This is the second installment of a two-part series based on an interview with Neal Brown, former Chief of Staff at Women Who Code, currently Director of Portfolio Management at Distribu.td. She hopes to help other budding female entrepreneurs by sharing some of the knowledge she’s acquired throughout her own journey.
We hope this interview helps other women entrepreneurs avoid being intimidated by a 401(k) plan, and helps them offer a great retirement plan to their teams, like Neal did.
Thank you, Neal!
When I’m talking about certain components of business, I think that people underestimate me a bit because I look really young and also because I’m a female. Legal, finance, and insurance are male-dominated fields (in my opinion). I choose though, to look at this positively as I do most challenges. One of the most incredible women I’ve ever worked for, Susan Driscoll (founder of Ignition, Inc.) taught me to do my homework before every single conversation — whether I thought I knew more than the person on the other end or not. This seemingly simple concept fed my natural curiosity and also encouraged me to keep learning.
Pro tip #1 — Prepare an arsenal of questions
When shopping for a 401(k) or any new benefit or insurance plan, make sure you have an arsenal of questions before you get on the phone with anyone, or even start the process. Do your homework, as 401(k) plans can be very complex so spend time reading about them. Ask others in your network what they’ve used, and figure out the 5 – 10 things you want out of your plan. Here are some examples:
Is it going to be safe and easy for me?
- “Is there ANYTHING I need to do at each payroll? Or, is it going to be completely automated?”
- “Are you going to be a fiduciary to the plan (it has to be a yes or no).”
- “Are you going to be submitting the government forms like 5500 on our behalf, or are we ultimately responsible to submit it ourselves?”
Is it going to be easy for my employees?
- “Please show me how you communicate to my employees at the rollout.”
- “Please show me what your mobile experience looks like for my employees.”
- “What is the average 401(k) participation rate for the plans you serve?”
Is it affordable for me and my employees?
- “Can you show me the breakdown of ALL the fees that the company pays?”
- “Can you show me the breakdown of ALL the fees that employees pay including investments, recordkeeping/custodial, and advisory fees?”
You can also ask brokers and vendors what they know about your business, why they think it’s a good fit and why they deserve you as a client. At the end of the day, you ARE the client. Don’t rush to a decision. There’s this artificial pressure placed on you to make a decision, but don’t buy into it because it isn’t real. Take your time and think about what’s best for your employees and what’s best for your business.
Pro tip #2 — Don’t accept anything less than a full answer
If you feel a broker or vendor is not giving you the full answer, or feel that they are “dancing around” your question, forget it. If they can’t answer something now, they certainly won’t be able to once your plan has been implemented and you stumble across some sort of challenge. Push back on them to answer your question and repeat it just the way you asked it the first time. If they cannot provide an answer after two direct asks, they probably aren’t the right partner.
Pro tip #3 — If it’s not easy, it’s probably not right
At the end of the day, it should be simple and easy. If you’re looking at stacks of paperwork and terminology and you’re thinking to yourself: “How am I going to explain this to my employees?” or “Where do I even start?”, don’t settle. It’s probably not the right solution. You should be excited to present to your employees the wonderful benefits you’ve put your time and energy into finding just for them, and so should your provider!