The retirement landscape is constantly evolving and, with it, the challenges employers face in helping employees reach their retirement goals. To better understand how plan sponsors and participants in the public sector can rise to the occasion, PLANADVISER spoke recently with Lynne Ford, chief executive officer and president of MissionSquare Retirement, which until July had been known as ICMA-RC.
PLANADVISER: Your organization had a long history of serving the public sector as ICMA-RC. Why change your name now?
Lynne Ford: Our goal has always been to provide outstanding service to plan sponsors and participants. When I joined the company in 2019 and we started retooling our strategic plan for the next 50 years, we felt our name wasn’t reflecting the story of who we are. Working with a team of experts and our various stakeholder groups, we landed on MissionSquare. We love having the word “Mission” in our name because it’s what we focus on every day—serving those who serve their communities. “Square” is a nod to the town square, the place where our clients—government, education, nonprofit and health care professionals—come together to serve their communities.
PA: What new challenges are your plan sponsor clients and their employees facing?
Ford: Saving for and living in retirement remains the single largest financial challenge we all face. But the dynamics of how that occurs are changing. In the public sector, a large majority of employees once relied on defined benefit (DB) pension plans for retirement income. Many public workers still have access to these plans, but we’ve also seen more hybrid plans installed. This has required plan participants to really understand the different mechanisms they have for saving for retirement, how much they must set aside to create a comfortable life in retirement, and how they can generate income from their savings once they are no longer working.
PA: How can plan sponsors help employees manage this shift?
Ford: Certainly, great plan design is a good place to start. But employers also can help by promoting and offering access to financial planning and education on a holistic basis so that people know not only where they stand today but where, with commitments to certain actions and investments over a period of time, they are likely to stand tomorrow.
PA: How is MissionSquare helping?
Ford: We’ve just rolled out a financial wellness center with a library of articles and tools to help participants educate themselves on saving for retirement and other financial matters. We’ve also transformed our operational platform, now called MissionSquare Plan Services, to make it easier for plan participants to access what they need digitally. I’d also point to our research on workforce issues for the public sector via what is now the MissionSquare Research Institute. We are leveraging the work that group does to assist plan sponsors in recruiting and managing their workforces, with a particular emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
PA: How do diversity, equity and inclusion factor into the challenges facing plan sponsors?
Ford: Diversity is important because it can deliver a lot of benefits, especially when paired with equity and inclusion. Beyond creating a sense of comfort for employees, it has a positive impact on productivity, quality of decision-making and financial success. In fact, our research shows that having a diverse workforce yields a 56% improvement in employee job performance. Our work in this area can help guide our clients in creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture.
PA: Workers are quitting their jobs at an extraordinary rate this year. Can a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion help stem the Great Resignation?
Ford: I believe it can. People leave jobs if they feel unwelcome. We did a deep dive into this issue with the LGBTQ community, for example, and found that 10% of workers who identify as part of that group have left jobs because they felt unwelcomed. That’s just one of many reasons our clients want to focus on this, and why we want to help them do it. Incidentally, we’re committed to this issue ourselves. Seventy percent of our employees identify as women or people of color, and our leadership team and board are also very diverse with 75% of our leadership team and 60% of our board being women or people of color. This is an area of utmost importance to us, and it’s one of the ways we believe we can help our clients.