Four Retirement Plan Features Employers Need to Emphasize

Plan participants seek simplicity, automation

Employees are in need of simple, straightforward guidance regarding their retirement plans, a survey released Wednesday by State Street Global Advisors found.

“Plan participants communicated loud and clear about what they need: simple steps and automated features,” Kristi Mitchem, senior managing director and head of Global Defined Contribution for SSgA, said in a statement. “One of the most surprising and encouraging findings is the willingness of participants to take 401(k) direction from their employers. The ongoing volatility in the financial markets has increased anxiety amongst plan participants and a significant percentage want simplified and prescriptive guidance in order to make progress toward their retirement goals.”

The survey highlighted four areas of emphasis for employers to help their workers.

1.  Attitudes toward saving for retirement:
The survey found three-quarters of respondents would be willing to be automatically enrolled in a 10% savings “boot camp” for six months. Over half are confident that their savings habits have them on track to support their planned retirement lifestyle.

Of those who aren’t so confident, 55% blame themselves for not having a high enough savings rate and 52% say they did not start saving early enough.

Kristi Mitchem2.  Awareness of automatic features:
Defined-contribution assets will outnumber defined-benefit assets in 2012, according to the survey. “This statistic underscores the importance of improving interactions between DC plan sponsors and plan participants by better understanding the needs and savings behaviors of DC investors,” Mitchem, (left), said. Lack of knowledge and lack of time are the two most common reasons participants don’t take action, she added. Seventy-four percent of respondents recognized that automatic features would improve their retirement readiness.

3.  Awareness of long-term investment risks:
Of respondents who are aware of the inflation rate, 43% have considered its effect on their retirement savings, but don’t know what to do about it.

4.  Differences in savings habits between age groups:
While 37% of the general population say recent volatility has prompted them to save more, 73% of workers between 18 and 24 agreed. Young workers are also more likely to save than their older co-workers, and are more conservative.

“The market volatility has created a new generation of savers,” Mitchem said. “Younger workers are saving more and spending less than their parents, while 66 percent of those over 50 years of age admit to not saving at an early enough age.”

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