As the American retirement landscape continues to shift from defined benefit (DB) plans to defined contribution (DC) plans, the effect has been a transfer of responsibility from employers onto employees. Unfortunately, evidence finds many employees are inept at managing their own retirement and part of the onus is now falling back on employers in the form of them offering employees greater incentives to engage in active retirement planning.
A recent survey conducted by Aon Hewitt (Aon), the global talent, retirement and health solutions business of Aon plc, found employers have been accelerating their actions and loudening their voice in order to foster greater financial security among their employees.
As of late, with the first wave of individuals who experienced the shift from DB to DC plans poised for retirement, there has been the realization that many employees are woefully inefficient when it comes to planning, due to an acute lack of motivation, which, in turn, is based on a deficient level of financial literacy.
While intrinsic issues like a lack of financial literacy will require a substantial effort to foment change, employers are utilizing motivational tactics in the short term in order to jump start healthy financial planning.
Aon surveyed 400 plan sponsors representing 10 million employees in plans that total $500 billion in retirement assets, to gauge their benefits strategies, plan design and administrative practices. The survey found that for the vast majority (77 percent) of employers surveyed, DC programs, namely 401(k) plans, account for the primary source of retirement income for their employees.
The most popular metrics used to measure retirement program success were “facilitates adequate retirement income” and a “high participation rate.”
In order to promote more success based on those and other metrics, the survey found that employers are taking a multi-faceted approach to strengthening their programs while raising retirement awareness among employees.
A number of employers have increased their company match in an obvious effort to incentivize employees to more diligently contribute to their retirement savings. Aon found that most common match is now $1.00 per $1.00 on the first 6 percent of employee deferrals, with 19 percent of employers using this formula, up from 10 percent in 2011, the first time in 20 years that Aon saw the most common match increase. The survey found 98 percent of employers used some form of matching incentive.
Employers have also begun relaxing the rules that surround employees entering the plan. Rather than making them wait, 76 percent of employers now allow workers to begin making their pre-tax contributions as soon as they are hired, up from 71 percent in 2011 and 45 percent in 2001. Also, 53 percent of plans have corresponding immediate eligibility for employer matching programs.
Employers have also been adding Roth provisions to their retirement plan packages. In an acknowledgement of the various tax situations many of their employees experience, over the last six years, employers that allow Roth contributions have increased from 11 to 50 percent. Another 16 percent of survey respondents indicated they are planning to add a Roth option within the next 12 months.
Finally, due to the systematic and widespread lack of financial literacy among many employees, employers have increased the availability outside investment advisory services to assist workers in their retirement planning decisions. Three in four employers now offer some form of service with the most common being one-on-one financial counseling (59 percent). Other services offered include online guidance, managed accounts and online advice.