How a small startup’s benefits plan fosters a culture of happiness
Employee happiness is the main benefits focus for small Silicon Valley engineering services firm Söoryen Technologies. The company, which was founded in 2012 with five employees, makes many of its corporate decisions with this in mind, including where to locate its Silicon Valley office.
Being strongly committed to employee happiness will lead to good products, good services and keeping everybody happy, says Vinod Paniker, co-founder and COO at Söoryen Technologies, which focuses on financial services and e-commerce.
“We are trying to understand what it takes to make the employees happy. One size doesn’t fit all,” he says. “Everyone has different needs so what does it take to bridge that gap and reach some common denominator.”
Paniker admits that employee happiness is not an easy goal. It is easy to lose sight of it when things get busy at the office, but Paniker and Ram Ganeshan, co-founder and CEO of Söoryen, continue to make it a priority.
From a 401(k) plan and great health benefits to flexible work schedules, Söoryen continues to look for ways to make employee lives easier.
The company began researching 401(k) plan options back in 2013. What it found was plans were overly expensive and most large benefits providers had no interest in working with such a small company.
Söoryen has grown from five employees when it first launched to 31 currently.
In 2015, the company made the decision to offer a 401(k) plan no matter the barriers.
“The 401(k) is very important for us,” Paniker says. “Helping employees save toward retirement is something we are passionate about so they have a more financially stable future [in] retirement.”
Paniker says that most companies Söoryen contacted about providing a 401(k) plan to the company never even returned the calls. If they did call back, they offered legacy systems and applications that didn’t fit with Söoryen’s younger employee demographic.
“We believe in the user experience and making sure our customers have a good experience and we want the same for our employees,” he says. “So that is what we were trying to figure out.”
It came across SaveDay, a new entry into the small 401(k) plan market that seemed to offer everything Söoryen was looking for in a plan.
“We started running plans late last year. Söoryen was our first client,” says Aidan Yeaw, vice president of product for SaveDay.
SaveDay, which opened its doors in early 2015, is one of a new breed of 401(k) plan providers that uses technology to reach smaller plans that cost too much for larger plans to service.
“We were inspired by the fertile market. Only about 15% of small businesses offer 401(k) or workplace retirement plans. Half of U.S. workers work for these companies. They are locked out of accessibility to these plans,” Yeaw says. “Part of our mission is to get more retirement plans in place for small businesses that don’t already offer them so we can get more than 50 percent of workers on their way to better retirement outcomes.”
When Söoryen partnered with SaveDay it did so because the “founders were passionate about teaching us,” Paniker says. Instead of just onboarding the company, signing up its employees and forgetting about them, SaveDay wanted to make sure the company’s employees understood why they should pick a traditional or a Roth 401(k) option.
“They are good about explaining the whole landscape when signing people up. They are more committed to the whole cause,” Paniker adds. Many of the company’s employees come from other countries originally and have different views of what it means to have a retirement account. Many did not want automatic enrollment because they didn’t want to be forced into anything.
“Most of our employees are young, so they are looking for something different than people with families and kids. We are trying to get the best of the best plan we can afford,” Paniker says.
Unlike many of the new so-called robo-advisers offering small plan 401(k)s, SaveDay offers multichannel servicing of its accounts. It built its system around digital first, particularly mobile technology, but people can chat with company representatives online or over the phone.
“We believe in simple and transparent pricing and messaging. We really try to focus our product on making it as easy as possible for the employer to offer a plan,” Yeaw says.
SaveDay doesn’t charge the employer anything to set up a plan.
Instead of making plan participants choose from a menu of 60 or more mutual funds, it uses 10 to 12 exchange-traded funds as the building blocks to build diversified portfolios on behalf of plan participants, at a lower cost.
Söoryen offers profit sharing as part of its 401(k) plan. It will make a one-time payment at the end of the year, based on earnings. The company went with profit sharing instead of a company match because of its size. It didn’t want to have to go back on any promises if the company had an off year.
The company also offers an unlimited vacation policy, provided employees get their work done.
“That gives them the flexibility to go above and beyond. When they have a project and work late, they don’t think twice because they can take the flexibility of taking a vacation or day off if they want to,” Yeaw says.