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Drastic steps by employers bring retirement rebalancing

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If employees won’t do it themselves, some employers are doing it for them — rebalancing their retirement plan portfolios, that is.

And it’s not as complex as it might sound. The Wall Street Journal reported that some employers are going beyond auto enrollment to conduct a blanket auto enrollment of all their employees in target-date funds — unless the employees opt out.

And that’s bringing employees better diversification than most of them have when left to their own devices. 

One example cited by the Journal is the deferred compensation plan of the State of Illinois, which has 56,000 public employees and is the state’s largest defined contribution plan. In December, the plan notified all participants that, barring them choosing to opt out, it would automatically move everyone on April 22 to a target-date fund.

Before the move was made, up to 29 percent of the plan’s assets were in a single, and relatively risky, asset class, according to William Atwood, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Investment, which oversees the plan.

Everyone overweighted small-cap value stocks, he said in the report, because for a while the small-cap value manager had a long stretch of good performance. But then things hit a lull, and performance wasn’t so great.

After the reenrollment, however, all that changed. Not only did the small-cap value allocation in the plan fall to 5.2 percent, the target-date fund allocation zoomed up from 11.9 percent to 60 percent. Atwood was quoted saying, “We see that as a very favorable outcome. This was an aggressive strategy we employed to move the plan’s allocations.”

Usually a mass move of employees into default investments happens when a sponsor changes plan providers.

What’s not common is the drastic approach used by the State of Illinois — but sponsors might want to consider it if they see employees’ allocations as a threat to their retirement futures.