Thursday, August 10, 2017

HR Practices and Their Funding Similar Within Industries

This shouldn't come as a revelation, but HR practices, particularly benefits and compensation tend to be similar within industries. It makes sense. They tend to be competing for the same talent and, therefore, they benchmark against each other.

What may be a little bit less obvious is that allocations of capital to benefits and compensation also tend to follow patterns within industries. Reasons for this may not be quire as clear, but in a lot of cases, if what you are providing is the same, the way you pay for it and the amount that you pay for it may also be pretty similar.

Again, it makes sense. If Company A pays me $50,000 per year or Company B pays me $50,000 per year, the cost of my cash compensation during that year will be $50,000 (ignoring taxes). If each company further offers me a 401(k) plan that matches 50 cents on the dollar up to 6% of pay and very similar health plans, their costs for the year for me remain pretty similar. There aren't a whole lot of choices there.

So, now you may be asking why I am writing this. I haven't told you anything useful yet and you may be thinking I won't. But, wait, there's more!

Certain rewards elements can be paid for differently. Primarily, those are incentive compensation (can be paid relatively immediately or deferred) and defined benefit (including cash balance) pension plans. There you as an employer have options.

Let's consider briefly some of what those might be. You can fund the minimum required contribution (MRC) exactly on the statutory schedule. It's easy. You follow the rules. You do no more and you do no less. You can fund to the greater of the MRC or to 80% on whatever is the current funding basis. You can fund to the greater of the MRC or to 90% on that same current funding basis. Or 100%. Or, you can fund to the point at which you eliminate PBGC variable rate premiums.

Sure, there are other levels to which you can fund, but that's enough to illustrate. The point here is that behaviors within industries tend to be pretty similar.

Why does that matter?

Let's consider the health care industry. Not insurers, but hospitals, clinics, and other similar organizations. Lots of them have pension plans of one flavor or another (many are frozen cash balance plans) and most of them fund those at the minimum on the statutory schedule. That is following the law, so from a compliance standpoint, it's fine.

Where it's not as fine is from a financial sense standpoint.

Suppose you looked at all of the companies that sponsor defined benefit plans and then among that group, you considered only those who are paying more in PBGC variable rate premiums than they need to (this is important because for a typical company like this, those variable rate premiums may represent a 1% or more "drag" on plan assets).

What industry would predominate in that group?

You guessed it -- health care.

If you've made it this far and you are in the health care industry and you still have a pension plan, you probably want to see if you are facing that drag on assets. You probably are.

I would encourage you to check and when you find out that you are experiencing that drag, there are strategies that can be employed that will save you on that drag without depleting valuable cash from other needs.