Savvy business owners realize that recruiting and retaining top talent is a key ingredient in the success of their businesses. While talented employees may be a successful business’s most important asset, losing them could also be its biggest liability. But attracting and retaining talented employees isn’t always easy. An organization’s best and brightest minds often have many employment options, and recruiters could be knocking at their door.
For the third year in a row, business owners in the U.S. say retaining valuable employees is their biggest worry. A 2015 survey conducted by Payscale shows that 63 percent of businesses report “employee retention as their #1 concern … a massive (125 percent) increase in concern since 2009.”
Looking for an original way to persuade key contributors to stay or to attract new superstar employees? Nonqualified benefit plans allow employers to reward the commitment of their most valuable employees with supplemental retirement benefits at a future date. And unlike qualified plans, like a 401(k), which must be made available to all employees, employers can select which employees will receive these benefits and determine the types of benefits provided. Consider the most common nonqualified benefits:
Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (SERP): A SERP is a type of deferred compensation that is funded by the employer. With a SERP, the employer agrees to pay supplemental compensation in the future, usually at retirement, to select employees – in addition to their current salary and benefits.
Employers can contribute to these plans in a variety of ways. Life insurance is a popular method for informally financing a SERP because it provides a couple of benefits to the employee: The employee’s beneficiaries receive a payment in the event of his or her death, and the policy’s cash value grows tax deferred and can be used to help the employer pay the SERP benefit at some point in the future. In certain instances, the policy can be structured in a way that allows the company to recoup its cost.
As a benefit to the employer, the business owner maintains ownership of the SERP funds – and can tap into these resources if needed – until time of payout. The trade-off for many employers is that they don’t get an immediate tax deduction on contributions made to a SERP as they would with pretax contributions to an employee’s 401(k).
Overall, a SERP provides key employees an additional financial perk, letting them know their company has an interest in their future, while allowing employers to retain control of the plan payout.
Elective Deferred Compensation Plan (EDC): Unlike a SERP, an EDC is funded from the employee’s salary or bonus, and it allows key employees to defer a portion of their income until a later date, which is usually retirement. These plans provide a sound option for employees who want to set aside pretax money for their retirement, beyond the maximum contributions they can make to their qualified plans. An even greater benefit to the employee is that employers may choose to match the employee’s deferral up to certain limits, similar to a 401(k) plan.
Bonus Plan: A bonus plan allows an employer to provide added compensation to their key employees. The bonus can be used to purchase insurance or investment products or to help with long-term care planning. To streamline the process, employers can pay premiums or make deposits directly to the insurance or investment company. With this kind of nonqualified plan, employers are able to take tax deductions on the paid compensation, while the bonus amount is taxable to the employee.
As employers sit down with a prospective new employee or strive to retain their top performers, these incentives can be used to sweeten the pot. If you’re an employer considering nonqualified plans, make sure to talk with a financial professional who can help you create a plan that’s right for your business, your key employees and for the personal goals you’ve set for your family.
 Payscale, 2015 Compensation Best Practices Report, http://resources.payscale.com/rs/payscale/images/2015_PayScale_CompensationBestPracticesReport.pdf, p.3.
Brandon Matloff is a Wealth Management Advisor with Stella Oak Financial and Insurance Services.
Stella Oak Financial and Insurance Services is a marketing name for Brandon Jeremy Matloff in their capacity as a representative of Northwestern Mutual and is not a legal business name. Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, WI (NM) (life and disability insurance, annuities, and life insurance with long-term care benefits) and its subsidiaries. Brandon Jeremy Matloff is a Representative of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company® (NMWMC) , Milwaukee, WI (fiduciary and fee-based financial planning services), a subsidiary of NM and federal savings bank. All NMWMC products and services are offered only by properly credentialed Representatives who operate from agency offices of NMWMC. Representative is an Insurance Agent of NM and Northwestern Long Term Care Insurance Company, Milwaukee, WI, (long-term care insurance) a subsidiary of NM, and a Registered Representative of Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, LLC (NMIS) (securities), a subsidiary of NM, broker-dealer, registered investment adviser and member FINRA (http://www.finra.org) and SIPC (www.sipc.org).