With the new SECURE Act 2.0 up for review in the Senate, now is the time for HR professionals to get proactive about setting employees up for a successful retirement in the new landscape of retirement planning.

Our team of Retirement specialists broke down the most notable features of the SECURE Act 2.0 to help you and your team prepare.

The original SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) was passed in 2019 and went into effect in 2020. Its intent was to help employers offer retirement plans that empower workers at all income levels to save for their futures. Now, two years later, further reforms may be signed into law in a matter of months or even weeks.

Here’s what you need to know about the SECURE Act 2.0 and how it will affect your employees:

Raising the age of the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD.)

The age at which an individual is required to start drawing money out of their pre-taxed retirement accounts is going up. The first SECURE Act raised the age from 71.5 to age 72, and the new version includes a plan that extends it to age 73 in 2023, then to age 74 in 2030, and finally to age 75 in 2033. This is overall a positive change because individuals are no longer forced to take money out as early. Of course, if they want to, then they can, but it is not required.

The penalty for missing the RMD is less severe.

While it is still significant, the SECURE Act 2.0 lowers the penalty for missing the RMD.  In the scenario that an individual forgets to take money out from their retirement account, the penalty will be decreased. For example: In the past, if an individual was required to take out $10,000 from an IRA and forgot to do so, the penalty was 50%. So, that person would still have to take the $10,000 out, report it on their taxes, and then pay a $5000 penalty. The new SECURE Act 2.0 drops the penalty to 25%.


The SECURE Act 2.0 requires auto-enrollment to new employees. When a new hire starts at your company, they will automatically be enrolled in the firm’s retirement program at 3%. There is also an auto-increase feature, increasing the contribution each year by 1% until it reaches 10%. Of course, employees may opt to put in any amount they’d like, but this move ensures that the default for all employees is to contribute. While this is a great feature for many employees who would otherwise forget to enroll, this amount is often not enough for an individual to set up a successful retirement plan. There’s a chance this handy set-it-and-forget-it policy could leave some employees wondering why their nest egg isn’t what it needs to be.

Increased catch-up contributions. 

Under the current law, an individual is allowed to contribute more toward their retirement once they turn 50. With the SECURE Act 2.0, this allowance is increased at ages 62, 63, and 64. All catch-up contributions will be considered Roth contributions, which means the individual will pay taxes on them upfront. This new rule is helpful in that it gives individuals the ability to save more in that final push to prepare for retirement.

Retirement Savers’ Contribution Credit. 

We love this one. This credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction that an individual does not need to pay back. It really is a tax credit just for saving up for retirement, which employees should be doing anyway. For those who are eligible, the credit is 50% per person – which means, if they are married, their spouse could likely take the same credit. That’s a win!

Student loans. 

This adjustment to the SECURE Act is about – you guessed it – matching contributions to student loan payments. As an employer, you may already have a program where you already pay or match your employees’ student loan payments. It appears that this new feature would make it so that these matches can go straight into the employees’ 401(k). This could be a great asset to recruitment for those employees who are not able to make both a student loan payment and a 401(k) contribution.

More potential Roth contributions. 

Currently, the employer match on retirement contributions goes into the traditional 401(k). However, in the SECURE Act 2.0, employer-matching contributions will be allowed to be made as Roth contributions. This is helpful for employees in low tax brackets saving up for Roth, as another way to get more dollars in their Roth 401(k), growing tax-free for their financial future.

Employers are now allowed to incentivize employees to participate in their retirement plan. 

Finally, employers are now able to encourage employees to participate in their retirement program by providing incentives, such as small gift cards. Any token that reminds an employee to participate is a win for both the employee and the employer.

In summary, the SECURE Act 2.0 provides more options for retirees, but the new rules can be a little complex. We recommend preparing communications for employees ahead of time so they can start thinking about their new landscape of retirement planning.

This is a great time for HR Professionals to review their company retirement programs and make changes to successfully recruit and retire valued employees. For an assessment of your current plan, guidance on choosing a new plan, or questions regarding the SECURE Act 2.0 or other retirement-related questions, please reach out to our Retirement team.  



Cultivating talent and retaining employees can be a challenge for every employer. Wages across all disciplines are increasing, which results in competitive new job offers and a difficulty for employers to staff and retain top talent (unless they can regularly dish out significant raises company-wide). Most employers compensate for their potential wage discrepancy by offering employees attractive, affordable, and comprehensive benefits programs.

Despite these efforts, employee-retention rates are not where most companies would like them to be, a sentiment that supports findings in Payscale’s 2018 Compensation Best Practices Report. Payscale highlights employee retention as one of employers’ top concerns across all sectors. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed for the report worried about losing their best employees to competitors, and sixty-seven percent were concerned about the difficulty of holding onto skilled labor.

These fears are not ill-founded: In the event a quality employee leaves, the cost to replace them (i.e., disseminating and advertising the open position, interviewing and conducting background checks on candidates, drug testing, referral bonuses, signing bonuses, etc.) can creep up to 20 percent or more of that individual’s annual salary. There’s also a potential uptick in salary expectations from the new employee due to industry trends and recognition of a competitive marketplace. This is on top of the minimum wage increases we all are seeing now.

To further complicate matters, three distinct generations—Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials—with varying needs and expectations compose most of today’s workforce. Fewer in numbers, but also represented, are the Silent Generation (the demographic cohort following the G.I. Generation and the oldest group of employees in today’s workforce) and the Generation Z workers (the generation after Millennials), who represent opposite ends of the age spectrum. This multi-generational labor mix adds value to the work environment, but the combination also creates new demands when it comes to recruitment and retention.

All employees, regardless of their ages, are looking for increasing salaries, rich benefits, and subsidies for dependent coverage. Factoring in medical, dental, life, disability, 403(b), vacation pay, time off, and taxes, the total cost for employers is substantial. This is problematic for companies trying to reduce costs year over year and continue to offer benefits for five demographic cohorts that will help attract and retain talent.

Second only to wages, your employee-benefits program is your next highest expense. Employee benefits is a significant financial and administrative investment that could be a key variable in your efforts to both attract and retain quality team members—and get competitive advantage (if you know how to leverage it). One of the best ways to maximize your investment is to work with your broker to implement a benefits-communication strategy to help employees fully understand and, more importantly, appreciate what your organization offers.

Here are four ways your benefits program can help with recruitment and retention.

Prioritize Employee Retention Over Recruitment

You’ll get more mileage from your benefits program if you work with your broker to focus on employee retention first, as this is ultimately where your greatest return on human-capital investment comes from, and recruitment second. Focusing on retention involves investing time, money, and effort into designing rich, yet affordable, benefits options, and secondly communicating these efforts with your employees to demonstrate your dedication to keeping them. When you subsequently shift your focus to recruiting, be sure to also emphasize to candidates just how great your benefits program is. Prioritizing the “who gets communicated with about our benefits program and when” and in this order is more likely to help you reach your company objectives.

(Re-)Educate Employees about their Benefits Often at Various Touchpoints

Employees often don’t fully understand the scope of time and money an employer invests into offering a competitive benefits program. It’s also easy for employees to lose sight of the benefits package they’re receiving after they’ve been onboarded—rather than appreciating the program’s value with each paycheck, they simply see a hit on their net incomes. Whether they’ve just joined the company or are seasoned team members, employees must be educated and continually reminded of the value of their enrollment. Your broker can help you design a multi-touch educational campaign that includes communications tools such as benefit guides, wallet cards, and announcements, all of which can keep benefits top of mind for employees at every stage of their journey with you. Wellness/health fairs and campaigns throughout the year can also present multiple opportunities to educate employees and go beyond the standard annual open-enrollment meetings. Work with your broker to design the best communications strategy that allows you to speak loudly and frequently to all the perks of working for your community. You stand to get the biggest payback on your benefits-program investment: satisfied employees who stay.

Take a Traditional and Forward-Looking Approach to Benefits Communication

Since different age groups have different needs when it comes to benefits communications, there are multiple communications technologies your broker should be making available for you, including the following:

  • Online enrollment
  • Benefit portals
  • Intranets
  • Mobile phone apps (becoming very prevalent with Millennials)
  • Webinars (livecast and on-demand)
  • Video (generally preferred by Millennials and Generation Z populations)

Your broker shouldn’t discontinue administering the more traditional open-enrollment group meetings in favor of newer technologies though. In-person one-on-one meetings and answering employees’ questions via Q&A sessions are employee-communications approaches that are still generally preferred by the Baby Boomer and Silent Generation populations. As the workforce continues to evolve, multiple means of communication that are both “old school” and more leading edge will be needed to communicate effectively across all demographic bands.

Communicate the Total Value of Your Benefits Package

Another way to demonstrate to employees how greatly you value them is to employ a total-compensation strategy to share with them the full scope of their benefits and compensation programs. Total-compensation statements go beyond standard paychecks to provide a greater overview that gives a quantitative value of your benefits program. Research shows 80 percent of employees who ranked their benefits satisfaction as “extremely high” also ranked job satisfaction as “extremely high,” meaning a transparent communication approach can help increase employee appreciation and satisfaction. Use your existing benefits-administration system to set this up, or ask your broker to help you provide this to employees. Total-compensation statements are also a valuable recruitment tool, as they can also be shown to potential candidates to demonstrate how well you treat your employees.

If you want to retain your workforce and build employee morale, getting your management team behind the idea of communicating often and consistently throughout the year, using different communication vehicles, and providing total compensation statements can foster good will and improved productivity among your employees, which ultimately leads to a happier workforce and increased employee retention.


About the Author


Tuan Nguyen is Vice President, Employee Benefits, at Relation Insurance Services in Walnut Creek, CA. He can be reached via email at [email protected], via phone at (925) 322-6441, or on LinkedIn.

By James Yankech, PhD, Senior Vice President for Client Relations


Eating disorder (ED) symptoms can be prevalent among college students and one demographic in particular may be more vulnerable: international students. Elements such as language barriers, a general lack of understanding regarding mental health, unawareness of access to health facilities, as well as the fear of losing their student visa are all contributing factors for this particular population.

I’ll be discussing this topic at this year’s Annual NAFSA Conference & Expo, along with my co-presenters: Eating Recovery Center’s (ERC) National Collegiate Outreach Director, Casey Tallent, PhD, and Yu Yun Liu, PhD, a clinical counselor for the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. NAFSA unites nearly 10,000 attendees each year from more than 3,500 institutions and organizations from more than 100 countries. This year’s event, called “Diverse Voices, Shared Commitment,” takes place between May 27 and June 1, 2018, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Our session: “Eating Disorders and Co-Occurring Concerns in International and Diverse Students” is the result of a one-year working relationship between ERC and Relation Insurance Services that has focused on addressing the importance of eating disorders and other mental health issues on college campuses. ERC works to help college and universities identify signs and symptoms of eating disorders and co-occurring concerns and be able to develop policies and guidelines to support all students with these issues, including the often underserved international student population. Teaming up with ERC has given Relation the opportunity to better educate our clients on possible ways to support international and diverse students with eating disorders through various means, such as campus services, telehealth options, and insurance policies.

We’ll present during the Global Partner Session, tomorrow, May 31, from 9:00 A.M. to 10:15 A.M. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 112B. Our session will address the following: 1) how schools can understand mental health concerns facing international students including eating disorders; 2) identify the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and co-occurring concerns; and 3) develop the right policies and guidelines to support students with eating disorders and co-occurring concerns. We’ll be presenting case studies, along with viable solutions as part of our presentation and look forward to a productive discussion with attendees. We hope you can join us.

For event registration, and more information on the session, please follow this link.

To read the press release, click here.


It’s available to firms of all sizes.

As employers look for any and every means to control employee benefit expenses, an investment in outsourcing absence management has the potential to yield meaningful returns both objectively, in terms of costs and productivity, and subjectively, in terms of employee satisfaction. This solution is no longer available solely for the Fortune 1,000. It’s now an option for small and mid-sized firms and may also be a fit for your organization.

Among the numerous responsibilities of Human Resource teams, absence management is extremely time-consuming and perilous if executed incorrectly. There are a wide array of federal, state, county, and local statutes with which to comply, plus an ever-shifting landscape of constantly updating legislation, leaving government agencies and courts to interpret the statutes and regulations. To add to the complexity, company-specific absence procedures can lead to inadvertent and inconsistent application of policies and procedures that in turn could prompt allegations of discrimination.

The numerous types of programs involving mandated absences can also trip up an organization. Making matters worse, more than one type of mandated leave can be triggered at the same time. It’s not uncommon for there to be overlaps with short-term disability insurance and workers’ compensation return-to-work programs. Managing competing leave requirements, while staying within the law, creates an additional level of risk.

Types of Mandated Absences:

  • Family medical leave – federal, state, local
  • Military leave – federal, state, local
  • State-mandated leaves – e.g., jury duty, state disability, pregnancy disability, domestic violence, organ donation
  • ADA accommodation absences
  • Company-specific leaves – e.g., personal, bereavement, paid sick time, extended family care, sabbaticals, education

One strategy to remain compliant in this environment is for an organization to continually strengthen current leave protocols and procedures and to retain full administrative responsibilities in-house. What many firms may not realize, however, is the administration and risks related to absence management can now be economically transferred to outsourcing administrators. While historically this was only a viable solution for very large firms, that’s now changed due to a combination of life, health, and disability insurers that have been acquiring absence management firms to broaden their in-house service capabilities, as well as quantum leaps in technology that have dramatically reduced the costs of outsourcing. As a result, an increasing number of small and mid-sized firms are choosing to outsource.

The greatest increase in outsourcing activities is by firms in the 50-249 and 250-999 employee bands.1 However, other employers are increasingly evaluating a continuum of outsourcing options. They range from “co-sourcing,” in which the firm engages an outside insurance carrier or technology partner to handle some but not all absence management functions, to fully outsourced management and administration.

Why is Outsourcing Absence Management a Good Idea?
Whether an organization chooses to take a partial or a total approach, a well-designed outsourced absence management program offers the opportunity to implement a consolidated, consistent application of leave policies across multiple business units and jurisdictions. Beyond the reduced compliance risk and exposure to penalties afforded by having access to each state’s unique laws and coordination guidance—especially when they overlap with federal legislation, the benefits for employers are broad.

Outsourcing administrators leverage powerful technology tools to measure, analyze and monitor absence metrics, which reduces HR staff workloads. In addition, employees’ experiences improve with better communication about the full offering of company-provided benefits, which in turn increases productivity due to lower absentee rates and decreased employee abuse of leave benefits. It’s no surprise then that interest in outsourcing continues to increase for firms of all sizes, and employer satisfaction with outsourcing vendors is high.2

Is it Viable for My Organization?
Although outsourcing absence management holds the promise of being a valuable solution, the evaluation process can be significant and time-consuming. Project complexity will vary based on factors such as firm characteristics (e.g., headcount, different operating jurisdictions, and centralized vs. decentralized management) and the number of programs qualified for outsourcing. Regardless of project scope, a systematic approach and a detailed implementation timeline is needed to make an effective evaluation.

The first step is to establish a cross-functional evaluation team with complementary areas of expertise. In addition to human resources, internal stakeholders will likely include senior management, finance, legal, and IT. External participants typically comprise the firm’s benefit consultant, outsourcing partners (e.g., carriers and/or technology firms), and any other impacted outside vendors (e.g., payroll administrators, workers’ compensation/disability insurers, or third-party administrators).

Next, the effectiveness of existing programs must be assessed by looking at current policies and process flows, as well as the sources and cost drivers of employee absences. The overall objective is to develop baseline data to compare outsourcing against the status quo.

The final step in the evaluation process involves formulating a business case and designing an operating model to outsource some or all programs involving employee leaves. This will include anticipated results for increased productivity, operational savings, risk-mitigation efforts, technology enhancements, and the effect on employees.

How Do I Bring a Program to Life in My Organization?
If management agrees the business case is compelling and decides to proceed, the operating model and timeline from the evaluation project becomes the implementation roadmap. To ensure the outsourced absence management program is successful, senior management must explain the rationale for the change, as well as the goals and expected outcomes. Providing employees with clear, detailed communication on policies, procedures, and training requirements, and leveraging technology to monitor performance metrics is essential to actively manage and fine-tune the program on an ongoing basis.


About the Authors


Michael Stallone is a Senior Vice President  in the employee benefits practice at Relation Insurance Services in Walnut Creek, CA. He can be reached on LinkedIn, via email at [email protected] or via phone (925) 956-1640.


This article originally appeared on the BenefitsPro website here.



  • The 2017 Guardian Absence Management Activity Index (SM) and Study
  • 2016 Disability Management Employer Coalition and Spring Consulting Group

Ascension is pleased to announce that we have been invited to speak and will be sponsoring a booth at HR West again this year from March 7th to March 9th.

Come see Ed Bray, SVP, Compliance, and Tuan Nguyen, AVP, present The 2016 ABC’s of Employee Benefits (annually published in Employee Benefit News) on Monday,  March 7th from 1:50pm – 3:05pm where he will provide a checklist of employee benefit to-do’s for 2016!

Come see Ascension at our booth!  Stop by for a chance to win some fun prizes, including $100 gift cards, and learn how we can we meet your wants, needs and expectations in this new world of employee benefits.

In addition to our session, the conference will feature 88 sessions, and speakers from companies like Pandora, Salesforce and Twitter. Find out about best practices and proven strategies of leading companies in the West that are paving the way for HR innovation. With tracks for startups, small business and technology, plus evergreen topics like employment law, recruiting and leadership, there’s something for everyone at HR West!

Check Out the Complete Session Lineup

HR West Also Brings You:

  • Four world-renowned keynote speakers
  • Recertification credit toward your SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP and PHR/SPHR for most sessions
  • An Executive Learning Lab led by TEDx presenter, Haas/Princeton professor (senior practitioners only)
  • Innovative ways to donate unused vacation hours to the American Heart Association or a charity of your choice
  • Community reception, networking lunches, speed networking and dinner meet-ups

The Premier HR Conference on the West Coast

NCHRA Members: $979

Join NCHRA: $1,146

SHRM Affiliate Member: $1,085

SHRM Member: $1,134

Non-member: $1,174

We would love to see you and are offering a $100 special guest discount to join us at HR West!
Use PROMO CODE: Guestofspeaker

Register today

Rates expire on March 3rd, 2016.


Date: Tuesday, February 23 2016
Time: 10am PST
Who Should Attend: Forward thinking Sr HR and Financial Professionals in the Technology Industry
Duration: 60 minutes
Captive Launch Date: January 1 2017

While projections vary, the indisputable facts are that your health care costs will continue to increase, the competition for talent will intensify and you will be tasked with offering a competitive, relevant benefits package that attracts and retains talent. Consider this:

  • Almost 50% of CFOs rate the cost of benefits and attracting & retaining talent as top concerns in 2016. Click HERE for survey
  • 78% of hiring managers said finding highly-skilled tech talent will be a top hiring priority in 2016. Click HERE for survey
  • Median unemployment and starting salary for tech workers in the Bay Area is <3% and $176k, respectively compared to national averages of 7% and $107k

If you have a Total Rewards philosophy and an interest in innovative strategies, funding your benefits through the Technology Captive and sharing risk with like-minded technology leaders may be the solution for your 2017 calendar year.

Join us to learn more about the timeline, opportunities, risks and rewards of funding your benefits through a Captive.


Congratulations on making it through one of the most legally and administratively challenging years in employee benefits history. But, as you know, employee benefits never sleep. Ed Bray, senior vice president of compliance with Ascension, provides the 2016 ABC’s of employee benefits – what he calls the annual “just tell me what I need to do” list.

See the list.

First, the good news: the rate of growth for health benefit costs has slowed over the past three years! However, health costs are still increasing at double the rate of inflation. In fact, a recent employee benefits survey shows that nearly 84% of mid and large size employers will need to make substantial changes to their benefit offerings over the next three years.

On June 10th, join Beth Ercolini, Vice President and Senior Advisor at Ascension for part one of this complimentary webinar series. She’ll share market trends and solutions to manage future health care costs, including Consumer Directed Health Plans, Value Based Networks and Accountable Care Organizations (ACO).

Register now. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Senior Vice President, Compliance, Ed Bray is interviewed in the June 2015 edition of WorldatWork’s Workspan magazine. The article, Face Your Fears and Be a Good Listener, begins on page 60 in “Profiles in Career Excellence” section, (scroll through the online PDF of the magazine to read the article.)

With health & welfare benefit compliance not only moving a mile a minute, but twisting in many different directions, it’s hard to keep track of what you need to do and when.

To help you stay on track with the “what, when, why, who, and how,” we invite you to join our monthly compliance update webinar. Ed Bray, SVP, Compliance, will review and analyze the top health & welfare benefit compliance stories and issues for the month.

Each webinar will start at 10am PST / 1pm EST and will generally run about 30 minutes.

The webinar dates for the remainder of 2015 are:

  • May 21
  • June 18
  • July 16
  • August 20
  • September 17
  • October 15
  • November 19

Register now. Please note that if you have registered for a webinar and are unable to attend, we will email you a link of the recording.