Nearly one-quarter of employers allow plan participants to meet face-to-face with a professional advisor.

Close to half of all companies (44 percent) provide online, third-party investment advisory services to individuals, according to a new survey.

Aon Hewitt released this finding in its “2014 Hot Topics in Retirement Survey,” the company’s eighth annual report on retirement issues of concern to employers. The report examines, among other developments, retirement plan initiatives slated for 2014, trends in defined contribution and defined benefit plans, and levels of confidence that employers have in their retirement programs.

“Employers are providing access to experts and professionally designed tools that can recommend individual investment strategies based on a person’s expected retirement date and other income sources,” the report states.

The survey indicates that more than one-third (35 percent) of employers facilitate the interaction of plan participants with third-party investment advisors through the phone. And nearly one-quarter (23 percent) allow for face-to-face meetings with professional advisors.

The survey adds that nearly two-thirds of all plans (63 percent) have tools within their defined contribution plans that allow participants to model different savings and investing habits and vary their investment horizons.

Additionally, one-third of plan sponsors are comprehensively reviewing fees charged on fund offerings. And more than 15 percent are switching retirement plan funding from mutual funds to institutional or separately managed funds.

The report adds that 25 percent of employers are likely in coming years to provide assistance to employees to help with budgeting and ensure that employees’ paychecks’ cover expected expenditures while still leaving money for savings.

Among the survey’s additional findings:

  • 24 percent of plan sponsors have recently conducted an asset liability study to ascertain plan performance under different economic conditions.
  • One in eight plan sponsors have established a methodology for daily monitoring a plan’s funded status. An additional 25 percent are “very” or “somewhat” likely to add this feature in 2014.
  • 12 percent of employers with defined benefit plans have liberalized their lump-sum option by focusing on terminated vested participants or retirees through a “window approach.” An additional 14 percent are likely to follow suit within the next year.
  • One in six employers with a defined benefit plan has adjusted the plan investments to better match plan liabilities.