A new 401(k) plan is attempting to address some drawbacks to traditional plans by offering a transparent, lower cost plan. The Dream Forward 401(k) was created by a team of “innovators in technology, investment strategy, behavioral finance and legal/compliance.”
“The robo-advisors did great things for personal wealth management, but a lot of people are still in a 401(k) plan,” Grant Easterbrook, one of the founders of Dream Forward and a former analyst at Corporate Insight, said. “If you want to move the needle [on retirement outcomes], you need to go through 401(k) plans to reach people who would never take the time to [meet with] a financial advisor.”
In addition to common explanations for poor retirement outcomes, like people aren’t saving enough or they’re living too long, Easterbrook said a lot of it is that “people are forced to save using these expensive 401(k) plans.”
“We founded Dream Forward to create a low-cost, transparent, modern 401(k) service,” Easterbrook said.
The problem with 401(k)s is that they can be confusing for the average consumer. “People just don’t get it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to step outside of our knowledge of finance and talk to people without a finance background and realize how little they get it.”
Dream Forward released a video to highlight that issue. In the video, people are asked — and unable to answer — simple questions about their retirement plan like what company administers it or what the fees are.
Another challenge though, is simply that retirement isn’t a priority for a lot of people. “We’re humans. We prioritize short-term goals over retirement, Easterbrook said. “We think an underdiscussed reason for why 401(k)s don’t work is because people have these horse blinders on” and the way 401(k) providers present their plans doesn’t “really match up with how people think about retirement in real life.”
When people think of their finances in real life, Easterbrook said, they’re thinking about how they need to save for more immediate goals like a house or a car, not something that is decades away.
“You have to redesign the 401(k) experience around all of their goals and how they can afford to save for retirement and not keep putting it off,” he said.
Dream Forward focuses on those goals in the enrollment process, according to Easterbrook: other 401(k) plans use a “set it and forget it” enrollment process without providing a lot of guidance for the participant, “so you’re gambling that the employee will feel confident enough to put a lot away for retirement.” In the Dream Forward plan, participants are asked about all of their goals and timelines, Easterbrook said, and shown “some basic paycheck reductions. If they make $2,000 every two weeks, here’s how much they can save for their car goal, here’s how much to save each paycheck for college, here’s how much to save [from] each paycheck for retirement.”
The Dream Forward plan is currently only open to participants by invitation. Easterbrook anticipates it will be launched sometime in the “ballpark” of four months.