We look ahead to 2016 by asking six retirement industry executives what they see coming in the defined contribution plan space.

One trend we’ve seen is that of consolidation, which analysts confirm.

“Recordkeeping costs for sponsors and participants are half what they were 10 years ago,” says Brooks Herman, head of data research at BrightScope, an analytics firm that tracks the defined contribution space.

“Going forward, providers’ margins are going to be paper thin,” he added.

Fee compression and technology innovation—two factors that are not independent of each other, notes Herman—will continue to drive the industry.

And that will propel more consolidation. Only time will tell how much more.

“At some point recordkeeping fees will hit a bottom,” says Herman. “It will always cost some money to administer 401(k) plans. From there, it becomes a question of which providers have the power to scale.”

We asked six executives in top retirement industry companies their views of what’s ahead for 2016.

Here in no particular order are Wells Fargo’s Joe Ready, T.Rowe Price’s Aimee DeCamillo, Schwab’s Steve Anderson, Voya’s Charles Nelson, Fidelity’s Douglas Fisher, and Empower’s Edmund Murphy on the coming year 2016:

Joe Ready, head of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust

Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust administers $329.8 billion in assets for 4 million participants (number of plans not provided)

What developments do you expect for the defined contribution space in 2016?

We’re all anticipating the DOL’s release of the conflict of interest rule to fully understand how it will impact the industry, and more specifically, how it will influence how we’re able to interact with clients and participants and getting them the help they need.

One potential outcome of the rule is participants may be more likely to stay in their plan after they retire to continue to take advantage of low-cost institutional investments and access to education and advice.

This could foster further evolution and innovation of in-plan products and services geared toward helping people who are living in retirement.

In addition, the retirement industry will certainly be watching as inevitable changes takes place in the White House in 2016; it will be interesting to see if there’s a subsequent shift in the retirement policies that have been in play, including tax treatment of 401(k) plans, the advent of state plans, and other proposed retirement solutions.

When polled on if the markets will be better off if the next president is a Democrat or Republican, half of investors (51%) say it will not make a difference; a third say a Republican and 15% say a Democrat (according to the recently released Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index).

Aimee DeCamillo, head of Retirement Plan Services at T. Rowe Price

T. Rowe Price Retirement Plan Services administers $297.6 billion in assets for 2 million participants in more than 3,500 plans

What developments do you expect for the defined contribution space in 2016?

A solid financial foundation is critical to achieving retirement success and due to competing priorities we continue to see participants’ financial struggles impact savings behaviors.

In 2016 and likely beyond, financial wellness will be a critical key lever, in addition to smart plan design, to solving for the retirement readiness dilemma.  

In our more than 30 years of experience, we’ve seen changes in plan design and participant communications make significant headway on retirement readiness.

However, we continue to see evidence of Americans struggling with fundamental financial challenges that will result in an inability to save effectively for retirement. 

Thus, in addition to plan design best practices, we see significant value in integrating a Financial Wellness solution into overall participant engagement programs. 

An integrated financial wellness program will help employees address emergency savings, debt management and budgeting, building a firmer financial footing that will ultimately result in more successful retirement savers.

Of course, the regulatory environment will also bring significant change to the defined contribution space in 2016 with the implementation of money market reform and the potential for a new fiduciary standard for investment advice.

Steve Anderson, President, Schwab Retirement Plan Services

Schwab Retirement Plan Services administers $125 billion in assets for 1.4 million participants in 1,200 plans

What developments do you expect for the defined contribution space in 2016?

As sponsors continue to focus on cost and transparency, more will look at reducing investment management fees as one way to help participants in 2016.

Expanded adoption of low cost index mutual funds, collective trust funds and exchange-traded funds will shift assets away from active mutual funds that dominate defined contribution plans today.

Employer expectations for a personalized participant experience will evolve beyond tailored communications to broader use of participant data to deliver personalized investment advice, which is what most participants really want.

This will accelerate the trend toward managed account adoption in 2016.

Investments by recordkeepers will expand participant access to managed accounts through both traditional national managed account providers as well as plan consultants serving as RIAs in support of employer clients.

Overall financial wellness is another emerging benefit trend linked to the personalized participant experience that many employers see as a powerful differentiator in the intensifying battle for talent.

Shifting demographics and employee expectations mean that a comprehensive benefits program with a holistic perspective on both health and financial wellness is attractive to many workers. Independent research also supports the benefit of an effective financial wellness program as a driver of increased productivity.

Charles P. Nelson, Chief Executive Officer, Retirement, Voya Financial

Voya’s Retirement business administers about $346 billion in assets for nearly 5 million participants in 46,000 plans

What do you expect will be the biggest developments in the defined contribution space in 2016?

Nelson: Beyond the DOL proposal, additional legislative and regulatory developments that will be important in 2016 and beyond include those that focus on coverage, auto-enrollment, auto-escalation, open multiple employer plans, the greater sharing of electronic documents, and starter 401(k) plans to attract more small business owners with tax credits. 

Our industry must continue to help shape the dialogue on retirement security.  This is critical, especially as we enter an election year. 

For consumers and plan participants, other important developments in 2016 will continue to focus on improving individual outcomes.  These include initiatives aimed at encouraging greater participation and savings rates, overcoming behavioral barriers to saving, and making it easier for people to take action. 

Digital and mobile technology developments will continue to be important, and our industry is making good progress on this front. 

Additionally, the focus on generating sufficient “retirement income”–rather than simply building up a lump sum–will continue to be an area of attention.  We can expect to see more tools and solutions in the market that help reshape the conversation so that individuals understand their needs and what their savings will translate into during retirement.

Douglas Fisher, Senior Vice President of Thought Leadership and Policy Development for Workplace Investing at Fidelity Investments

Fidelity administers $1.2 trillion in assets for 13.6 million participants in 21,400 corporate defined contribution plans

What developments do you expect for the defined contribution space in 2016?

Fisher: Companies will accelerate adopting more “outcomes”-based defined contribution plan designs. For example, adoption of auto enrollment at much higher levels based on plan designs that better correlate with workforce strategies. 

Furthermore, we expect employers to expand financial wellness programs for their employees.

Employers recognize that playing a larger role in the overall financial health of their workforce can lead to increased productivity, reduced stress, improved employee morale and lower turnover.

And financial wellness plans can be integrated into existing benefit programs and help manage a range of financial needs, including managing debt, paying off student loans, saving for college, or building an emergency fund.

Edmund F. Murphy III, President of Empower Retirement

Empower Retirement administers $440 billion in assets for over 7.5 million participants in more than 30,000 retirement plans

What developments do you expect for the defined contribution space in 2016?

Murphy: The biggest developments will be spurred by those who are trying to drive change and improve what plan sponsors and participants know about retirement.  At Empower we believe that investments in product and service innovation will continue to drive that change.

Managed accounts–on-line or in-person–will continue to grow and offer an increasing number of participants the advice they need to make smart choices about their retirement. Empower found this year that the use of managed accounts can improve returns by about 2 percent annually–that’s a significant amount over 30 years!

Information technology will lead the way. Leveraging the use of state-of-the-art recordkeeping with a dynamic web technologies gives plan sponsors precise information about how their participants are faring for retirement.

We know first-hand that offering participants detailed information about how they compare versus peers and how their health conditions impact their retirement savings spurs them to take informed action. These trends will soon become the new norm in retirement planning. 

Innovations in plan design will help plan providers serve the small end of the 401(k) plan market where an estimated 55 million American workers are currently uncovered by a retirement plan. 

Investments in technology will ultimately drive this improvement. The industry could use some help from legislators also.