Connelly Partners is helping young staffers pay off student loans

Boston agency hopes loan payment option will help attract Millennial talent

Ad agencies have added a lot of perks to help attract and retain talent looking for more work-life balance: yoga classes, flexible hours, corporate retreats. Now one Boston agency is helping its employees pay off their student loans.

This week, Connelly Partners began offering staffers the option to enroll in Gradifi, a student loan payment plan provider that allows the agency to supplement its employees’ loan payments.  

"Student loan debt is a significant source of stress for our younger employees," said Steve Connelly, agency co-founder and president, in a statement. "If we can help, we want to." 

The benefit addition is a move to help recruit and retain talent, particularly Millennials, said Steve Doherty, senior partner and COO, in an interview. The agency hopes the new benefit makes the shop more attractive than other agencies that offer programs that encourage work-life balance. 

 "It separates us when you look at our full benefits package," said Doherty. "This is something that most agencies should have, but it’s nice to take the lead."

The loan payment plan operates similar to a 401(k). Employees make payments out of each paycheck, and the agency adds monthly contributions towards their principals. The program can potentially shave at least three years off a typical 10-year payment plan, Doherty said.  And it can help a significant portion of the agency’s staff get out of debt. 

About two months ago, the agency conducted research that showed half of its 125-employee staff carried student loan debt. Within the first hour of offering the new benefit, Connelly employees logged three-quarters of a million dollars of debt into the Grafidi system, just a "fraction" of the total amount of debt Doherty expects will eventually be managed by the agency’s loan payment plan.

Connelly Partners, whose list of clients includes American Express Travel, A&E Networks and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, is Gradifi’s first ad agency and the first agency to use its services.  

The benefit won’t get rid of what could be overwhelming responsibility for some staffers, but perhaps it could get some recent grads out of their parents’ basements. "To knock three years off your loan, I think that’s pretty powerful," Doherty said, "and hopefully that’s a hook for some people." 

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