As I was thinking about a topic to share my "vast" knowledge and information with my benefit peers, it occurred to me just how much I don't know. If it's not regulations and politics yanking our chain, it's the financial markets undoing what we thought we knew historically about trends; it's our employee demographics changing; it's the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation changing rates and the Department of Labor issuing guidance; it's the vendor and consultant landscape changing with mergers or core business focus; and it's the evolution in financial products. So here are the many things I am not:
I am not a technician. If you want a quote from a regulation or the number of a section of a code, I am not your go-to person.
I am not a lawyer. If you want expert guidance on the latest in ERISA lawsuits and trends, I am not your go-to person.
I am not an actuary. If you want an estimate on how the proposed legislation on smoothing will impact your financials, I am not your go-to person.
I am not a finance person. If you want to know the current rules for footnote disclosure for your pension liability, I am not your go-to person.
I am not an investment consultant. If you want to know what the best funds for your plan may be, I am not your go-to person.
I am not an expert on trends in the administrative world of retirement. If you want to run a request-for-proposal for plan administration, a compliance review or a fee benchmarking study, I am not your go-to person. If you want your Form 5500s prepared with the most up-to-date knowledge of the latest changes, I am not your go-to person.
By now you must be wondering 1) how I keep my job, 2) why I am a contributing editor to this publication, and 3) why would anyone tell this much truth about how much they don't know. It's simple really. My job isn't about being an expert in all the facets of retirement plan management. My job is to ensure the plans are compliant, meet company objectives, reduce company risk and serve our employees. I am the ringmaster in this circus we call retirement benefits. I envision the overall strategy for how to manage our retirement plans and related goals, determine the priorities and leverage the best of the best in the administration and consulting arena.
I'm pretty darn good about understanding what I don't know and calling in the experts when needed. This is not a business to use your "best guess" or take a chance. We have serious commitments to get this right, and if you don't there are government agencies out there ready to tell you when you get it wrong.
So for the next large project or compliance issue that comes your way, scope out the risks and develop a process that ensures you are being a good fiduciary. ERISA is all about process and due diligence. Use the experts, develop a good process and document, document, document.
Knowing what you don't know keeps you out of trouble and your boss happy.
Contributing Editor Mary Nell Billings is director of benefits, Americas, for Hilton Worldwide, headquartered in McLean, Va. She can be reached at Mary.Nell.Billings@hilton.com.
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