Financial Executives Address De-Risking and ERISA Benefit Programs

According to "Balancing Costs, Risks, and Rewards: The Retirement and Employee Benefits Landscape in 2013" (CFO Research and Prudential Financial, Inc. - July 2013), numerous changes are underway. The opinions of senior financial executive survey takers validate the continued twin interest in expanding defined contribution plan offerings and managing the liability risk of existing defined benefit ("DB") plans. The strategic import of benefits as a way to attract and retain talent is recognized by "nearly all respondents in this year's survey." Regarding the restructuring of traditional pension plans, this report states that nearly four out of every ten leaders have frozen one or more DB plans yet recognize the need to manage risk for those plans as well as for active plans. Liability-driven investing ("LDI") programs are being adopted by "many companies". Transfer solutions are being "seriously" considered by roughly forty percent of companies represented in the survey. Almost one half of respondents agree that a return to managing its core business could be enhanced by doing something to address pension risk.

None of these results are particularly surprising but it always helpful to take the pulse of corporate America with respect to ERISA and employee benefit programs. I have long maintained that the role of treasury staff will accelerate. There are numerous corporate finance implications associated with the offering of non-wage compensation. As I have added in various speeches and articles echoing what numerous ERISA attorneys cite (and I am not an attorney), plan sponsors must carefully weigh their fiduciary responsibilities to participants against those of shareholders in arriving at a particular decision.

For a copy of the study, click here.

Interested readers may also want to check out the reference items listed below:

If you have further comments or questions, click to email Dr. Susan Mangiero.

Yahoo and Moms Gone Wild - How Will Shareholders Respond?

On February 24, I blogged about Yahoo's just-issued memo to employees. The message from the top is to get your shoes on and be seen in the office. See "What Companies Are Doing About Working at Home."

Jump ahead a few days later and mom blogs are chockablock with negative comments. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and Joan Blades, co-founders of MomsRising, issued a press release that denigrates the decision to ban telecommuting. They go on to describe the role of female workers as critical to the majority of families that require two incomes to pay bills. Their primary argument is that talented workers will go elsewhere in search of flexibility and a chance to stay on the fast track without being forced to sacrifice time with family. (Elsewhere, some suggest that Yahoo may have designed this pseudo layoff without having to officially let go of people.) Direct from Cafe Mom Studios, Amy Boshnack asks lots of women for their two cents. "Backward" was one mother's description of the new policy, especially for a technology company. Several women said that they understood the need for in-person brain storming but said that commuting four or five hours a day from a rural location is neither realistic nor productive for those individuals who live far away. Click to view the video discussion on cafemom.com.

Moms are not alone in their dissent. NBC News reports that some might interpret this edict as "anti-parent." Others counter that mothers and fathers could win by being forced to accept a more traditional schedule in the office since telecommuting arguably encourages "creep" with emails and phone calls occurring well after 5 pm. Founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, decries the move as "perplexing" and not compatible with a well-connected labor force and a modern work day that no longer spans 9 to 5. See "Give people the freedom of where to work" by Richard Branson (February 25, 2013).

In the end, the decision will likely be deemed successful (or not) if it makes it easier for the company to go where the CEO, Marissa Meyer, and other Yahoo board members want to be. There are numerous moving parts. Indicting this or any other policy per se is hard. One must consider (1) job descriptions and the need for on-site dealings (2) the economics of working together face to face versus the cost savings of having fewer and/or smaller offices (3) strategic objectives of the firm (4) company morale and much more.

My prediction is that we will see a lawsuit or two for any workers who were contractually allowed some latitude with respect to how, when and where they work. If that occurs, the cost of a lawsuit(s) will not be welcome news to the 71% of institutional and mutual fund owners of Yahoo (ticker is YHOO) stock.