service to its customers. For more information about Mutual of Omaha Retirement Services, visit www.GetRetirementRight.com.
Many U.S. businesses—large and small—are experiencing uncertainty and varying levels of hardship as they try to stay afloat during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Hit particularly hard are small businesses and their workforce, which according to the Small Business Administration (SBA) encompasses 99.9 percent of U.S. businesses and represents nearly half of the U.S. private sector workforce. What lies ahead for the economy during 2020, and maybe even 2021, is surely unknown as these are unprecedented times. In the meantime, the federal government is deeply involved in helping to stabilize the economy until it can be opened up fully again.
Four bills have so far been enacted to help U.S. businesses and workers survive this time of turmoil, and more are expected. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020, and authorizes the SBA to administer the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP provides federally guaranteed, low-interest loans to businesses with 500 or fewer employees, and it includes the potential for loan forgiveness. The program’s key purpose is to keep employees on business payrolls during this unprecedented economic downturn. Specifically, the PPP loans help employers meet payroll (and certain other operating) costs during the eight weeks after the loan is disbursed. Among other things, approved payroll costs include wages (and withheld taxes), leave payments, and employee benefits such as retirement benefits and group healthcare coverage.
Second PPP Legislative Action
In the first PPP bill, the CARES Act provided approximately $350 billion in small-business loans. The program was so popular that the funds were depleted by mid-April. Subsequently, on April 24, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266) was signed into law, adding another $320 billion to the program, which includes $60 billion earmarked specifically for PPP loans to be administered through small, medium, and local financial institutions, like credit unions and community banks. The intent was to provide access to PPP loans to traditionally underserved businesses.
General Terms of the Loan
The PPP is administered by the SBA, but loans are obtained through financial organizations. Businesses with no more than 500 employees—including not-for-profits, sole proprietors, and independent contractors—can apply for the PPP loans through approved lenders. If the employer follows certain requirements, the loan will be forgiven and considered tax-free.
No collateral or personal guarantees are required, and neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees. PPP loans that are not forgiven must be repaid within two years at a one percent interest rate, but any loan repayments will be deferred for six months. Loan forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. The amount of the loan forgiven will be reduced if full-time headcount declines or if salaries and wages decrease.
Specific details of the program and information on how to apply can be found at the SBA website. Small-business owners may find it helpful to confirm whether the financial organizations they currently do business with are participating in the program.
PPP Loan Payroll Costs Include Retirement and Health Coverage
In an interim final rule and FAQs issued in April, the SBA confirmed that eligible payroll costs include a number of employee benefits, including among other things, employer contributions to defined contribution or defined benefit retirement plans, group healthcare coverage (including payment of premiums), and certain parental, family, sick, and medical leave (with some exceptions if certain tax credits are claimed). Employees that are furloughed but remain on the payroll could presumably continue their salary deferrals to retirement accounts as well as their portion of health coverage and contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs), at their option. Employers may also continue their retirement contributions to these accounts if such contributions would be considered qualifying payroll expenses for the eight-week period.
Perhaps the key feature of the program is loan forgiveness. If program rules are followed, the PPP provides for forgiveness of the loan—up to the full principal amount plus accrued interest. Loans will generally be forgiven if employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks following the loan date and if the loan assets are used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. The amount spent on payroll costs will determine how much of the loan can be forgiven; no more than 25 percent of the forgiven loan amount can be for non-payroll costs.
In addition to retirement contributions and healthcare and certain leave benefits, payroll costs also include the following.
- Salary, wages, commissions, and tips up to $100,000 of annualized pay per employee
- Allowance for dismissal or separation
- Payment for vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave
- State taxes and local taxes withheld from the employee’s compensation
- Payments of compensation or income to a sole proprietor or independent contractor that is a wage, commission, income, net earnings from self-employment not more than $100,000
- Excluded are qualified sick leave and qualified family leave for which credit is claimed under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA); compensation paid to an employee whose principal residence is outside the United States; and the employer portion of payroll taxes (FICA), Railroad Retirement Tax (RRTA), and federal employment taxes
The $100,000 per-employee limit on annual payroll expense does not apply to non-cash benefits such as employer contributions to qualified retirement plans, health benefits, and taxes withheld from employees’ pay. The borrower may also use up to 25 percent of the funds for mortgage interest, rent payments, or utility payments if the indebtedness or service started before February 15, 2020.
Strong Cautions for Employers: Consult Your Tax or Legal Adviser and Your Lender
The employer is required to document and certify to the lender that the loan funds were used to retain workers and to maintain payroll or make mortgage interest, lease, and utility payments for the eight-week period following the loan in order to qualify for loan forgiveness. The SBA has also indicated it will release additional guidance regarding loan forgiveness. Because these loans may be used cover a variety of expenses, employers should work with their tax or legal advisors and the PPP lender in determining how to qualify for loan forgiveness.
Click here for a printable version of this issue of the Retirement Spotlight.
In a recent Employee Benefit Adviser article, reporter Lee Conrad provides a summary of the NAPA 401(k) Summit panel session that Rick Irace co-presented with Richard Schwamb, a financial advisor from Morgan Stanley. Rick commented on small businesses’ challenge to offer quality retirement plans to their employees and the business opportunity this presents to advisors. Stressing the importance of features like auto-enrollment, Irace explained that helping these employees obtain financial wellness is gratifying work. “If you really want to help people, this is a place you can do it,” Irace says.
In a recent Employee Benefits News article, Rick Irace discusses the motivation behind Ascensus’ newly implemented financial wellness program through Financial Finesse, as well as some initial results. “The research is showing us that Americans are anxious about their finances,” Irace says. “We also know people can outlive and are outliving their money. Nearly half of employees say they are stressed out by their financial situation… and over 77% say they spend three hours or more at work thinking about it or dealing with financial issues.”
In a recent article published by Wealth Management, Rick Irace, chief operating officer of Ascensus retirement, cites several points as evidence of a “quality deficit” for small retirement plans versus their large market counterparts. As for closing this gap, Irace suggests that small business owners consider consulting with a third-party administrator (TPA). “I do think that for the sponsor that’s really concerned about administrative burdens and other things, the TPA can…step in and consult on specialized plan design. They can talk about technical details in a way that’s much easier understood for the sponsor and their employees,” adds Irace.
With Small Business Saturday just behind us, we wanted to consider the distinctive challenges that this growing segment of workers faces and the unique opportunity that these challenges present for financial advisors.
Fifty-nine million American workers, 47.5% of the U.S. workforce, are employed in small business. This includes a growing number of professionals in the emerging “gig” economy, where temporary positions are common. These small market workers struggle to receive the same salaries, employer-based benefit plans, and insurance as employees at larger companies.
Public Policy Responds
The government is responding to this workplace challenge with new retirement plan solutions at both the state and federal level.
- State-facilitated retirement programs—recently initiated in California, Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, and the City of Seattle—are on track to reduce the nation’s plan coverage deficit by 17%.
- Congress is considering proposals to loosen membership restrictions for multiple-employer plans (MEPs), which would enable more small businesses to jointly sponsor a retirement plan. MEPs could lessen both costs and the administrative burden for small business owners looking to offer a plan.
Service Providers Offer Additional Solutions for Small Employers
Advisors, plan recordkeepers, and third-party administrators are also using their professional expertise and evolving technologies to close the retirement plan coverage gap. Their services are making it easier for small businesses to sponsor plans and improve employee savings outcomes.
Collaborating with Third-Party Administrators
To address business owners’ concerns about the time and resources required to administer a plan, advisors can partner with a local TPA. TPAs can consult on specialized plan design, translating technical details into more easily understood benefits for both the sponsor and employees
Outsourcing Administrative Functions
More small employers are outsourcing the administrative functions surrounding fiduciary compliance with Section 3(16) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. This ensures that their plan operations are compliant with regulatory mandates.
Choosing Cash Balance Plans
Cash balance plans combine the portability, flexibility, and simplicity of 401(k) plans with the high contribution limits of traditional defined benefit plans. Today’s cash balance plans have more than $1 trillion in assets, an increase of 61% since 2010.
Comparing Pricing Models
Small businesses are collaborating with advisors to determine the best retirement plan pricing structure for their company’s needs: asset-based or flat-dollar, per participant tiers. To demonstrate the impact of these different structures on a plan’s market value, advisors can use our plan comparison tool. It allows them to run a custom illustration for their clients’ plans.
The Essential Role of Purpose-Built Firms
Small employers and their advisors need recordkeepers that build modern best practices into their service model while offering expertise, technology, versatility, and independence. These purpose-built firms create greater efficiency for advisors and provide necessary support as financial services for the changing workplace continue to evolve.
Public Policy and Industry Solutions Taking on Retirement Plan Coverage and Quality Deficits
Dresher, PA — Ascensus—whose technology and expertise helps millions of people save for retirement, education, and healthcare—has released a white paper exploring recent innovations in both the public and private sectors that are addressing coverage and quality deficits in retirement plans for small business employees. In Focus: The Small Business Opportunity discusses the scale and impact of these enhancements on the retirement industry, financial advisors’ practices, and the financial lives of millions of Americans.
Small businesses play a critical role in the U.S. economy, employing about 47.5% of the U.S. workforce. The paper notes that the ranks of small business employment are increasingly accounted for by professionals, tech-centric entrepreneurs, and business owners over age 50. However, the small business segment has traditionally struggled to provide retirement plans for employees.
“Research suggests that small businesses are hindered by ‘twin deficits’ of both quality and coverage,” states David Musto, president at Ascensus. “Many small businesses have no workplace retirement benefit coverage at all—and those that sponsor plans struggle with cost and complexity.”
The white paper notes that a confluence of public policy solutions, industry best practices, and new technologies are being brought to bear to address the workplace savings challenge. In the public sector, new state-facilitated retirement programs have been or will be initiated in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, and the city of Seattle. At the same time, Congress is considering long-discussed proposals for open multiple-employer plans that would allow small employers to jointly sponsor retirement savings plans.
Private Industry Solutions and Best Practice
For their part, plan recordkeepers, advisors, and third-party administrators (TPAs)–together with a steadily evolving array of technologies–
– Advisors are playing a critical role in assessing, navigating, and guiding small business plan sponsors through the increasingly complex range of choices they face in offering retirement benefits that can boost productivity and help with employee recruitment and retention.
– TPAs are collaborating with plan sponsors and their advisors to streamline regulatory disclosure and compliance and to evolve new technologies and more secure data solutions.
– Plan sponsors are increasingly outsourcing administrative functions associated with fiduciary compliance with Section 3(16) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in order to ensure that plan operations are consistent with regulatory mandates.
– To enhance savings levels for employees, small business owners are increasingly turning to Cash Balance plans, a hybrid savings mechanism that combines the flexibility and portability of 401(k) savings with the high contribution limits associated with traditional defined benefit plans. Cash Balance plans today top $1 trillion in assets under management, an increase of 61% over the past eight years.
– As the industry continues to experience consolidation among multi-purpose financial services firms, “purpose-built”
“Small business owners and employees are at the cusp of a new world with multiple opportunities to join the workplace savings mainstream,”
To download In Focus: The Small Business Opportunity, visit bit.ly/SmallBizOpp.
Ascensus is the largest independent recordkeeping services provider, third-party administrator, and government savings facilitator in the United States. The firm delivers technology and expertise to help millions of people save for what matters most—retirement, education, and healthcare. For more information about Ascensus, visit ascensus.com. View career opportunities at careers.ascensus.com.
In a recent PLANADVISER feature, President David Musto discusses the vital role of small businesses in the U.S. economy and the challenges they’ve historically faced in offering cost-effective retirement benefits.
The total number of American workers without access to an employer retirement plan is 55 million. They comprise the “coverage gap,” which is well-known in the industry. “Less known is the ‘quality gap’ between the thousands of small business plans that do exist and their large business counterparts,” states Musto.
He recaps recent innovations in the public and private sectors that are addressing these “twin gaps” and the impact of these enhancements on financial advisors’ practices and the financial lives of millions of Americans.