Jump to content

Incentives to invest in Company stock under 401(k) plans?


Guest KevinGordon
 Share

Recommended Posts

Guest KevinGordon

How do Companies incent employees to invest 401(k) contributions in Company Stock? How do they keep employees from diversifying into other funds after getting the incentive? Is it easy to administer/communicate? Any survey info available?

Thanks for any info...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One technique is to have a higher matching contribution made with respect to employee contributions invested in company stock. For example, you could have a 150% match if the amounts are invested in company stock and 100% if the amounts are invested elsewhere.

Because this is a plan design issue, it is outside of the fiduiary responsibility rules of ERISA.

Kirk Maldonado

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest KevinGordon

Thanks... but if the employee can turn around a month from now or a year from now, and move the money from the Company stock fund into another fund under the plan, what have you achieved? How do you lock the employee into the Company stock?

Do you know of any companies that give incentives as described?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Can specify in Plan document which source the Participant has investment control over.

Just so happens my Employer amended our 401(k) plan effective 1/01 for this feature. Company Match investment restricted to Company Stock fund. Match Rate is pretty good: 150% for Participants with 1-5 years of Service, 175% for those with 6-9yrs, 200% for those having 10 or more yrs. Deferrals in excess of 3% are not matched.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree that too much of a retirement portfolio in company stock is questionable risk management. But I would be thrilled if my employer matched 150/175/200% of the first 3% of my contribution in any kind of stock.

So I think that Company Stock in a retirement plan is much better than no stock in a retirement plan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've seen plans where the company match was made into employer stock only, with a 12 month waiting period before it would be eligible to be transferred into an alternate investment. Not a lot of fun to track, but virtually guarantees that a certain amount will be deposited.

Personally, I think that having company stock as an available investment is a bad idea, as studies have shown that it is typically misused. Encouraging it's use through an accelerated match or exchange freeze strikes me as foolhardy at best, and basically asking for a lawsuit when the stock drops. I'm admittedly very conservative, however.

- JCatt

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I disagree that it is a bad idea, if the plan is drafted so that the employee can elect how to invest the money. If they make the decision, they have to live with it, and nobody else will have any liability for their own investment decisions. I disagree completely with the paternalistic attitude that participants can't make their own investment decisions; you have to protect them from themselves.

Kirk Maldonado

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest KGibson

I worked for a retail company that had company stock as an investment option in the 401(k) plan. The IPO of the stock was $22.50 / share. It went up to $32.00 at one point. The company execs preached to the employees to invest their 401(k) money in the company stock. That was great until they quickly and quietly positioned themselves for a sale, and at that time, the stock fell like a lead balloon to $1.87 / share, and to this day, (4 years later)never has gone above $3.00. Needless to say, a lot of money was lost some of which had been rolled out of other funds and from other 401(k) plans, so the losses were very substantial. One lady lost $75,000 from her 401(k) she had rolled out of her previous employers plan, then her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and she was 60 years old. Additionally, she was the secretary for the CFO, and it was his encouragement to invest there, and his continued support to leave it there, that contributed to her financial devistation.

Use caution, and good luck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Back to Kevin's original question: A large percentage (I think that it's in the 65% range)of Fortune 100 companies use company stock for at least a portion of the company match or Profit Sharing contribution in their 401(k) plan. And if you need an audit, your audit cost will go up because you will need a full scope audit instead of a limited scope audit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kirk - Do you remember the Executive Life fiasco a few years ago? When they went bankrupt and paid cents on the dollar on their GIC's, at least one employer was successfully sued for allowing an E.L. GIC to be an investment option in the plan, even though the participants were the ones directing their assets. The prudent man rule still applies, and the potential for liability still exists. If the employer is actively encouraging a certain investment through accelerated match incentives, I'd have to believe the potential liability is even higher.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

JCatt:

I'm aware of a lot of litigation involving annuity contracts issued by EL with respect to terminating DB plans, but I hadn't heard about anything involving participant-directed DC plans. Do you have a cite to that case.

P.S. A few years ago, I did a fair amount of research, and found a paucity of cases imposing liabilitly upon DC plans that offered investments that went sour.

Kirk Maldonado

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kirk - You know, I've looked, and I can't find one. I'm familiar with the situation primarily through my prior job, where we performed recordkeeping and administration services for two plans with Executive Life or Confederated Life GIC's. In each case, the plans eventually made the participants whole after a few years of receiving partial payments from the excecutors. On the other hand, Unisys successfully defended themselves against participants' claims, so who knows . . .

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest KevinGordon

My original question dealt with the issues of incenting employees to put their 401(k) deferrals into Company stock. Our plan has always provided that the matching contribution had to be invested in Company stock. But if we were to offer 6 investment choices to employees, and wanted to encourage employees to put their own money into Company stock, how would we do it? How do other companies do it, if they do?

I'm aware of the "eggs in one basket" debate and am convinced that proper communication and sufficient choice overcomes most of the evils. What I am concerned about is that I might provide a bigger match on $ contributed to Company stock fund than to other funds, and find that employees moved funds out of Company stock (after reaping the match). Are there other incentives that keep the employee's funds locked up in Company stock, once they have taken the incentive? One correspondent suggested that we can write the plan to prevent reallocation of funds that were contributed to Company stock in return for an incentive. So far, that seems to be the best idea. Are there others that anybody is aware of?

Thanks to all for taking the time to reply.

Kevin Gordon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kevin - I suggest that you go to the web page for the National Center for Employee Ownership. It is simply http://www.nceo.org. They have lots of information about company stock in retirement plans, including 401(k) plans.

You can do creative stuff with matching formulas, etc. you need to watch out for discrimination testing concerns for some of these ideas.

But, that is not what triggered my response. First, I don't think company stock in a retirement plan is something to be avoided. It can be a fantastic benefit for employees. As noted in earlier remarks, it can also be a nightmare. I tell my clients to remember that if they are putting company stock in their 401(k), their employees are going to watch it, closely. And, if it doesn't perform, they have to remember that rather than seeing their shareholders at an annual meeting, they are going to see them EVERY DAY!

Second, adding company stock to a retirement plan does not per se trigger the need for a full scope audit. If the trustee or custodian is willing to certify the company stock portfolio, you can still get a limited scope audit. This is nearly always true where the plan holds an actively traded stock. I have seen a few cases where private companies get certifications on the company stock portion of the portfolio.

If the addition of the company stock creates an obligation for the plan to register with the SEC, then the limited scope audit is no longer available. SEC filings require a full scope audit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Looks like the consensus here is 'if you must proceed, do so with caution'; yet our colleague Kevin seems ready to tie a millstone made of company stock certificates around his neck.

Kevin, can you elaborate on your firm's enthusiasm for this idea?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest KevinGordon

Becky: Thanks for the link to http://www.nceo.org. It was an interesting site, but didn't focus on 401(k) plans (more ESOP oriented).

We are a publically traded company, so the audit issue is not important to us...

Kevin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest KevinGordon

Gregg:

Our plan is currently a 401(k)/ESOP, on which the 10-year leveraging aspects of the ESOP expired about a year ago. Unallocated shares held by the plan have now all been allocated to the 401(k) accounts of participants, and the ESOP loan has been paid off.

Since late 1980s all (employee and employer) contributions have been required to be made in Company stock. Company has

guaranteed that employees will get no less a return than 5% on their own contributions, plus their vested share in the Company match. So they have the protection of a fixed income investment on their own contributions (but not on the company match), and can participate in any gains on the value of the company stock. Company match is 50% of 1st 6% of employee deferral.

Stock has been up and down. Currently about 53% of its highest, and actually about 50% above its lowest, which occurred about a year ago.

I am starting to look for ways to change the plan design (from forcing employees to invest in Co. stock) to create

incentive(s) for employees to continue to invest in company stock. It would make employees happier, I think.

About 80% participation (some 1800 employees in plan). About 3 million shares of Company stock in plan. Three other funds available for diversification rules, and for old 401(k) monies (pre-1988) that were not moved into the

401(k)/ESOP.

The plan currently owns about 15-17% of the company. And for most employees is not the only plan that we have: most have a final average pay DB plan, or a PS plan, as well as this 401(k)/ESOP plan. So in many ways it is not an "all eggs in one basket" issue.

I hope that gives a better picture of the world that I am operating in.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by KevinGordon

I hope that gives a better picture of the world that I am operating in.

Much much better. Yours isn't the garden variety 401k, to put it mildly, but in the context you've described it's clear some sharp minds have been at work. Based on your description of the plan, & the location you've provided in your profile, I might even hazard a guess at the company - but won't here.

Now that you've done the hard work, I'll add my easy suggestion; place your 'sale' of the 401k in the same context you have here--its role in employees' overall financial reward from your firm. The history's helpful, the guarantee's helpful, the other legs of the financial stool are helpful to employee understanding.

I'm sold based on your description alone - where do I sign up? bigguy.GIF

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had always thought that DC plans were not permitted to pay interest, that is, guarantee a benefit. That's what a DB plan does. How does the plan avoid this issue? Obviously the Service hasn't made it an issue; I'm assuming that the plan has a favorable determination letter on this aspect of the plan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest KevinGordon

The plan is qualified, and has the necessary IRS determination letter.

The guarantee of interest only becomes effective when the

stock is worth less than what the interest guarantee would have paid. It is paid out of the plan (necessitating an

additional contribution if it becomes payable), except for Highly Compensated Employees (in which case it is paid directly by the Company and can't be rolled over, etc. since

it is non-qualified money).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by KevinGordon

The guarantee of interest only becomes effective when the  

stock is worth less than what the interest guarantee would have paid

Is the 'guarantee' then more in the nature of a target than a pledge? Does the plan/company carry some kind of insurance in anticipation of the event you describe?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest KevinGordon

Guarantee is a pledge (backed by the full power of the Company - over 100 years old). Risk is self-insured. Employees know that at the end of the day, if the company were to go belly-up, the guarantee would not be worth anything. Liability is tracked on an ongoing basis, and varies as stock price changes. Payouts are small, and liability is manageable.

But all of this is getting away from my original question:

How to incent employees to invest in Company stock in a 401(k) plan.... any new ideas, information?

Thanks for any input.

Kevin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When you went to the NCEO web page, did you look at

http://www.nceo.org/pubs/401k.html

or

http://www.nceo.org/library/combine.html

Also, the Profit Sharing/ 401(k) Council has survey on matching contributions, etc. you have to be a full member to get the entire survey. However, I don't recall seeing anything in there to that level of detail.

We regularly get copies of the other surveys done by the big consulting houses. I do not recall seeing anything on this topic in any of those. This would be the Hewitt, Mercer, etc. folks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest KevinGordon

Becky:

Yes.. I did, and you're right I can't find the detail that I am looking for.... so I'll have to get creative...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...