Retirement & Benefits Trends: EBN Expo & NAPA DC Fly-In Forum

This time of year not only brings a new season, but also plenty of opportunities for us to get the latest about employer-sponsored retirement plans, employee benefits and much more. To stay current on industry trends and hot topics, two of our advisors, Alex Assaley and Daniel Haverkos recently attended two conferences: The Employee Benefit News Forum & Expo and the National Association of Plan Advisers DC Fly-In Forum. Both of these events offered up valuable information on all aspects of retirement plans and employee benefits: wearable health technology, tax reform, corporate wellness, new proposed rules on the fiduciary definition and much more.

Clearly, there was a lot of new and important information, but you're in luck! We break down all of the important information for you here: 

Employee Benefit News Forum & Expo 

The event was attended by a wide variety of benefits professionals including HR executives, benefits consultants and health care experts and of course, retirement plan advisors like us. Industry leaders from an array of different fields served as speakers covering topics in key areas like health care, wellness, employee engagement, cost containment, retirement, compliance and wearable wellness. 

  • Never, Ever Give Up: Keynote from Diana Nyad The inspirational keynote speech was given by marathon swimmer Diana Nyad who as you may know completed the swim from Cuba to Key West last year. With health care costs skyrocketing in part due to the ongoing obesity epidemic among the American workforce, Nyad's words about perseverance served as inspiration for overcoming seemingly insurmountable problems. After discussing her struggle to complete her swim to Cuba as well as the struggle we face as a nation to be healthy, "If you want to get to the other side, you will find a way." 

  • Wearable Devices: The Future of Wellness? Amy McDonough, FitBit Director of Wellness Wearable health technology was a major topic at this year's expo. Amy's keynote touched on how these new innovations will assuredly become integrated into employee benefits. Among the reasons this is going to be an important adoption for employers to undertake, she stresses:

    • It surpasses other methods of data-collecting since all information is automatic, accurate and verifiable. 
    • There's no need for employees to self-report anymore so you can more easily tie incentives to actions automatically.
    • The social effect: Fitbit users that are connected to at least one friend will take 27% more steps than those who aren't connected on social platforms. 
    • Because of the interconnectivity afforded by using wearable wellness technology, everything is accessible in real time and both employers and employees can manage data from anywhere. 
    • Just the sheer demand alone alludes to the idea that wearable technology will be extremely popular among employees: 60% of U.S. adults say they plan to buy a fitness tracker. 

While it will take some more time to see whether this is a fad or not, it's clear that this technology is popular among the general consumer and can benefit both employees and employers. 

  • Creating Successful Retirement Plan Outcomes Our own Alex Assaley was honored to give this presentation at the expo. He discussed how trends in behavioral finance can be implemented into retirement plan design and strategy to create better results for both employees and employers. Financial stress is a huge burden on the American worker, so Alex advocates for putting in place strategic goals for your employees in order to reduce their retirement savings burden and help them make better financial decisions.  

The NAPA DC Fly-In Forum, in its second year now, is a place where over 150 elite advisors in the retirement industry meet to discuss the future of American workers' savings. Here is a brief synopsis of who we heard from and what they envision for the retirement plan landscape moving forward:

  • Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) - The Prospects for Tax Reform in the 114th Congress 

Senator Hatch is the ranking minority member on the Senate Finance Committee on  Pension Reform, Annuities and Results. In his keynote speech, he addressed issues ranging from multiple-employer plans to annuity contracts to Hatch's own Secure Annuities for Employees (SAFE) proposal, which would, among other things, create a "starter" 401(k) plan and increase the auto-escalation limit, if enacted. Hatch stated that one of Congress' major concerns is the healthcare tax deduction with the 401(k) deduction following along behind. 

  • Michael S. Piwowar, SEC Commissioner - Upcoming Proposed Rules on the Definition of a Fiduciary 

Defining "fiduciary" has become somewhat of a hot-button issue as of late. SEC Commissioner Piwowar advocated for a uniform standard of conduct for all retail advisors and brokers since as of right now, it is unclear. This confusion has had repercussions with 74 brokers being fined, suspended or expelled in 2012 alone. Piwowar advised considering more concise, straightforward ways to explain advisor costs and services to the general public. He also stated the only way this problem will truly be remedied is if aspects of the Dodd-Frank Ruling are revisited, which would not occur unless Republicans are in charge of Congress. 

  • Mark Iwry, Senior Advisor, Dept. of Treasury - Retirement Saving Initiatives

Iwry discussed different strategies to get American workers to save more and various actions lawmakers can take to increase retirement savings. He stated that you don't have to stop at saving 6% or 10% and advocated for auto-escalation in the double-digit percentages as standard. He also discussed there may be a type of incentive program, or a plan to get rid of the hurdles for employers to use these automatic features in their plans. Iwry's overall message was one of both acknowledging there are problems with the current 401(k) system, but with refinement it can be a much stronger vehicle for saving. 

  • Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

Alex and Daniel each had the opportunity to meet with representatives for two senators who represent districts in our local region (Virginia and Maryland). 

Senator Warner sits on the Committee on Finance and the Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs. He works on Tax and IRS oversight, a very relevant role in our firm’s belief that the tax incentives for retirement savings plans are a major driver in helping employees save more for their future and encouraging small-business owners, the majority of employers in our country, to offer a 401(k) or other defined contribution plan. Additionally, Senator Warner serves on Securities, Insurance, and Investment oversight sub-committee which aligns with the DOL and SEC’s continued review of the definition of a fiduciary – which could have significant ramifications to the retirement plan industry, including the availability of guidance and advice being provided to American workers.

Senator Mikulski is extremely accomplished: In 2011 she became the longest-serving woman Senator in U.S. history, as well as sitting on multiple Committees such as the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Mikulski has supported a great deal of legislation advocating for American senior citizens and retirees, as well as voting against privatizing Social Security.

We will continue to provide updates and additional information on retirement industry trends and new rules and regulations as they are passed. Continue to read our blog and follow us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on the latest news!