International spirits company Brown-Forman needed a new 401(k) plan provider for its diverse employees, and Wells Fargo delivered.
Business to Business
March 17, 2016

Smooth transition of retirement plan goes down easy

International spirits company Brown-Forman needed a new 401(k) plan provider for its diverse employees, and Wells Fargo delivered.

When a company is helping its employees plan for a comfortable retirement, establishing trust is essential. That’s one reason Brown-Forman — an American-owned spirits and wine company based in Louisville, Kentucky — chose Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust as its 401(k) plan provider.

“Wells Fargo made our more than 4,100 employees feel at ease,” says Cheryl Beckman, director of Global Benefits at Brown-Forman, “tailoring transition communications based on where they are in their careers.”

Brown-Forman, founded in 1870, is the maker of many spirit brands, including Jack Daniel’s, Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, Finlandia Vodka, and Sonoma–Cutrer wines. The company started working with Institutional Retirement and Trust in 2014 after more than a decade working with the Corporate Banking team on lines of credit and foreign exchange.

Wells Fargo’s Paul Hartman says there are a lot of synergies between the two companies “in terms of how we view our relationships with customers, vendors, and team members.”

Together, Brown-Forman and Institutional Retirement and Trust devised detailed communication plans, including informational sessions for employees at all the company’s major locations, from corporate offices to vineyards. Because of the diverse employee population, some sessions were conducted in both English and Spanish.

Andrew Simon, Brown-Forman’s director of People Development and Rewards, says, “We’re a growing company but have a small-company feel and strive to provide a premium experience for our employees. So giving them multiple ways to learn about retirement planning was important.” (That’s Andrew, left, and Cheryl with Paul in the photo above.)

Employee participation in the 401(k) plan increased more than 7 percent.

The companies also strategized on ways to meet the needs of Brown-Forman’s employee base, which ranges from barrel makers to chemical engineers — while also reaching millennials and soon-to-be-retirees. Cheryl says, “it was really important to tailor communications based on where employees are in their career.”

In addition to in-person sessions and a new website, materials about the new plan leveraged Brown-Forman’s brand identity, with images of a cocktail glass and the line “Your future is served.”

Those targeted communications, plus enhanced plan options such as the addition of a Roth feature and an automatic escalation option to encourage saving more each year, led to success: Brown-Forman has seen an 11 percent increase in employees raising their contribution percentage to take advantage of the full company match. The employee participation rate has also increased more than 7 percent.

In addition to enhanced plan options and communications, Brown-Forman was also looking for a provider with robust record-keeping and reporting. Previously, Brown-Forman had been manually calculating the employer match; this is now automatically handled by Wells Fargo. Cheryl says she also appreciates that the Wells Fargo team proactively brings new ideas and solutions to the table.

“When Wells Fargo commits something to us, it’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen with excellence,” Andrew says.

Note: A version of this story also appeared in the 2015 Wells Fargo Annual Report (PDF).