Before I go on to my main topic, however, I need to bring up a few of the issues that I found near the bottom of the article. Three priorities that the article highlighted were written communication, networking with peers and presenting to large groups. Frankly, these are not just CFO priorities; they should be priorities for every professional in our 2015 world, and I was absolutely thrilled to see written communication in the list.
Returning to the main points of the article, I point out some of the top priorities that are more day-to-day for CFOs.
- Precision and efficiency in cash forecasting
- Balanced scorecards
- Risk management
- Performance management
Additionally, and in many cases perhaps more important, but less relevant for this blog is cybersecurity.
Let's also consider what some of the main elements of traditional benefits and compensation packages look like (with some grouping at my discretion).
- Health and wellness benefits
- Retirement benefits
- Other traditional welfare benefits
- Feelgood benefits
- Base pay
- Short-term incentives (bonus)
- Long-term incentives (often equity)
Health benefits are now essentially a requirement. Either you provide them or pay a fine under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But, companies have lots of techniques that they can use to control costs. Popular today are high-deductible health plans (HDHP) where oftentimes, companies contribute fixed amounts to health savings accounts (HSAs) to help employees pay for costs up to those deductibles. Among the major advantages of these designs are that companies do a much better job of locking in their costs. In other words, more costs are known and far fewer costs are variable or unknown.
On the subject of retirement benefits, I'm going to give you a shocker. In matching those CFO priorities, the single worst sort of retirement plan that a company can sponsor is a traditional 401(k) plan with a company match. That's right -- it's the worst! Why is that? In a 401(k) plan, the amount of money that a company spends is almost entirely dependent upon employee behavior. If you, as an employer, communicate the value of the plan, employees defer more and that costs you more. Most companies budget a number for their cash outlay for the 401(k) plan. Very few, in my experience, look at potential variability. One that does and that I worked with on this a number of years ago, estimates that between best case and worst case, that the difference in their cash outlay could be in the range of several hundred million dollars. That is a lot of money.
So, what is better?
Believe it or not, I can come up with lots of rationales (much beyond the scope of this post) for why having a defined benefit plan as a company's primary retirement vehicle is superior to using a 401(k) plan. Understand, I'm not talking about just any DB plan. But, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) opened the door for new types of DB plans that either were not expressly permitted previously or, in other cases, that were generally not considered feasible. Think about a cash balance plan using a market return interest crediting rate with plan investments selected to properly hedge fluctuation. Cash flow becomes predictable. Volatility generally goes away. Budgeting is simple. The plan can be designed to not negatively affect margins.
I may write more in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that this design that has not yet caught on in the corporate world needs some real consideration.
How about compensation?
Base pay is the easiest to budget for. If you do have a budget and commit to not spending outside of that budget, base pay is pretty simple to keep within your goals.
Incentive compensation is trickier. While many organizations have "bonus pools", they also tend to have formulaic incentive programs. So, what happens when the some of the formulaic incentives exceeds the amount in the bonus pool? Either you blow your budget or you make people particularly unhappy. There is little that will cause a top performer to leave your company faster than having her calculate that her bonus is to be some particular number of dollars only to learn that it got cut back to 70% of that number because the company didn't budget properly.
Perhaps it is better to assign an individual a number of bonus credits based on their performance and then compare their number of credits to the total number of credits allocated to determine a ratio of the total bonus pool awarded to that individual. After all, isn't the performance of the company roughly equal to the sum pf the performances of individuals and teams? And, if the company has a bad year, isn't it impossible that every individual and team exceeded expectations? Be honest, you know that has happened at lots of companies and the companies don't know what to do or how to explain it.
There is lots more to be said, but I want to keep it brief for now. If you have questions on some of the specifics, please post here or on Twitter or LinkedIn in reply to my post or tweet. And, if you have one of these areas on which you'd like to see me expand in a future post, let me know about that as well.