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Retirement Plan Participants Unhappy With Plan Sponsors

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A survey by American Century Investments found that most DC plan participants regretted not saving enough — notably in the first five years they worked — but also wished that they had received more guidance from their employers in helping them save more.

The third annual American Century National Survey of Defined Contribution Plan Participants, conducted by Matthew Greenwald & Associates in February 2015, found that 73% of participants said they could have saved at least “a little more” than they had since they began working, with a large majority saying that it was in the first five years they worked when they could have saved much more for retirement. As a result, many participants voiced regret at not saving more, which was consistent with the first two surveys on the topic by American Century.

Participants gave themselves higher marks on their retirement plan investing moves than on saving enough. Still, only 12% of pre-retirees (age 55 to 65) strongly agreed with the statement, “I knew very well what I was doing” when it came to investing their retirement plan money; 11% of younger participants (aged 25-54) said the same.

What would have led them to save more, even at an earlier age? The top vote-getter among both pre-retirees and younger workers was to receive “projections of what employees might accumulate by the time they retire,” followed by “annual reviews that show how on track employees are toward their retirement goal” and “showing the income that various levels of savings will produce in retirement.”

Respondents voiced support for a scenario under which employers would automatically deduct 6% of their checks and place the proceeds into their retirement plan—68% of younger workers and 69% of pre-retirees. In addition to favoring auto deductions, respondents also voiced approval of auto increases. And members of both age groups agreed that their employers could have done more to encourage them to save more for retirement.

The survey further found that a good 80% of workers wish employers had given them either a slight or strong “nudge” or even a “kick in the pants” to encourage more saving. In an accompanying survey of plan sponsors, the responses led American Century to conclude that plan sponsors “greatly underestimate” the desire of employees to get a nudge or a kick to save more.

What do plan participants hope to gain from their defined contribution retirement plans? The responses from both older and younger workers led American Century to say it’s “one of an independent lifestyle” in retirement rather than “an extravagant lifestyle.”

One big difference measured by the age of workers in the survey had to do with their expectations for their standard of living in retirement. For pre-retirees, only 10% said they expect their standard of living to be “better than it is now,” while 32% of younger workers expected it to be better. Similarly, 33% of those aged 55-65 expect their standard of living to be “worse than it is now,” while 24% of survey participants aged 25-54 thought their lifestyle in retirement would be worse than it currently was for them.

The plan participant survey was conducted in February 2015. Participants were full-time workers ranging in age from 25 to 65 who participate in their employer’s retirement plan and do not “work for the government.” The plan sponsor survey was conducted in March 2015. Participants in that survey were judged to have “considerable influence” over their employer’s DC plans, which had to have $250 million or less in assets and be at least five years old.


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