David George doesn’t apologize for using scare tactics when he gives seminars at part of the Investor Education Program for the Arkansas Securities Department.
George worked 30 years in the financial industry, including 22 years running branches and compliance for Morgan Keegan in Memphis, so he knows a thing or three about retirement saving and wealth management. People always ask him for stock picks, but George quickly sets them straight on what he is talking about.
“My comeback is we’re not here to talk about picking tops and picking bottoms,” said George, 63. “It’s what are you going to be needing when you’re 65 or 70? We get into scare tactics: your price of procrastination. That’s a majority of us who have underfunded our retirement. What we try to do, for lack of a better word, is to scare people into looking at setting themselves up for a decent retirement.”
As a state agency, the Securities Department spends a lot of time reaching out to other state employees, but George said his seminars and advice are available to any company or individual who is interested. George said he understands full well how intimidating financial investments can appear to a layperson, but he said retirement planning doesn’t have to be complicated.
Today’s employees can’t afford to delay the decision, though, which is why it’s important to George that he and private and public companies do what they can to inform employees.
“If you’ve put it off, get it set up tomorrow,” George said. “One of the questions they all ask is who should I talk to about this? I immediately tell them they need to talk to a professional. They’re going to give you the best idea if you lay out what you’re expecting and your timeframe. It’s all guidance.”
Big Company Tools
The larger the company the more resources available for in-house retirement accounts. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville has a 401(k) that is available to all its full-time and part-time employees the day they start work.
After one year of employment, Wal-Mart matches up to 6 percent of an employee’s 401(k) contributions. Offering 401(k) and providing stock purchase plans — as Wal-Mart also does — are nice benefits, but the retailer has a system set up to help its employees make more informed choices about how to invest their contributions.
Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg, the director of national media relations, said the company gives employees access to HelloWallet through its WalmartOne intranet portal. HelloWallet allows employees to get a quick analysis of their financial situation and options on how to plan for the future.
Lundberg said linking HelloWallet with WalmartOne made the information easily accessible to Wal-Mart associates, who regularly use the portal to check things such as pay stubs and work schedules.
“It will help you do a quick financial assessment and give you some ideas on how to help your savings grow,” Lundberg said. “You can game plan about what makes sense for you and how you’re able to do it. You can go back over time and make adjustments based on what you’re looking for and what you need. There’s a lot of good information in there that explains what this is. We try to do as much as we can to get people this information because there are some questions out there.”
Lundberg said the WalmartOne site also has information about such topics as opening checking accounts, setting up 529 college savings plans or building an emergency fund. Associates can also talk with store managers, personnel directors or members of the human resource department with additional questions.
“Retirement planning and wealth management planning are a part of the overall package that we offer folks to make Wal-Mart an attractive place to come work,” Lundberg said. “We are always looking at how can we make sure the benefits we are offering in wealth management are competitive and relevant.”
Small Company Needs
Lisa Bridgers is the senior vice president of talent acquisition and HR at Rockfish Interactive in Rogers, a subsidiary of WPP Digital. Bridgers said being a part of WPP, an international company, allows Rockfish to have benefits not available to smaller companies.
Through WPP, Rockfish has retirement accounts with the Vanguard Group, an investment group that manages trillions in assets. More important than just having a 401(k) is the access to Vanguard’s financial advisers, Bridgers said.
“The depth of expertise someone needs to effectively help an employee doesn’t exist in a general practitioner on the HR side,” Bridgers said. “Without that ability to reach out and help people understand what it is, it really doesn’t mean anything. Small companies can — and I’ve seen this more than in the past — host sessions with someone who is a financial planner so they can understand basic investment strategy.
“This might be their first exposure to having to think about planning for their future. The questions I get are: ‘How much am I supposed to save? How do I know what I’m saving is going to grow to what I need when I retire?’ Those are questions that, truly, only experts in the field are able to answer.”
Bridgers then learned of the Investor Education Program that George manages for the Arkansas Securities Department and said it would be a great asset for companies that would not otherwise have access to a financial expert.
Another path for smaller companies is to join a multi-employer plan. Bob Arthur of Incredible Influence is an independent representative for Employer Advantage of Joplin, Missouri, which operates an MEP that includes more than a dozen northwest Arkansas companies.
Arthur said Employer Advantage works with John Hancock Financial and has approximately 500 clients.
“For so many people who are employed by a small company, many times they don’t even have a retirement plan option,” Arthur said. “There are companies out there that have a 401(k) in place that a small-business owner can tap into. They want to be able to offer things to their employees to be competitive. They can’t do it on their own. I have those conversations fairly regularly. I see a lot of small-business owners who don’t offer anything but they want to.”