Episode 20 : 01/17/2017

Health wealth connection: making the connection tangible

Hugh O’Toole

Senior Vice President
Head of Workplace Distribution


Ben D. Jones
Managing Director – Intermediary Distribution
BMO Global Asset Management

Matt Smith
Managing Director
BMO Global Asset Management

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Health wealth connection: making the connection tangible

In this episode, we’ll provide a different perspective on the connection between health and wealth in retirement, helping advisors align the interests of plan participants with the interests of the employer to create win-win situations. Our guest is Hugh O’Toole, Senior Vice President at MassMutual, and an expert in the field of benefits packages, workplace distribution, and the connection between health, wealth for employers and employees.

In this episode:

  • Why a CFO cares about the financial health of employees
  • Converging factors that are occurring in the employer-sponsored benefit arena
  • The idea of human capital management
  • The Viability tool and what it involves
  • The behavior finance theories that explain employee decisions
  • What retirement plan advisors can do

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Hugh O’Toole – So, everything I’ve done in my career over the last 30 years is how do we help align what is important to that 23 year old youth counselor down in New York City with what’s important to the employer? Because I know if we can get the perfect alignment between the needs of the employer and the needs of that participant or that employee, really, really good things will happen for both the participant and the employer.  

Ben Jones – Welcome to Better conversations. Better outcomes. presented by BMO Global Asset Management. I’m Ben Jones.  

Matt Smith – And I’m Matt Smith.  In each episode, we’ll explore topics relevant to today’s trusted advisors, interviewing experts and investigating the world of wealth advising from every angle.  We’ll also provide actionable ideas designed to improve outcomes for advisors and their clients.   

Ben Jones – To learn more, visit us at bmogam.com/betterconversations.  Thanks for joining us.  

Disclosure – The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of BMO Global Asset Management, its affiliates, or subsidiaries.  

Matt Smith – Our topic today is around the connection between health and wealth.  You may remember episode 1.2, Living to 100 with Dr. Abrahamson, where we discussed quality of life during retirement and the outsized role that health plays in an individual’s quality of life in retirement, including, at times, forcing their retirement.  Today, we’ll focus on a different angle of the health impact on retirement; how advisors can align the interests of participants with the interests of the employer to create win/win situations.  Here’s our guest.  

Hugh O’Toole – My name is Hugh O’Toole.  I’m a senior vice president in charge of distribution at MassMutual Financial Services.  

Ben Jones – Hugh and I had a great conversation at MassMutual’s offices right on the harbor in Boston, Massachusetts. Hugh is incredibly passionate about this topic and he’s dedicated 30 years of his life to developing his expertise in this field, and it really comes through during a conversation with him.  Hugh’s deep sense of purpose around improving retirement outcomes has led him down a path to a focal point around helping solve another problem; employees who feel pressured to stay in their jobs because they don’t feel that they’re financially prepared for retirement.  We’ll talk later in the episode about how financial health or wealth of an employee can deeply affect their physical health as well.  

Matt Smith – Hugh clearly understands that, holistically, it’s about helping an employer create a benefits package that is the best possible option for their bottom line today and in the future.  First, we’ll hear about the insights that Hugh has gleaned from years of data and research on this topic.  

Hugh O’Toole – Along with my good friend, Tina Wilson, at MassMutual, her and I have been looking at this issue with the rest of our team at MassMutual and what we came down to is there were three basic questions to answer.  Number one, why would a CFO actually care about the financial outcomes for the employee so that we could create that alignment that I was talking about?  Number two, which is all employee benefits are now voluntary.  Even health care has high deductible plans with the HSA component.  So, how do we help an employee that gets three very complicated enrollment kits to make the decision on where to spend that limited benefit dollar? And then three, how do you actually administer all of these voluntary benefits? And those are the three questions we’ve been focused on.  And in order to do any one of those three, you need data.  And our industry, I would argue, has been a little bit late to using data to figure out the answers to those three questions.  

Ben Jones – And why do you think the industry has taken so long to adopt big data? Is it regulatory or systems?  

Hugh O’Toole – I actually think it’s just understanding the connective tissue between someone’s financial wellness, what they need to do to protect their families, and then third how to deal with health insurance.  When you look at those in three silos, you might be able to argue data is less important.  When you actually holistically are looking at that employee and you’re looking at the employer spend, you can’t do it without data.  So, I’m not sure the industry actually understood why they should be interested in bringing all this data together.  

Ben Jones – You talk a lot to advisors and for the advisors that listen to our show, can you talk a little bit about the converging factors that are occurring in the employee sponsored benefit arena and the opportunities that this creates for advisors?  

Hugh O’Toole – Absolutely.  You know, when you look at looking at all benefits together, whether you’re a health and welfare advisor, you’re an insurance agent, or you’re in wealth management, the reality is for the employer wage, health care, worker’s comp are huge expense items in their financial statement.  So, when you look at the benefits continuum, everybody understands that we’re all looking at how to control health care costs.  We all know that we’re trying to control prescription drug health care inflation, but nobody really makes the connection that the financial wellness of the population will actually dictate when the employees separate from service.  So, the role of a retirement plan is to actually control the demographic trend of that population and how that interacts with health care, wage, and worker’s comp creates a liability.  So, the role of an advisor that’s focused on retirement is how do I get within the same exact cost the employer is currently spending? How would I increase that readiness level so employees that choose to leave the workplace have the opportunity to leave, which will drastically reduce the cost of wage, health care, and worker’s comp?  

Ben Jones – And so, you know, there’s been an evolution over the last 40 years where employers have slowly transferred all of the funding risk and decision responsibility risk off of their plate onto the employees’ plate.  

Hugh O’Toole – Sure.  

Ben Jones – And what I hear you saying now is now we have to come full circle back to aggregating the data together so that an employer can understand how these pieces work together again because they’ve lost the defined benefit and other tools that they use to manage their workforce longevity.  

Hugh O’Toole – Yeah, I would say, Ben, you sound a lot like a CFO – that questions me on what are you saying to me? The industry had told me if I got rid of the defined benefit plan, I would actually be eliminating the funding and investment risk that I used to have.  What I think we all missed is there was an unintended consequence of transferring that risk onto the employee.  The government put us in that position to some extent due to the fact that you couldn’t carryforward gains on the DB plan any longer, and PBGC premiums got so excessive.  But, the reality is just because you don’t have to fund and worry about the investment risk along that employee’s work life, at the end of the day if they’re financially trapped, they’re not going to leave and that will increase your wage, health care, and worker’s comp expense.  That’s the unintended consequence liability that we really have to help the employer look at and that interrelationship between retirement readiness and financial wellness.  How can you improve that at today’s cost to eliminate future potential liability?  

Ben Jones – Yeah, and I remember back when I was consulting directly with plan sponsors, the health and welfare costs dwarfed the retirement expense and the match budget.  And so it was very tangible for a CFO to be able to see what the costs were of their health, and their welfare, their worker’s comp.  What you’re talking about is quantifying the intangible costs to a CFO, that ultimately become tangible, but maybe it’s not the most pressing thing on the quarterly financial statement.  

Hugh O’Toole – Yeah, and I stress this to advisors all the time.  What we’re showing them is a liability that already exists on their financial statement that can be quantified with expenses the CFO totally can relate to.  And then all we do is we bring in the current state of readiness of their population and we’re able to project out how that population will separate from service.  And the really important thing you’re bringing up is we’re going to solve for that without increasing the employer’s expense.  So, whenever I’m talking to an advisor, I stress to them when you get into this conversation, the first question you would ask the CFO is what if I could show you that I could mitigate future wage, health care worker’s comp liability without solely through employee funding techniques without ever increasing the employer expense? Would that be interesting to you?  

Ben Jones – A lot of times it’s framing these things in a way that the person across the table with you can relate and understand in their language.  

Hugh O’Toole – Absolutely.  

Ben Jones – An underfunded workforce and employees that are not ready for retirement is something that a lot of advisors have dealt with when working with plan sponsors.  Hugh designed a tool called ViabilitySM that’s available for free to advisors to help them create models and present data to plan sponsors in an effort to align the goals of the employee with the employer.  I asked Hugh to walk us through an example of ViabilitySM and how it all works.  

Hugh O’Toole – The most elaborate example is one of the first cases I worked on.  I worked with a great advisor out of Pittsburgh named Jamie Linkowski.  He worked with one of his biggest firms.  We implemented ViabilitySM, one of the earliest versions.  We went through that study and we realized that they had a profit sharing contribution with no auto features on the 401(k) portion.  Through showing the liability and then showing what an auto-enrollment at 3% and an auto deferral increase at 1% all the way up to 10% would mean from a funding standpoint and a mitigation of liability — which actually over the long-term would take millions and millions of dollars of liability away, meaning the workforce would be able to retire a little bit earlier — we were able to work with that company to implement auto-enrollment, auto-deferral increase up to 10%.  That organization is very progressive on safety.  They actually now have Jamie reporting to the Chief Operating Officer who is in charge of safety.  They have also done a study, which is fascinating, on how do their people feel about their financial wellness.  They’ve deemed it — called financial scarcity, meaning how emotionally do you feel about financial wellness.  They saw a direct correlation between the retirement readiness scores we had and the elevated feeling of being financially scarce.  We now are putting that together with their health care data through a great company called Innovu out of Pittsburgh, and we’re able to load their health care data and show a direct relationship between the lack of retirement readiness, the feeling of being financially scarce with an increased level of coronary and diabetes.  So, what we’re able to show is from a safety standpoint, your financial wellness is actually driving claims on your health care side, which are incredibly expensive.  So, holistically we’re looking at really human capital management.  It’s not just what are you doing in health and welfare and what are you doing in retirement.  How are we as advisors, as providers, helping this employer run their organization to differentiate themselves from their competition?  

Ben Jones – I thought most of the unfunded cost — or this liability out there — was directly related just to the age of the employee and the fact that health insurance is more expensive for a 65 year old versus a 54 year old or a 44 year old or a 34 year old.  But, what you’re saying is that beyond just the age impact, there’s actual, tangible claims data along the way as well.  

Hugh O’Toole – Yeah, that’s the most sophisticated example I can give you, but those examples are growing.  But absolutely.  These are very significant issues to the employer and obviously to that employee, knowing that — I’ll just give you an example.  Within that organization now, when they have somebody take a hardship distribution or a loan out of their retirement plan, they know that they need to swat in financial planning because that employee is now financially distracted and could be dangerous at work.  So, it’s really human capital management.  It’s not as simple as benefits.  The other thing, Ben, you bring up, which I just want to address: some people thing when they first look at the viability studies, we’re actually trying to squeeze older workers out of the work force.  

Ben Jones – I can imagine that — when I looked at the data, you’re going to have a CFO say well, I could get rid of that unfunded liability.  We’ll just squeeze people out.  

Hugh O’Toole – Yeah, and that would be called liability.  That’s called legal liability, but it’s also a terrible business decision.  I always give the example of my dad who taught calculus until he was 83 years old.  And at 83 he was the culture keeper for the organization.  He was knowledge transfer and he was very good for fundraising for the University.  So, I would say that employees that are financially trapped are probably at work for all the wrong reasons, but an older, financially well employee is well worth the marginal difference in cost.  So, this is not anti-aging.  It’s allowing your employees to get in a position where they continue to work because that’s what they want to do.  Because, when you deal with financially trapped employees, it brings all sorts of other expenses into that marginal difference in cost.    

Ben Jones – Yeah, and I think we talked about financially trapped and unengaged employees thinking about retirement, but there’s young employees that are unengaged and financially trapped as well and they’re just as problematic.  

Hugh O’Toole – Absolutely.  

Matt Smith – The theme of taking a holistic approach to advising has been a trend throughout many episodes of this podcast series, including this episode.  Hugh mentions that human capital management is really what this is all about because at the end of the day, you’re helping the employee create a healthy retirement and helping the employer differentiate themselves from their competitor’s approach to workplace benefits.  Next, we’ll talk about real world solutions that companies have used to align employers’ and employees’ interests.  

Ben Jones – Beyond just the work that you’ve done actuarially around all of the modeling — which sounds very complicated — I have to imagine that there’s a lot of assumptions that go into modeling something out like this.  And so where’s the tail risk on these assumptions, or what’s really the probability of these outcomes? And it’s one thing to put a big number in front of a CFO, but can you back up the actuarial science behind that?  

Hugh O’Toole – Yeah, and I would say first of all we’re not trying to scare the public.  I think a lot of times in our industry, whether it’s fiduciary risk or impact of something, we always try to scare the public.  Viability is not about that at all.  These are numbers that already exist in the financial statement.  I have not ever had a CFO say anything other than WOW, I always knew this was happening.  I just never had a metric to take a look at it.  And we’re also not claiming this is an accounting exercise.  This is really a directional exercise that allows you to test out techniques, and what is the potential return on investment, if you would, for that technique.  So, at the end of the day, we aren’t using a ton of actuarial assumptions.  We’re using real variables that make up liability.  And those variables can be changed if they don’t feel right to the employer and the advisor.  

Ben Jones – So, you go through the exercise with the ViabilitySM tool and an advisor can work with one of your institutional reps to do that for their clients.  

Hugh O’Toole – Sure.  

Ben Jones – Once they kind of have this a-ha moment with the CFO or the committee, what do you do next about helping that employer maximize those dollars?  

Hugh O’Toole – That’s right.  So, the way I look at this world is that any time you’re doing human capital management consulting of any kind, whether that’s health and welfare, whether that’s outsource — whatever you’re doing, you look at that through three lenses.  Why I built ViabilitySM is because we never looked at the first lens which is before we start prescribing the solutions, what does the data actually tell us? The second thing you do once you understand this liability, you test out for this population.  What would be potential prescriptive solutions we’d want to deploy.  Then and only then once you know what you want to do, then you would actually look at how you would fulfill them.  

Ben Jones – And so what are some of those prescriptive solutions?  Maybe just some examples.  

Hugh O’Toole – Sure, you know I think Shlomo Benartzi and other people have done great work around behavioral finance.  So, whether you use behavioral finance at a participant level or you use it at a plan level, at the end of the day what we’re trying to do is use normal human behavior, whether that’s apathy, myopic thinking, or loss aversion.  Instead of looking at humans and laughing at them that they have these tendencies, we actually try to use the plan design to take advantage of their apathy, myopic thinking, and loss aversion.  And those are the things that we test in the models.  So, we’ll look at enrollment and we know that the science, not the urban folklore, would tell us that people, really, are not going to — maybe out of apathy, people are not going to opt out if you opt them in.  So opting people in to auto-enrollment usually means you have — and you can do that up to, say, 6% and still, only 3% to 5% of the population will opt out.  Where if you actually had them opt into 3%, you probably would only get 70% of the population to do that.  So we can have a huge impact on enrollment.  Then we still — 6% isn’t going to be enough for a lot of Americans, so we can actually get them to auto-deferral increase.  Meaning every year, when they typically have their anniversary, hopefully a salary increase, raise their deferral by 1% or 2%.  You cap that at 10%, 12%, 15% based on the population, huge impact on their readiness.  And when you do that at a plan level, not only on the individual readiness, but the liability.  So those are two techniques around funding, around loss aversion.  We are seeing very progressive techniques, working with good solid asset managers around custom target-date managed accounts, so that, based on the financial readiness, retirement readiness of that individual employee, we get them into a glide path and asset allocation that’s appropriate for the risk they should be taking based on their readiness and based on their age.  It’s really like “DB-itizing”, converting this defined contribution plan into a defined benefit plan at a participant level.  When you do that and roll it up at the employer level, it’s going to absolutely save the employer money.  

Ben Jones – Harnessing the participant’s behavior for their own benefit.  

Hugh O’Toole – Absolutely.  You know, talking heads like me talk about that like it’s just American’s problem.  I actually fit that profile.  Even though I have every registration you’d ever want to have, I make sure I’m auto-enrolled, I make sure I’m auto-deferral increasing, and I am definitely in a managed account.  Even though, arguably, I could do all of those things in a very custom way, I love this statistic that comes out of Shlomo’s book.  90% of America wants to be told what to do.  9% of America wants the answer and they’ll change one thing so they own it.  Only 1% of America really digs reading enrollment kits, and they tend to be actuaries, engineers, doctors.  And God only knows whether they ever come to the right answer.  So we’ve kind of built this system upside down.  We’ve built this system for total flexibility even though 99% of the population doesn’t want it.  

Ben Jones – So an advisor goes through this exercise with their client.  They start to connect the impact of health and welfare and worker’s comp with the retirement funding needs of the plan.  And they get it right.  They get this implemented.  What does it feel like for the plan sponsor on an ongoing basis?  And what does it feel like for that advisor?  

Hugh O’Toole – The funniest thing — I did this on my early plans.  I actually did this directly for sponsors at no cost just so I could see what would happen without any noise in the equation.  

Ben Jones – Beta testing.  

Hugh O’Toole – Yeah.  Multiple times.  And the most interesting part, to me, was that for the first time — never had interacted with a procurement person at an organization.  And for the first time, I had a procurement guy say to me, now I finally understand why we have a 401(k) plan.  And now I finally understand why we pay that advisor.  So that is success, is, for the first time — and I’ve been around this for 30 years.  For the first time, a CFO and a procurement person would actually understand why we exist.  

Ben Jones – And that’s a big win because I know, oftentimes, as the CFOs look at the expenses, they’re looking where they can trim.  And I’ve — especially given the current fee compression environment, a lot of advisors are saying they’re getting undercut, bid lower on an ongoing basis.  And so it’s just this race to the bottom.  

Hugh O’Toole – Yes.  

Ben Jones – What a way to demonstrate your value.  

Hugh O’Toole – My dad taught me when I was a kid, in the absence of value, there only is price.  So when somebody wants to cut your fee or my fee, they’re pretty much saying to you I don’t really value what you’re doing, or you can’t attach an economic value to what you’re doing.  And candidly, that’s all ViabilitySM is.  What is the economic value that the advisor and the retirement plan have to the financial statement of the employer?  I’m working with a couple of very progressive advisory firms.  They actually — both guys, totally different organizations.  One is a huge producer at one of the major wire houses in the country.  Highest level advisor in the country.  And the other is an agency, a career agency organization.  And they both said to me, within 48 hours of each other last week, that I don’t offer anything to my clients that I can’t prove has an impact on their financial statement.  That might be a great litmus test of whether you’re offering value to an employer.  Can you actually prove whether it’s a 401(k) plan, a health and welfare plan, a non-qual plan — can you actually prove that there is a financial reason that the employer should actually do it?  

Ben Jones – Now, I got to imagine we have a lot of retirement plan advisors that listen to the show.  And they’re out there saying, I became a specialist around retirement plans.  This is what I do.  

Hugh O’Toole – Sure.  

Ben Jones – You’re asking me now to kind of go out of my comfort zone and start talking about health and welfare.  How does that all work and —  

Hugh O’Toole – I actually — just to be clear, I really am not.  I just want everybody to understand that if they can’t tie in what they do to two out of the three biggest expenses on somebody’s financial statement, they probably sound like the teacher from Peanuts to the CFO.  So I guess what I’m saying to you is, you don’t necessarily need to be a health and welfare advisor.  You don’t need to be involved in worker’s comp.  You certainly are not going to dictate how they pay their people.  But you should understand that, as a retirement advisor — this is just my opinion.  I’m not saying everybody has to agree with me, but it works.  As a retirement advisor, you should tie yourself to the person that controls the demographic trend of the organization.  And by controlling that demographic trend, you’re having a huge impact on those other major expenses because the expense around the retirement plan is not worth the CFO’s time.  CFOs have told me that very, very clearly.  Once you connect like my friend Jamie did, the retirement readiness of that population, which is obviously the right thing to do anyway.  But if you can tie what’s the right thing to do for the employee on to wage healthcare worker’s comp, you have a very engaged CFO and a client for a really long time that probably won’t be trying to squeeze your fees.  

Ben Jones – You know, it’s so true.  And what we’ve heard from many guests this season is that a lot of the value that is provided from an advisor goes far beyond the kind of perceived things that a financial advisor or a retirement advisor does.  And so it’s the softer side of things.  It’s connecting all of the emotions and money.  And in this case, all of the other things that are demanding of an employee or a sponsor’s benefit mindshare – together to show them how the whole thing works and can work better.  

There it is again: The theme of using a holistic approach to advising.  When you get this approach right, the benefits don’t just align the employer’s goals with the employee’s goals, but it also aligns with your goals, as well.  Hugh leaves us with a warning label for his advice.  And, true to Hugh’s style, it’s more of an inspiration point.  

Hugh O’Toole – The warning label would be probably don’t forget to have fun along the way.  So I know when I’m making all these comments, I get pretty intense because I’m really passionate about changing the center point of the industry from purely price back to effectiveness, and really trying to make everybody have fun with little things called plan design and outcomes.  

Ben Jones – Now you do sound like a nerd.  

Hugh O’Toole – Yeah.  But — yeah, I do, which I think my dad would be proud of.  But anyway, I think, really, the warning label is we have a really noble cause.  This is really fun stuff.  And we should make sure that we do the right thing for the American public and we do the right thing for the employer so they can employ the American public.  

Matt Smith – If you want more information about Hugh’s work in ViabilitySM, you can find a link to their website in the show notes of this episode at bmogam.com/betterconversations or contact a MassMutual institutional representative in your area.  On the Better Conversations web page, you can also find resources, links, and other episodes of this podcast series.  

Ben Jones – Join the conversation and let us know what topics you’d like covered on future episodes.  You can do that by e-mailing us at betterconversations@bmo.com.  Thanks to Hugh O’Toole for sharing his office, time and, most importantly, his expertise on this topic.  This episode was produced by our team at BMO, which includes Pat Bordak, Gayle Gibson, Matt Perry, and the team at Freedom Podcasting, including Jonah Geil-Neufeld and Annie Fassler.  

Matt Smith – From all of us, we hope you have a wonderful holiday and happy new year.  We’ll be back with another episode of Better conversations. Better outcomes. the week of January 9th, 2017.  

Ben Jones – Thanks for listening to Better conversations. Better outcomes. This podcast is presented by BMO Global Asset Management.  To learn more about what BMO can do for you, go to bmogam.com/betterconversations.  

Matt Smith – We hope you found something of value in today’s episode, and if you did, we encourage you to subscribe to the show and leave us a rating and review on iTunes.  And of course, the greatest compliment of all is if you tell your friends and coworkers to tune in.  Until next time, I’m Matt Smith.

Ben Jones – And I’m Ben Jones.  From all of us at BMO Global Asset Management, hoping you have a productive and wonderful week.  

Disclosure – The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of BMO Global Asset Management, its affiliates or subsidiaries.  This is not intended to serve as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any company, industry, or security.  This presentation may contain forward-looking statements.  Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such statements as actual results could vary.  This presentation is for general information purposes only and does not constitute investment advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment product or service.  Individual investors should consult with an investment professional about their personal situation.  Past performance is not indicative of future results.  BMO Asset Management Corp is the investment advisor to the BMO funds.  BMO Investment Distributors, LLC is the distributor.  Member FINRA SIPC.  BMO Asset Management Corp and BMO Investment Distributors are affiliated companies.  Further information can be found at www.BMO.com.

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