Benefits

BofA Advocates 401(k) Plans Designed for Action

By PLANSPONSOR staff editors@plansponsor.com | October 11, 2012
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October 11, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofA) makes the case for automatic enrollment, automatic escalation, company matches, education and advice, plus regular plan and participant checkups.

Until recently, many 401(k) sponsors have been disconnected from their plans, BofA said in a new white paper titled “Success by Plan Design.” Plans designed to spur action and engage participants, on the other hand, have higher participation and contribution rates, better outcomes, and more loyal and dedicated employees, BofA said.

“We believe that privately sponsored corporate retirement systems, particularly 401(k) plans, are successful—and can be even more so by creating a path for employees, starting with auto-enroll,” Kevin Crain, head of institutional and benefit services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told PLANADVISER. “Twenty-five percent of employees who are auto-enrolled become more engaged in their plans. More providers are adding in advice, giving participants a real incentive to become actively engaged. With the greater employee engagement we are seeing, and with plan and service enhancements, we can help make 401(k) plans even more vibrant.”

Advisers can equip sponsors with comprehensive, yet simply designed solutions to help them take action and motivate even young and difficult demographics, such as low-wage earners or older employees with low balances, to take advantage of their 401(k) plan by showing them the increasing power of compounding or the benefits of catch-up provisions, BofA said. Retirement readiness is not as elusive a goal as many sponsors and participants fear, BofA said. “We believe that long-term financial security is easier to achieve than many think,” the white paper said.

“It is paramount that these plans work,” Crain said, noting great improvements that have been made to 401(k) plans since their inception, including automatic enrollment and target-date funds. In the next decade, Crain foresees “even more advanced plan designs that will automatically guide participants into retirement income mode.”

An action-based plan starts with automatic enrollment and a contribution rate of at least 6% that gradually, through annual increases, escalates up to 18% or more, BofA suggested. An action-oriented plan would also extend automatic enrollment and increases to all employees, not just new hires, offering it each year by combining annual health care and 401(k) annual enrollment. Employers’ standard 3% matches could be redesigned with an eye to boost contribution rates, replacing the 100% match of the first 3% of contributions with a 50% match on the first 6%, for example, or 25% match on the first 12% of contributions, BofA said. Additionally, the plan sponsor might consider increasing the maximum contribution participants can make to the permissible $17,000 a year allowed by the Department of Labor for those under the age of 50 and to $22,500 a year for those who are older, BofA said.