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Q: Why do you believe HR/benefit programs have been slow to adopt technology advancements A: Bannerman: They haven t had to because the insurance carrier market is slow to adopt technology. The suppliers don t really adopt technology. There hasn t been a major pressure on organizations to get real effective HR and employee benefit programs in place. Up until the rise in cost, HR and benefit programs have always been a backwater issue and HR has been able to handle programs as they want, and have not been held accountable. Now, with the lingering effects of recession and rising costs, companies need every dollar and are looking to save every last penny. Q: How do you compare/contrast opportunities in HR/benefit space that have likely been achieved in other areas of the organization through technology (e.g., procurement, contracts) A: Procurement protocols, audit strategies, total quality measures (e.g., six sigma) have been adopted throughout corporations to reduce defects. Heretofore, HR has not been held accountable and required to work under the same guidelines as the rest of the company because HR is a people business, and CFOs did not understand how it worked. Now, with the rise in costs, companies are forcing HR to adopt the same protocols and apply the same principles to purchasing health care that they apply to the purchasing of raw materials. Q: How does your technology integrate with and/or complement value-added consulting A: The IE-Engine technology allows companies (and their consultants) to reduce the amount of administrative time, paperwork, and resources associated with many of the repetitive and costly processes, and to focus more energy on value-added, strategic program initiatives. In addition, key areas of vendor performance and contractual elements are collected and monitored by the software for ongoing review and compliance with contract terms. Within HR and employee benefits, this is typically a very time-consuming process and often goes unmonitored.
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tepping back for a moment from thinking about management of your own retirement plan, we wanted to spend some time to discuss some of the underlying currents and megatrends in the retirement arena. We have touched on some of these trends earlier, but wanted to fully explore them here together. As we see it, the retirement industry is being driven by the following megatrends: Asset-based solutions including portable alpha strategies Globalization Death of defined benefit (DB) plans, followed by DB-ification of 401(k) plans Bundling of service providers Enterprise risk management Demographics
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For DB plan sponsors, the trend over the past 20 years has been to look to the liability side of the balance sheet for solutions. If the plan was too expensive, a plan sponsor would begin a plan design study rather than look to the asset side to solve the problem. Combine this with the seemingly constant regulations coming out of Washington calling for required 119
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plan design changes, most plan sponsors spent an enormous amount of time on the plan designs. The major consulting firms, like Hewitt, Towers Perrin, Mercer, and others, blossomed during this period to help their clients manage this process. The primary example of the significance of liability side management has been the conversion of many DB plans to cash balance plans a hybrid DB plan design (see Table 8.1). Various surveys highlight the prevalence of these new designs: One-third of the Fortune 100 and 19 percent of employers with more than 1,000 employees have now converted their plans to cash balance plans. The U.S. government and courts have struggled with the issues surrounding the cash balance conversions. This uncertainty has put a stop to the conversions for the most part. Besides this uncertainty, some employers have frozen their plans altogether. Watson Wyatt s 2005 survey of the Fortune 1000 showed that 116 froze or terminated their DB plans since 2001. All of these attempts either cash balance conversions or plan freezes are liability side methods to manage retirement plan costs. For those employers who remain committed to DB plans, the only realistic area to look at now to manage their costs is on the asset side. We mentioned in 5 one of the asset side methods some plan sponsors are looking at that of extending the duration of the fixedincome portfolio to better match the duration of the liabilities. Another method that is being discussed is called portable alpha strategy. Both of these methods require the use of derivatives and other investment vehicles that some plan sponsors may not be comfortable with. However, we see this trend continuing and would recommend that all plans sponsors
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