Employers Offering More Help to Meet Retirement Goals

By Stephen Miller Feb 1, 2011

U.S. companies have little confidence that workers are taking the actions necessary to meet their retirement savings needs, according to a survey by consultancy Aon Hewitt.

The survey of 210 mid-to-large U.S. companies representing 6.2 million workersreveals that:

  • Just 38 percent of employers are confident that workers are taking accountability for their financial future, down from 43 percent in 2010.
  • Fewer than a third (30 percent) are confident workers are sufficiently prepared for retirement, showing no improvement from 2010.

As a result, companies are increasingly focusing on adding features and making plan design changes to boost savings rates and promote responsible investing.

Increasing Participation

In an effort to increase participation in savings plans, more companies are automatically enrolling workers into plans:

  • 57 percent of plans offered automatic enrollment in 2010, compared to just 24 percent in 2006.
  • More than one-third (36 percent) that don't offer automatic enrollment are likely to add it in 2011.
  • 49 percent offered automatic rebalancing in 2010, up from 27 percent in 2006.
  • 47 percent offered automatic contribution escalation in 2010, up from 17 percent in 2006.

These features continue to become more prevalent. More than a quarter of employers (26 percent) are likely to add automatic escalation in 2011, and a third are considering adding automatic rebalancing.

"Only half of Generation Y workers who are eligible to participate in a defined contribution plan actually do so, leading to a significant gap in retirement savings," said Pamela Hess, director of retirement research at Aon Hewitt. "Auto-enrollment is a relatively simple and effective way for companies to help workers plan for retirement—especially younger workers who may not feel the immediate pressure to save for retirement."

Countering 'Suboptimal' Behavior

Once workers are enrolled in 401(k) plans, their investing habits are often suboptimal, Aon Hewitt research shows. Many employees are not investing in a diversified portfolio and are taking inappropriate risk, and very few rebalance their portfolio regularly, if at all.

As a result, more companies are offering tools and services to help participants make better decisions. To simplify investment decision-making:

  • 83 percent offer target-date funds, which often appeal to younger workers.
  • More than half (56 percent) offer online general investment guidance.
  • 36 percent offer online investment advice and managed accounts.

As companies make changes to their defined contribution plans for 2011, many are adding solutions. Nearly half (47 percent) are likely to add online general guidance, over a third (36 percent) are likely to offer online advice, and 30 percent are considering offering managed accounts.

"Amid the recent market volatility there has been a dramatic difference in outcomes among people who sought out investment assistance vs. those who have not," Hess explained. "Employers are seeing the disparity and realize they need to step up their efforts to ensure workers are saving adequately for retirement and have an investment strategy."

At the same time, she noted, "Companies acknowledge the diverse needs of the workforce and understand that they need to offer a variety of investment advisory tools to meet the various needs and savings habits of their employees."

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Employees' Retirement Readiness Is Employer Priority, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, January 2011

Income-Replacement Goals Overlooked by Plan Sponsors, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, January 2011

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