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What Are the Best Ways to Fund Your Retirement Plans for Executives and Directors?

By: David Shoemaker, Becky Pressgrove | April 20, 2016

Nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plans continue to be important tools to help banks attract, reward and retain top talent in key leadership positions. In order to retain their critical tax deferral benefits, such plans must remain unfunded. For tax purposes, a plan is “funded” when assets have been unconditionally and irrevocably transferred for the sole benefit of plan participants. Formal funding of qualified plans, such as a 401(k), does not subject the participants to immediate taxation—participants can defer taxes until they actually receive such income. However, qualified plans have limitations on the level of benefits that can be provided and these limits can lead to substantial shortfalls in expected retirement income for executives and other highly compensated persons. NQDC plans came about specifically to help offset those shortfalls.

The restrictions on funding NQDC plans leads plan sponsors to search for solutions to finance or economically offset the costs of providing enhanced benefits to NQDC plan participants. When you hear someone refer to “funding a NQDC plan,” this is what they mean. Economic, or informal, funding means that the bank acquires and owns the particular asset of that funding method and that at all times such assets are subject to the claims of the bank’s creditors. Our objective for this article is to review and compare the financial statement impact of various methods for economically funding such plans. In our examples we use a Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (SERP) and the following funding methods: 1) unfunded; 2) bankowned annuity contract; 3) bank-owned life insurance (BOLI); 4) a 30-year, A-rated corporate bond; and 5) a 30-year, bank-qualified municipal bond. The same investment allocation and same cost of money were used in scenarios two through five.

  1. Unfunded
    A benefit plan is implemented and no specific assets are earmarked to generate income to offset the expenses. The bank accrues an accounting reserve for the benefit liability as required under GAAP and makes payments out of general cash flows. This method is simple and has often been used when the bank does not have additional BOLI capacity.
  2. Bank-Owned Annuity Contract
    The bank purchases a fixed annuity contract (variable annuities are not a permissible purchase for banks) on the lives of the plan participants. While the primary advantage of purchasing an annuity is that the cash inflows from annuity payments can be set to match the cash outflows for benefit payments, because corporate-owned annuities do not enjoy the tax deferral benefits of individually owned annuities, there is a mismatch of income taxation (annuity) with income tax deductions (benefit payments). Fixed annuity contracts with a guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit provide a specified annual payment amount commencing when the executive reaches a certain age (usually tied to retirement). Payments are made for the life of the annuitant. Fixed annuity contracts generally do not respond to movements in interest rates.
  3. Bank-Owned Life Insurance (BOLI)
    The bank purchases institutionally priced life insurance policies on eligible insureds to generate taxeffective, non-interest income to offset and recover the cost of the benefit plan. When properly structured and held to maturity, earnings on BOLI policies remain tax-free, eliminating the tax mismatch issue. The tax-free nature of BOLI earnings often allows the bank to exceed the yields on taxable investments on a tax-equivalent basis. Top BOLI carriers structure their products so that they do respond to market rate movements, albeit on a lagging basis.
  4. 30-Year, A-Rated Corporate Bond
    A 30-year, A-rated corporate bond is a simple and transparent investment vehicle. Because investment earnings are taxable as earned, and benefit payments are not deductible until paid, the tax mismatch is the primary disadvantage. Corporate bonds do respond to market rate movements, leading to potential volatility in market values.
  5. 30-Year, Bank-Qualified Municipal Bond
    A 30-year, bank-qualified municipal bond is similar to a 30-year corporate bond except the earnings are tax free.

In summary, key to the funding analysis is evaluating the best investment for the bank that will mitigate the impact of the plan expenses and liabilities on the bank’s financial statements with bank-eligible investments. The following table summarizes the projected net financial statement impact of the five methods discussed above in both today’s interest rate environment as well as the projected impact in a rising rate environment. As you can see, BOLI and a 30-year bank-qualified municipal bond offer some of the better ways of funding the plan over time.

Funding Your NonQualifed Deferred Compensation Plan

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