The defined contribution industry has several major issues to address in the years to come.

David Ireland, senior managing director and the global head of defined contribution at State Street Global Advisors, stopped by ThinkAdvisor’s office recently to discuss two issues in particular that are on SSGA’s radar: access and coverage, and retirement income.

SSGA’s defined contribution investment only (DCIO) business has approximately 13 million participants and more than $400 billion in DC plan assets and $51 billion in target date assets.

Access and Coverage

SSGA continues to express the need to expand access and coverage to retirement plans.

More than 30 million full-time, full-year private sector American workers do not have access to a workplace retirement plan, according to research from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Of the 58% of workers that have access to a workplace retirement plan, only about half of them participate in a plan.

“One of the things that’s core to our mission in our DC business is improving retirement outcomes … and we can do that in part through investment products,” Ireland told ThinkAdvisor. “But if they don’t have access to a plan, or the plan isn’t even in place, we can’t do anything for them. So we first have to get them access.”

One way SSGA has encouraged access is by supporting state-sponsored retirement plans.

Oregon – the first state to implement a state-sponsored auto-enrollment individual retirement account program – launched its OregonSaves retirement program in July of last year. And SSGA now manages the assets of OregonSaves.

Illinois, California, Connecticut and Maryland have similar programs in the works.

While SSGA is supportive of the states going at it on their own to try and solve this access and coverage issue, it also may not be the most effective pursuit.

“The state-based approach is a little bit ‘patchwork,’” Ireland explained. You’ve got Oregon going at it alone, you’ve got California [and] Illinois’ doing it … They’re all doing the right thing, but they’re not scaling. It’s not as efficient as it could be, it’s not as coordinated as it could be.”

SSGA’s preference would be to have “something that’s bigger,” like “some type of a federal plan that covers everyone,” Ireland said.

Most recently SSGA has expressed its support for the Automatic Retirement Plan Act, introduced by Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts introduced on December 1.

The Automatic Retirement Plan Act bill is designed to provide American workers with access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan by requiring all employers – except for the smallest employers – to have a plan.

Retirement Income

The other issue that remains a priority for SSGA is retirement income.

The industry has made great strides in improving the accumulation phase with features like auto-enrollment, auto-escalation and auto-diversification. However, Ireland says “where we’re falling down as an industry is how do you translate those accumulated assets into some form of steady guaranteed income stream?”

Most retirement plans currently offer participants a very narrow range of options for managing distributions in retirement, according to SSGA.

Only 6% of plan sponsors interviewed by Deloitte Financial Advisory Services in a 2017 survey offered an in-plan annuity as an investment option for participants. Meanwhile, 69% of participants surveyed by SSGA in 2013 believe they’ll need a guaranteed income source in addition to Social Security.

Right now, Ireland says, the industry views the accumulation and decumulation phases – or the pre-retirement and post-retirement phases – as separate.

“What we need to do is pull them together,” he told ThinkAdvisor. “We need to make it more integrated and we need to provide more guidance and safe harbors for plan sponsors to allow them to adopt strong income oriented solutions.”

From a policy standpoint and from a product-development, client-engagement standpoint, that’s where we’re focusing a lot of our efforts.

Ireland said SSGA is going to work with Washington to try to provide better guidance for plan sponsors in terms of what their fiduciary protections could look like and what safe harbors are available to allow for in-plan annuities.

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