Last week there was an Asian night fair set up around City Hall in Pasadena, CA. Judy and I decided to check it out.

The long lines in front of a few food stalls confused us. Simultaneously, we experienced a terrible odor—It smelled like a number of animals with horribly active dysentery had congregated in one place. (That was the nicest way I could think of to communicate the terrible, awful smell!)

As I was expressing my olfactory response, a woman sidled up to us and said, “Stinky Tofu.” “What is that?” “The smell is Stinky Tofu” she said, “It tastes great … you should try some” and she moved on. I looked at Judy and then read the sign on the food stall with the longest line. Yup, “Stinky Tofu.”

I admit, I was not about to try anything called “Stinky Tofu” that night. We ate at an Italian restaurant a few blocks away.

With my curiosity aroused, I googled “Stinky Tofu” when I got home:

Stinky tofu or chòu dòufu is a form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor. (No kidding!) It is a snack that may be sold at night markets or roadside stands; or as a side dish in lunch bars rather than in restaurants.

So, are there any lessons to be learned from “stinky tofu”? I think so. First of all, not everything that smells bad is bad for you. I thought back to the spoons full of cod liver oil consumed as a kid. I also remembered the “Egg and Coffee” prepared by my Grandmother for a quick breakfast. Second, it is often worthwhile to investigate before you decide. Ignoring anything based on first impressions can cost you; there just might be Hidden Value. That’s how it is with money, retirement plans, Future Funded Ministry Plans, and maybe—just maybe—Stinky Tofu.

I can’t tell you how many retirement plan sponsors give lip service to the importance of retirement planning for their staff, and then treat the whole subject like the smell of “Stinky Tofu.” Fermented retirement plans? Those who investigate and engage discover an important piece of their benefit package. Those who don’t, just walk by a great opportunity.

In this case, engagement by a Plan Sponsor both fulfills your fiduciary responsibility, and creates additional value for the money invested both by the sponsoring organization and each participant. If you don’t know about “stinky tofu” you can’t appreciate its flavor. If you don’t educate your plan participants, they won’t appreciate or value the retirement plan. Maybe we’ve identified a life principal here? What do you think?

Engaged leadership, an active Retirement Plan Oversight Committee, and an intentional communication program are the essentials necessary to educate your participants about the value of your plan to them. You’ve got to taste it to enjoy it.

Now every time you think about your retirement plan, you will remember the lessons learned from “Stinky Tofu.” Hidden Value indeed.

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