Avoid the "Spiral of Death"

Readers write to say that 401(k) programs should contain some asset-protection provisions; that delegating duties can conflict with cost-cutting efforts; that there are many ways for companies to control legal costs; and more.


CFO welcomes your letters. Send them to: The Editor, CFO, 253 Summer St., Boston, MA 02210

E-mail us at ScottLeibs@cfo.com, or contact a specific author by clicking on his or her byline. You can also post a comment directly on CFO.com by clicking on the appropriate link at the end of any article.

Please include your full name, title, company name, address, and telephone number. Letters are subject to editing for clarity and length.

As so often happens in a terrible economy, companies lose sight of the trees for the forest
("401[k]risis," April). Why do we offer employee benefits in the first place? To attract and retain the best employees. Because we offer benefits, does this mean that all employees are equal? I think not — try tying 401(k) matches and all employee benefits to performance!

Choose wisely in this economy. Don't lose your best employees because they feel they aren't important to your organization. Who will be on your team when business picks up again? Get a good consultant to help you reward and retain your "A" squad. Avoid the Spiral of Death for your organization.

Joe Cortelli
Nexus Benefit Consulting
New York

I don't disagree that there could be some enhancements to 401(k) plans that would make them better. But what most people are focusing on relates to plan designs, and the problem we face today has to do with the investment side of the equation in plans, not necessarily the design.

What has stopped individuals from investing in their plans is their fear of losing more assets. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to allow for some type of guarantees inside of the plans? Some investment platforms currently have options for participants that allow them to lock in benefit levels. It would make sense for our government to look at the options private providers are offering, review the strengths of those firms, and decide if they want to offer a backup guarantee should those firms find it difficult, in a market such as we're experiencing, to meet their obligations.

I'd rather the government be a secondary guarantor to the participants in qualified plans than a primary entity bailing out poorly run companies.

Neil Tullis
Third Party Administrators Inc.
Manchester, New Hampshire

Country over Politics

It's astonishing that "New Administration and Congress" ranks #4 on "Top External Concerns" of CFOs in your recent Business Outlook Survey (April). Would the prospect of eight more years of Bush Administration philosophy and leadership supported by a Republican Congress give our CFOs more hope? I like to think that America's CFOs are capable of putting the good of our companies and our country and the global economy ahead of politics, but the results of this survey suggest otherwise.

Tom Foster
Chief Financial Officer
Joye Photography LLC
New York

Delegating in Hard Times

"The Next Stage" (March) certainly points to one of the things we all struggle with, namely, learning to delegate and to rely on your staff so that you can focus on value added and driving business improvement. You learn that you have to delegate, because there just isn't time to do everything yourself. But of course that's a challenge in these economic times, when cost-cutting is a top priority.

David Toney
Vice President, Finance
Mohawk Industries

Health Care — A Purchase by Any Other Name

Once corporate executives begin to approach the purchase of health-care services like any other corporate purchase, they will find that they have a remarkable ability to address the issues of cost, quality, access, and outcomes, instead of simply throwing up their hands and shifting the costs elsewhere, as has been done by so many companies in the past.

In more than 30 years of working with large and small companies, we have seen that this holds true, regardless of a company's size, industry, or location. Further, recent deployment of cost-saving technology by a few leaders in the health-care field — including recent major corporate entrants — has demonstrated that wisely chosen technologies and health-care providers can produce for business the same kind of advances that have accrued from other wisely chosen suppliers and technologies.

Ronald L. Hammerle
Health Resources Ltd.

Controlling Legal Costs

As a 21-year veteran of the business of managing law firms, allow me to give your readers my quick take on how they might better control legal costs ("Trials and Tabulations," December 2008).

1. Communicate with your general counsel and have a clear understanding of the legal matters in which your company is involved. Oftentimes, the outside law firm is not clear on your business objectives, and its bills will reflect that.

2. Review your legal spend with your outside law firm annually and set goals for the coming fiscal year. The billable hour is simply not designed to generate efficiencies. By agreeing on the total spend, it will encourage the law firm to work efficiently while delivering a quality product.

3. Define the value of the work that is being sent to the law firm. From an established value will naturally come an agreed-upon pricing model. This value discussion will address one of the failings of the current billable world — a lack of visibility for the company CFO.

4. Stop using bill-auditing firms. These businesses inserted into the middle of the relationship add time and costs that will eventually be passed on to the company by the law firm.

5. Don't ask for discounts off the billable rate; ask for creative solutions. Law firms have developed a menu of alternative billing arrangements over the years and yet only about 5% of the legal work is based on these options. Why? The general counsel usually only wants a discount — without regard to the original pricing or overall spend. It's easy, it's simple. But it does not necessarily produce a better product at a lower cost to the company.

6. Have the company CFO talk to the law firm CFO. Who better to find the win-win pricing structure than the two professionals who best understand the business?

Robert Swayze Jr.
Chief Financial Officer
Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP
Via e-mail


The photograph of J. Anthony Poleo in the April On the Record should have been credited to Katherine Lambert.


Read next:

Finance At BeyondCore