Over the past year, retirement plan sponsors’ top concern shifted from reducing plan costs to helping employees prepare for retirement, according to a Fidelity study.
Fidelity Investments released the results of its ninth annual Plan Sponsor Attitudes Study, which revealed that the top concern of plan sponsors was whether the plan was effectively preparing employees for retirement financially (33%), whereas in 2017 the main focus was on reducing business costs related to the plan (32%).
“We view the increased focus on driving plan participants’ engagement and savings rates as a positive shift,” Jordan Burgess, who oversees defined contribution investment only sales at Fidelity Institutional Asset Management, said in a statement. “Plan sponsors can work with advisors to identify ways to boost retirement readiness for plan participants, in addition to leveraging them as a resource to manage the challenges and costs of the plan.”
To help employees achieve their savings goals, many sponsors are making changes to plan design (82%) and investment menus (83%).
As plan sponsors continue making changes to investment menus and plan design, the reasoning behind those changes mirrors their overall focus on retirement preparedness for participants, according to Fidelity.
The study finds that the reason for most plan design changes was to increase employee participation or savings rates. About one in three plan sponsors reported that they added or changed a matching contribution, which is up from the 25% who did this in 2017. According to the study, this was the top change made to plan design this year.
Meanwhile, the study finds that the top changes made to investment menus included replacing an underperforming fund (33%), adding an index fund (28%) and adding a lower-cost class of shares (25%). Another emerging trend for plan sponsors was the decision to add a managed account program, with 23% of plan sponsors reporting that change.
The study also finds that 92% of plans use plan advisors. According to Fidelity, this is “more plans than ever.” The number of plan sponsors actively looking to switch advisors also dropped this year — to 22% from an all-time high of 38% last year.
The top reason plan sponsors hired advisors this year was to help improve their plans (27% versus 7% in 2017).
Fidelity cites a couple of areas where plan advisors can add value, as well as stay competitive against their peers.
According to Fidelity, plan advisors should consider making sure plan sponsors have retirement income goals in place as well as discuss an appropriate framework for setting these goals, such as target date solutions that are aligned with their plans’ income replacement goals.
Fidelity suggests 45% is a reasonable income replacement goal to help maintain a pre-retirement lifestyle throughout retirement, but 37% of plan sponsors reported a goal of less than 40%.
Another area where advisors can have an impact is with auto-enrollment features. Auto-enrollment, which ranked as the top plan design change last year at 42%, fell to 26% this year. And yet, Fidelity finds that only about half of plans are using auto-enrollment.
According to Fidelity, auto-enrollment can improve participation rates from an average of 50% to 87%. However, six in 10 finance and HR associates participating in the survey reported concern that employees would not respond well to being automatically enrolled.
The study surveyed employers who offer retirement plans that use a wide variety of recordkeepers and have at least 25 participants and $10 million in plan assets.