How corporate social responsibility can boost your bottom line

LAS VEGAS – Corporate social responsibility may sound like a cliché, but it can help improve the poor reputation of the entire 401(k) industry and also be good for business.

That’s according to George Fraser, managing director of the Retirement Benefits Group, who spoke this week during a panel discussion at the NAPA 401(k) Summit.

“We can change our image and we can change people’s lives,” he said of the benefits of corporate social responsibility in the retirement industry.

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He noted that the business still feels some effect from a negative portrayal on Frontline, PBS’s documentary series, years ago. That program highlighted the fees involved in some plans and gave a disturbing view of general retirement preparedness in the U.S. But a good CSR program can go a long way to changing a community’s mindset, he said.

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The panelists said that people often confuse corporate social responsibility with socially responsible investing or environmental social and governance. But in fact, those investing strategies can be part of a broader CSR program. (They also joked that the industry did not need another acronym.) Indeed, CSR is a broader look at the community and treating it as a stakeholder that a company should feel some responsibility toward, they said.

Corporate social responsibility has become more important to employers in a variety of industries. Employers including Bank of America, Southwest Airlines and accounting firm EY offer a number of benefits that encourage employees to give back to the community. Some employers also offer matching benefits. For example, employees at JPMorgan Chase, for every dollar donated up to $1,000, receive a $2 credit in their charitable spending account, which can be used to donate to any nonprofit organization approved by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

In the 401(k) industry, there may be a number of small grassroots programs that can help companies improve their CSR, said another panelist, Jason Chepenik, managing partner of Chepenik Financial. But many of these programs simply aren’t touted and don’t get much recognition, she said.

They agreed that a certain amount of self-promotion is necessary in this area. It can inspire others to action and start a domino effect of other CSR programs.

See also: Employees think they’re on track for retirement. Here’s where they’re wrong

Another panelist, Barb Delaney, a principal from Stone Street Renaissance, described a financial literacy program she oversees in schools in the Bronx. She said there is a lot of need in some of the schools in the New York borough, both for financial literacy and basic help.

“Eighty-five-percent of the kids don’t have a father, 10% go home to shelters,” she said. “They need the basics.”

As for the business benefits, Chepenik says that corporate social responsibility has given his team more purpose, while also strengthening the business relationships with record keepers and RIAs.

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