January 27, 2012

Employers’ Confidence in Workers’ Retirement Readiness Suffers Dramatic Drop

Automation major trend, but not enough

Despite efforts to help workers improve their retirement security through features like automation, a report from Aon Hewitt released Wednesday found that just 4% of employers are very confident about their employees’ chance at a secure retirement, down from 30% in 2011.

Furthermore, while employers have shifted responsibility for retirement onto workers, the “2012 Hot Topics in Retirement” study found that only 10% of plan sponsors feel very confident that their employees will take accountability for their own retirement success.

"The stark drop in the confidence of employers is troubling," Pamela Hess, director of Retirement Research at Aon Hewitt, said in a statement. "We've known for a while that workers weren't saving enough for retirement, but it seems that with continued tough economic times, employers are realizing just how dire the situation has become for much of their workforce.”

Hess added that employers are taking active steps to help employees improve their outcomes. Sixty-two percent say they are working to help employees understand the resources that are available to them and 52% are encouraging workers to take accountability for their own retirement.

Automation continues to be a major trend in defined-contribution plans. Over half of plan sponsors automatically enroll workers, up from 24% in 2006. However, of the 55% of employers who automatically enroll employees in their DC plan, 63% do so at a savings level below the full company match.

"Automatic enrollment alone isn't enough to get workers where they need to be," explained Hess. "Plan sponsors need to step it up by encouraging employees to save at a higher rate. Adding features such as contribution escalation to get workers saving at least at the employer match level—or ideally even more—is key to helping them meet their savings goals."

Plan sponsors are working to improve workers’ success as well. More than one third say they will review their plan’s competitive position and 32% will focus on the well-being of their employees.

The report notes that when considering plan design, sponsors need to better include existing nonparticipants, incorporate stronger default elections, and provide better support in the decumulation phase. “The concept of designing plans in a way that effectively balances simplicity with enough depth and diversity is critical to ensure broad employee success.”

Aon recommends plan sponsors take a holistic view of retirement plans by considering retirement adequacy rather than participation and savings levels.

Increasing participation rates is employers’ top priority for their defined-contribution plan, followed by increasing savings rates. About a third say improving diversification and increasing retirement readiness are top priorities.

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