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Retirement Planning > Saving for Retirement

Automation, mobility, advice boost participation in 401(k) plans

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Workers are more informed and make retirement planning decisions when their employers provide them with education and tools, personalized one-on-one meetings, guidance and phone support for managing the 401(k) plans.

That’s a key finding of a new report, 401(k) Wellness Scorecard, from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The report observes that employees “respond enthusiastically” and “take positive action” when presented with simplicity in plan design, and easy access to guidance and education offerings about their plans.

In 2014, more than 1.5 million participants contributed to their 401(k) accounts. That represents an increase of 18 percent compared to 2013. The report attributes the growth in part to millennials’ increasing focus on savings. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) more employees in this generation started contributing to a 401(k) account in 2014 compared to 2013.

The survey adds that, in 2014, 78 percent of active 401(k) participants who made a change to their plan made a positive one, by either starting or increasing their contributions, the survey adds.

During 2014, 64 percent of 401(k) plans combined auto enrollment and auto increase, representing a 25 percent increase compared to one year earlier. And 46 percent more employees scheduled automatic increases.

“We continue to see a strong correlation between increasing retirement contributions and annual health care enrollment,” the report states. “In the second half of 2014, the report found a 104 percent increase in positive actions among new enrollees in comparison to the first half of the year, and a 98 percent increase in positive actions during the same time period.”

Among the survey’s key findings:

  • Simplified plan design drives employee engagement. Streamlining the enrollment process increases participation and may influence plan contribution rates.

  • Automatic features encourage positive employee behavior. High adoption rates from employers demonstrate the success of these features in boosting enrollment and contribution rates.

  • Annual health care decisions continue to drive positive action. Increases in positive actions in the second half of the year suggest that when benefits decisions are presented together employees are more likely to take action.

  • Employees appreciate resources that help them manage their financial lives. Employees are taking advantage of health savings accounts and a variety of educational resources to help manage their financial lives.


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